However, the the U.S. intelligence community disagrees. A National Intelligence Estimate on Iran released last December stated unequivocally that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003. But also, Iran has never “declared” its intention to acquire nuclear weapons and in fact, it has publicly stated the opposite:
- "Iran has repeatedly denied seeking nuclear warheads, and its supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a religious edict in 2005 forbidding the production, stockpiling and use of such weapons."
- Iran expert and former Bush administration official Suzanne Maloney: “The Iranian government is on the record across the board as saying it does not want a nuclear weapon.”
- Non-proliferation expert Joe Cirincione: “Iran has never said it wanted a nuclear weapon for any reason. It’s just not true.“
The experts added that Bush’s claim is “troubling,” “as uninformed as [Sen. John] McCain’s [R-AZ] statement that Iran is training al-Qaeda” and “only produces” such rhetoric from Iran.
White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe stretched to explain Bush’s gaffe, saying “the president shorthanded” Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s desire “to wipe Israel off the map.” Asked about Iranian leaders’ potential to exploit Bush’s false claim for political purposes, Johndroe said “I’m not concerned about that. If they want to spin it a certain way, they can do it any way they want.”
Indeed, Bush’s “shorthand” with the facts in the run up to the Iraq war is exactly what led to the “most dangerous” foreign-policy blunder since Vietnam.
Update: Dan Froomkin notes that Bush "said almost exactly the same thing" last August. Bush: Iran "has proclaimed its desire to build a nuclear weapon."