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Bush Interview: Katrina Aid, Iraq, Iran


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

President Bush gave his first interview yesterday since his State of the Union speech. He spoke with NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams at the White House. This morning we've asked Juan to join us for more on that interview.

Good morning.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Juan, we'll talk about some of the international issues that you and the president discussed, but let's start with a domestic one. You asked President Bush why he didn't mention New Orleans in his State of the Union speech.

WILLIAMS: That's right, Renee. Many Gulf Coast residents were upset that the president didn't talk about recovery efforts there since Hurricane Katrina. So, I asked him if he regretted that omission. Here's what he had to say.

(Soundbite of previous NPR broadcast)

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, I gave a speech that I thought was necessary to give. On the other hand, I have been talking a lot about Katrina and about the fact that I worked with the Congress to get about $110 billion sent down to both Mississippi and Louisiana to help them on their reconstruction efforts.

WILLIAMS: So the president went on to say, Renee, that he felt that the Katrina recovery efforts and contributions coming from the federal government have been very robust. There I quote. And he seemed to be pointing fingers at state and local officials for any problems with getting that federal money into reconstruction efforts on the ground.

MONTAGNE: Turning to Iraq. Yesterday, the president had received word of a major battle in Najaf which happened over the weekend. And what did he say about the situation there, and in particular the situation about Iraqi troops?

WILLIAMS: Well, he began, Renee by saying he hadn't been briefed on the fighting yet by the Pentagon. Let's listen to what he had to say.

(Soundbite of previous NPR broadcast)

President BUSH: This fight is an indication of what is taking place, and that is the Iraqis are beginning to take the lead; whether it be this fight that you've just reported on where the Iraqis went in with American help to do in some extremists that were trying to stop the advance of their democracy, or the report that there is militant Shia had been captured or killed.

WILLIAMS: Renee, the president went on to say, again here I'm quoting, "Iraqis are beginning to show me something." But reports from Baghdad later indicated that the Iraqi forces did not perform all that well in Najaf. Today's New York Times reports that the Iraqi forces were surprised, nearly overwhelmed by the fight, and, according to the Times reporting, needed far more help from the American forces than had been previously disclosed.

MONTAGNE: A discussion about Iraq these days seems to lead almost inevitably to its neighbor, Iran. There's been a lot of discussion about whether the administration is planning for a military confrontation with Iran. You asked the president about that, and let's hear a bit of his answer.

(Soundbite of previous NPR broadcast)

President BUSH: I have no intent upon going into Iran. I mean this is the kind of thing that happens in Washington. People ascribe motives to me beyond a simple statement. Of course, we'll protect our troops. I don't know how anybody can then say, well, protecting the troops means that we're going to invade Iran.

MONTAGNE: Juan, did the president make clear how he would respond if Iran escalates its involvement in Iraq? I mean, did he set any limits?

WILLIAMS: No, he did not. In fact, what he seemed to be saying was that he didn't have an intent to invade, Renee, but that he would respond, given what the Iranians did, especially in terms of sending operatives into Iraq or trying to ship armaments into Iraq. So it seemed as if he was saying he was just in a defensive mode, but he didn't set any limits on U.S. involvement.

MONTAGNE: Now, the question of Iran also raised a question about intelligence. I know you asked the president if he could he trust the intelligence on Iran, given the intelligence was so wrong on Iraq. Let's listen to a moment of what he had to say.

President BUSH: No question that there is a certain skepticism about intelligence. We all thought that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and we all being not only the administration but members from both political parties in the Congress.

MONTAGNE: And what's the president going to do to make sure the intelligence can be trusted?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think this is a question that it seemed threw him off more than any other. But he said that there should be more human intelligence on the ground in the Middle East, Renee, and that intelligence agencies need to be given the tools in order to get more human intelligence, better intelligence out of the Middle East. But I've got to tell you, all over Washington there's concern in the intelligence community about high-level turnovers, including the departure of John Negroponte, the nation's first director of national intelligence.

MONTAGNE: Juan, thanks.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams talking about his interview yesterday with President Bush. And you can download that interview and get a transcript at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Renee Montagne
Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
Juan Williams
Juan Williams, one of America's leading journalists, is a news analyst, appearing regularly on NPR's Morning Edition. Knowledgeable and charismatic, Williams brings insight and depth — hallmarks of NPR programs — to a wide spectrum of issues and ideas.