Saturday, June 02, 2007

Rice plays down talk of U.S. war with Iran - IAEA chief rips alleged remarks by Cheney aides

Rice plays down talk of U.S. war with Iran - IAEA chief rips alleged remarks by Cheney aides
By Helene Cooper
Copyright © 2007, Chicago Tribune and The New York Times
Published June 2, 2007

MADRID -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sought Friday to minimize any sense of division within the Bush administration over Iran after the head of the UN nuclear watchdog agency delivered a pointed warning against what he called the "new crazies" pushing for military action against Tehran.

"The president of the United States has made it clear that we are on a course that is a diplomatic course," Rice said here. "That policy is supported by all of the members of the Cabinet and by the vice president of the United States."

Rice's assurance came as senior officials at the State Department were expressing fury over reports that members of Vice President Dick Cheney's staff have told others that Cheney believes the diplomatic track with Iran is pointless and is looking for ways to persuade Bush to confront Iran militarily.

In a news conference Friday, Rice maintained that Cheney supports her strategy of trying to deal with Iran's nuclear ambitions through diplomacy. A senior Bush administration official separately denied that there was a deep divide between Rice and Cheney on Iran.

But, the official said, "The vice president is not necessarily responsible for every single thing that comes out of the mouth of every single member of his staff." The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about any divide within the administration.

The reports about hawkish statements by members of Cheney's staff first surfaced last week in The Washington Note, an influential blog put out by Steve Clemons of the left-leaning New America Foundation. The reports have alarmed European diplomats, some of whom fear that the struggle over Iran's nuclear program may evolve into a decision by the Bush administration to resort to force against Iran.

In interviews, people who have spoken with Cheney's staff have confirmed the broad outlines of the reports and said that some of the hawkish statements to outsiders had been made by David Wurmser, a former Pentagon official who is now the principal deputy assistant to Cheney for national security affairs. The accounts were provided by people who expressed alarm about the statements but refused to be quoted by name.

During an interview with British Broadcasting Corp. Radio broadcast Friday, Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said he did not want to see another war like the one still raging in Iraq more than four years after the American-led invasion there.

"You do not want to give additional argument to new crazies who say, 'Let's go and bomb Iran,' " ElBaradei said, in his strongest warning yet against the use of force in Iran. "I wake up every morning and see 100 Iraqis, innocent civilians, are dying."

ElBaradei, who has urged Western powers to consider allowing Iran limited uranium enrichment on its own territory, is already facing criticism from Bush administration officials who say he should stick to monitoring Iran's nuclear program and leave diplomatic policy to the six countries that have banded to confront Tehran's ambitions.

But several West European officials echoed his concern and said privately that they were worried that Cheney's "red line" -- the point at which he believed Iran was on the brink of acquiring a nuclear weapon and a military strike was necessary -- may be coming soon.

"We fully believe that Foggy Bottom is committed to the diplomatic track," one European official said Wednesday, referring to the State Department. "But there's some concern about the vice president's office."


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