The president repeated his warnings to Iran, telling NPR that if "Iran escalates its military action in Iraq to the detriment of our troops and/or innocent Iraqi people, we will respond firmly." He did not specify what he was talking about, though The Washington Post recently reported that he has authorized U.S. forces to capture or kill Iranian agents in Iraq.
The president said he remains hopeful that he can solve the dispute over Iran's nuclear activities through diplomacy and said he has no intention of "going into" Iran. "I don't know how anybody can then say, well, protecting the troops means that we're going to invade Iran," Bush said. "We will protect our interests in Iraq. That's what the American people expect us to do. That's definitely what our troops want to do, and that's what the families of our troops want us to do. And if we find the Iranians are moving weapons that will end up harming American troops, we'll deal with it."
Asked about the quality of U.S. intelligence on Iran's nuclear programs, Bush acknowledged a "certain skepticism" given the inability to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that he and U.S. intelligence agencies said were there. He added, however, that the skepticism needs to be "tempered" by other statements and intelligence.
"What I am trying to say," Bush said, is "that I take the Iranian nuclear threat very seriously even though the intel on Iraq was not what it was thought to be."
Lest President Bush think that an Iran campaign would be another "cakewalk", Iran says they won't take any attack by the U.S. sitting down.
Iranian officials -- emboldened but uneasy over nuclear-armed neighbors in Israel and Pakistan and a U.S. military presence in the Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan -- have warned that they would respond to an American attack on Iran's facilities.
"Iran's supporters are widespread -- they're in Iraq, they're in Afghanistan, they're everywhere. And you know, the American soldiers in the Middle East are hostages of Iran, in the situation where a war is imposed on it. They're literally in the hands of the Iranians," said Najaf Ali Mirzai, a former Iranian diplomat in Beirut who heads the Civilization Center for Iranian-Arab Studies. "The Iranians can target them wherever, and Patriot missiles aren't going to defend them and neither is anything else."
"Iran would suffer," he added, "but America would suffer more."
As that struggle deepens, many in the Arab world find themselves on the sidelines. They are increasingly anxious over worsening tension between Sunni and Shiite Muslims across the Middle East, even as some accuse the United States of stoking that tension as a way to counter predominantly Shiite Iran. Fear of Iranian dominance is coupled, sometimes in the same conversation, with suspicion of U.S. intentions in confronting Iran. ...
"If Iran is bombed, Iran's reaction is a sure thing. They cannot sit idle, and what kind of reaction they will take is a big question," said Abbas Bolurfrushan, the president of the Iranian Business Council in Dubai, a booming city-state on the Gulf that is part of the United Arab Emirates, where an estimated 400,000 Iranians live and work.
Mirzai, the former Iranian diplomat, offered a similar scenario in more threatening terms. Wearing a white turban and the robes of a cleric, he sketched out potential Iranian responses: cutting the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, through which 20 percent of the world's oil passes; retaliation in Iraq, Afghanistan or Lebanon; attacks on U.S. targets in the Gulf.
"There is a policy the Iranians have and they've repeated it often -- the Gulf is either safe for everyone or no one," he said.