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Analysis: Bush won't back down on Iran

  • Story Highlights
  • Intelligence report out Monday says Iran halted nuclear weapons program in 2003
  • In 2005, administration said Iran was "determined" to develop nuclear weapons
  • Bush says Iran remains a danger despite new intelligence report
  • Critics say change puts Bush's credibility in question
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By Ed Henry
CNN
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Ed Henry is a White House correspondent for CNN.

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President Bush faces reporters on Tuesday. CNN's Ed Henry is at front left.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- It was fascinating to sit in the front row at Tuesday's press conference and see a classic performance from President Bush -- no retreat, no surrender, not even the slightest admission that he was wrong about Iran's nuclear weapons program.

Even in the final year of his administration, when maybe he needs to start compromising a little more with an eye on rebuilding his legacy, this is a man who just does not have the words "back down" in his vocabulary -- the very quality that endears him to supporters and drives his critics nuts.

So, when he was confronted with new facts from the National Intelligence Estimate, true to form he told the press corps this changes nothing.

"I think the NIE makes it clear that Iran needs to be taken seriously as a threat to peace," he said. "My opinion hasn't changed."

But the intelligence has changed, with the president's own administration now declaring that Iran suspended its nuclear weapons program four years ago. Bush, however, warned Iran could restart the program at any moment.

"Look, Iran was dangerous," he said. "Iran is dangerous. And Iran will be dangerous if they have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon."

The president was hit with a barrage of questions about how U.S. credibility was damaged by hyped intelligence before the war in Iraq, and whether he made the same mistake with Iran in October, when he warned about the possibility of a "World War III" at a press conference.

Bush insisted he made that comment before he learned of the new NIE, though he acknowledged Mike McConnell, his director of national intelligence, gave him an inkling something was up last summer.

"Mike McConnell came in and said, 'We have some new information,' " Bush recalled. "He didn't tell me what the information was. He did tell me it was going to take a while to analyze."

Sen. Joe Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate, said he can't believe the president got tipped off in August to a change and didn't follow-up with questions until last week.

"If that's true," Biden told reporters, "he's one of the most incompetent presidents in modern American history."

White House officials dismiss that as presidential posturing by Biden, and maybe it is. But the fact is that once again, the president finds his own credibility on the line. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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