- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 14, 2007

ASSOCIATED PRESS

President Bush said today he’s certain the Iranian government is supplying deadly weapons used by fighters in Iraq against U.S. troops, even if he can’t prove that the orders came from top Iranian leaders.

More important, Mr. Bush said in his first press conference of the year, is the need to protect American forces against the new weapons and technology, including sophisticated new roadside bombs.

“I’m going to do something about it,” Mr. Bush pledged, displaying apparent irritation at being repeatedly asked about mixed administration signals on who was behind the weaponry.

“To say it is provoking Iran is just a wrong way to characterize the commander in chief’s decision to do what is necessary to protect our soldiers in harm’s way.”

U.S. officials have said that Iran is behind attacks against troops in Iraq, an assertion denied by Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bush shrugged off congressional debate on a resolution opposing his Iraq policy, noting that the measure was nonbinding and mostly symbolic, but he said U.S. troops are counting on lawmakers to provide them the funds they need to win.

Mr. Bush spoke as the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives debated a measure opposing his decision to send 21,500 additional troops to Iraq.

“They have every right to express their opposition, and it is a nonbinding resolution,” he said of the House members. However, he suggested he would dig in his heels if Congress wavered on emergency spending legislation to pay for the operation.

“Our troops are counting on their elected leaders in Washington, D.C., to provide them with the support they need to do their mission,” Mr. Bush said.

In his first press conference since Dec. 20, Mr. Bush said he had just received his first briefing from Baghdad by Gen. David H. Petraeus, the new chief commander of U.S. forces in Iraq.

Mr. Bush said that he talked with Gen. Patraeus about coordination between Iraqi and coalition forces and that while it seemed to be good, more work was needed on developing an efficient command-and-control structure.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bush responded carefully when asked about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent sharp criticism. He has a “complicated relationship” with the Russian leader, the president said.

Mr. Putin slammed U.S. domination of world affairs at an international conference of security officials in Germany during the weekend, saying the U.S. was making the world more dangerous by overusing its military power.

The depth of Mr. Putin’s criticism surprised U.S. officials. Moscow and Washington drew closer together immediately after the September 11 attacks, but more recently relations have been strained.

Mr. Bush emphasized that he and Mr. Putin have a lot they agree on, including making sure that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons.

On purported Iranian involvement in Iraq, Mr. Bush appeared to back away from assertions at a weekend briefing in Baghdad by three senior U.S. military officials.

The officials said shipments into Iraq of deadly new weapons and technology had been approved at the highest levels in Tehran.

Mr. Bush said that he could only say “with certainty” that the weapons were provided by an elite part of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, which is part of the government.

But, the president added, he does not know whether the weapons were “ordered from the top echelons of government. But, my point is, what’s worse, them ordering it and it happening, or them not ordering it and it happening?”

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