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Bush Warns Iran Of 'Consequences' For Arming Iraqis

By Andrew Tully

August 9, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush warned Iran today that it will face unspecified "consequences" if it continues to supply powerful weapons to sectarian militias in Iraq.

And for the second time in four days, the U.S. leader faced questions from reporters about an ally that appears to be getting along better with Iran than he might prefer.

Doubts About Iran's 'Helper' Status

On Monday, Bush was asked about Afghan President Hamid Karzai's comment on CNN that Iran has been a peaceful neighbor and "a helper" in the fight against narcotics trafficking. Bush replied that he would be "cautious" about that statement.

Today a reporter noted that al-Maliki is currently in Iran in hopes of enlisting Tehran's help in stabilizing Iraq. The reporter noted that al-Maliki thanked Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his "positive and constructive stance" as neighbor.

Bush responded that the public view of such meetings are always cordial, and that he hoped in private, al-Maliki told Ahmadinejad to stop being a "destabilizing influence" in the region, and stop supplying arms to Iraqi militias.

Bush added that if al-Maliki truly believes Iran is being constructive, he'll make a point of discussing it with him.

"If the signal is that Iran is constructive, I will have to have a heart-to-heart [intimate and sincere talk] with my friend, the [Iraqi] prime minister, because I don't believe they are constructive," Bush said. "I don't think he, in his heart of hearts, believes they are constructive, either. Now, maybe he is hopeful and trying to get them to be constructive by laying out a positive picture."

Bush said al-Maliki's message to Ahmadinejad should be the same as his own message to Iran: Stop sending weapons to Iraq or "there will be consequences." He didn't say what those consequences might be.

Confidence In Pakistan

During the morning press conference, Bush also urged patience with al-Maliki's government. He acknowledged that Iraqi lawmakers have not met U.S. benchmarks for progress, but stressed that democracy is new to the country's ministers.

"It's difficult [for Iraqi leaders to work together] because of years of tyrannical rule that have created a lot of suspicions, and these folks need to trust each other more," Bush said. "Secondly, from my perspective, we're watching leaders learn how to be leaders. It's a new process for people to be democratic leaders."

On Pakistan, Bush said he's confident that General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, will continue to cooperate with the United States in the fight against terrorists, and that he wouldn't resist any effort to go after "high-value" Al-Qaeda or Taliban targets in the mountainous and largely lawless region of northwestern Pakistan.

"I have made it clear to [President Musharraf] that I would expect there to be full cooperation in sharing intelligence, and I believe we've got good intelligence sharing. I have indicated to him that the American people would expect there to be swift action taken if there's actionable intelligence on high-value targets inside his country," Bush said.

"Now, I recognize Pakistan is a sovereign nation, and that's important for Americans to recognize that," he added. "But it's also important for Americans to understand that he shares the same concern about radicals and extremists as I do."

Guantanamo Trials Under Review

A reporter also asked Bush about efforts to close the U.S. detention facility for suspected enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The reporter noted that a year ago, Bush said he'd prefer to close it, but since then there have been reports that some members of his administration have resisted the idea.

Bush replied that the biggest resistance to closing the prison comes from the countries where the prisoners would be returned.

"We are working with other nations to send folks back. Again, it's a fairly [difficult task]. A lot of people don't want killers in their midst, and a lot of these people are killers. Secondly, of course, we want to make sure that when we do send them back, they're treated as humanely as possible."

About 350 prisoners remain at Guantanamo Bay. Bush says his administration still wants to bring at least some of them to trial, although it is still trying to work out how such trials will be conducted.

Copyright (c) 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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