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US pauses in evaluating Iran after Iraq failure

Rumsfeld also pressed Congress to pass an emergency spending measure that contains about $65 bn for war costs.

india Updated: May 10, 2006 02:48 IST

Defense Secretary Donald H Rumsfeld said on Tuesday that in light of pre-war intelligence failures in Iraq, US officials must be extra careful in evaluating intelligence about Iran's nuclear program.

At a Pentagon news conference, Rumsfeld was asked how confident the American people should be in the reliability of the intelligence that is being produced on Iran and its nuclear intentions, given what happened with Iraq.

He responded by noting the failure on Iraq, whose alleged weapons of mass destruction were the chief public justification given by President Bush for invading in March 2003 to overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein.

"It turns out it was wrong, that intelligence. Fair enough," he said. "It's a tough business. It's a difficult thing to be right all the time. And the information was not correct. Does that give one pause? You bet."

When publicly discussing the reliability of US foreign intelligence, Rumsfeld often notes the risk of mistakes and gaps, particularly regarding information on countries like Iran and North Korea that the Bush administration considers rogue nations. But he had not previously indicated that the Iraq failures give him pause on Iran.

"You bet. And you're dealing with a closed society there, so clearly one has to be very careful," he said.

Iran says its nuclear program is meant exclusively for generating electricity, but the United States and some other Western countries believe it is a cover for developing nuclear weapons. During a public appearance in Florida on Tuesday, President George W Bush said the United States was in the early stage of diplomacy to solve the Iran nuclear issue.

"And we will continue to work through diplomatic channels to make it clear that we mean what we say. And, obviously, part of making the diplomacy work is what will be the consequences if the Iranians decide maybe not to listen to the rational demands of the world," Bush said. He did not say what the consequences might be, but Bush has said many times that he could not rule out the use of military force against Iran.

At his Pentagon news conference, Rumsfeld also pressed Congress to pass an emergency spending measure that contains about $65 billion (euro51 billion) for Pentagon war costs in Iraq and Afghanistan. He referred specifically to the House of Representatives having cut about $760 million (euro599 million) that the Pentagon says it needs for training Iraqi and Afghan security forces.

"A slowdown in training and equipping the Iraqi security forces will have unacceptable, harmful effects of postponing the day when our men and women in uniform can return home with the honor and appreciation they deserve," he said.

Asked when the Pentagon would begin a substantial withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, Rumsfeld said it was too early to say. That decision will have to await the completion of a full-term Iraqi government, followed by consultations between US and Iraqi officials and then an evaluation by US commanders, he said. "And then if we have something to announce, we'll announce it," he added.

First Published: May 10, 2006 02:48 IST