- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 14, 2007

President Bush yesterday said he knows an elite Iranian military unit is supplying arms to insurgents in Iraq, though he acknowledged he can’t say if they were sent on the orders of Iran’s top officials.

“Here’s my point: Either they knew or didn’t know, and what matters is, is that they’re there,” he said of the Quds force, a branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, during a morning press conference at the White House. “What’s worse — that the government knew or that the government didn’t know?”

On Iraq, Mr. Bush called for Americans to give his new strategy time to work, saying it would give the Iraqis “political breathing space” to get their own affairs settled. And he said while Congress can express itself through nonbinding resolutions, they must not withdraw funding from the troops.

“I’m going to make it very clear to the members of Congress, starting now, that they need to fund our troops and they need to make sure we have the flexibility necessary to get the job done,” he said.

But Iran dominated the foreign-policy-heavy, hourlong press conference, with Mr. Bush saying he is working on several levels to try to engage that country.

U.S. officials, speaking on the condition they not be named, told reporters in Baghdad over the weekend that Iran was supplying mortars and roadside bombs called explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) to insurgents to be used against U.S. troops trying to create peace in Iraq. One official said the direction was “coming from the highest level of the Iranian government.”

That official, though, was contradicted this week by Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He said the arms transfer “does not translate that the Iranian government per se, for sure, is directly involved in doing this.”

Mr. Bush yesterday sought to split the difference, saying either way it is a dangerous situation.

“We do know that they’re there, and I intend to do something about it,” he said. “And I’ve asked our commanders to do something about it. And we’re going to protect our troops.”

It’s a thorny issue because it comes five years after Congress, citing intelligence reports now known to be faulty, voted to go to war in Iraq to disarm Saddam Hussein’s regime of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, said Mr. Bush is being too confrontational with Iran.

“Instead of hyping intelligence that our nation’s top military leader has called into question, instead of trying to scare the American people and bully the Iranian government, the Bush administration ought to cool its rhetoric and redouble its diplomatic efforts with Iran,” said Mr. Byrd, the Senate’s senior Democrat.

He said Mr. Bush must come back to Congress before going on the offensive against Iran.

“Show the proof. Make the case. Level with the country,” Mr. Byrd said. “Any benefit of doubt that this administration may have once deserved disappeared with the vanishing WMDs in 2002 and the twisting of intelligence to build the case for war against Iraq.”

Mr. Bush said the idea that he is manufacturing intelligence to go to war with Iran is “preposterous.”

The president weighed in on the nonbinding resolution the House is debating this week that disapproves of his plan to increase troops in Iraq, saying Congress may speak its piece but must not interfere with the actual policy.

He portrayed the resolution vote as less important than the Senate’s vote last month to confirm Lt. Gen. David Petraeus to lead U.S. forces in Iraq, and the upcoming vote on his $100 billion emergency-spending request to fund the war on terrorism.

Mr. Bush also defended the deal the United States and four other nations struck this week with North Korea, which ties incentives to the rogue nation’s halting its nuclear weapons development program.

The president shrugged and smiled a little when asked how he responded to his former top nonproliferation official and ambassador to the United Nations, John R. Bolton, who said this week that the North Korea agreement was a bad deal.

“This is a good first step,” he said. “It will be a great deal for the North Korean people if their government follows through with the agreement.”

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