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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Administration Split on Iran Policy

Aired May 27, 2003 - 19:13   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Bush administration insiders are said to be convinced the Islamist regime in Iran had not done enough to crack down on al Qaeda terrorists hiding inside Iran.
The development of an Iranian nuclear program also has the U.S. worried and the secretary of defense has a strong warning for Iran on the subject of the developing government of Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Indeed, Iran should be on notice that efforts to try to remake Iraq in Iran's image will be aggressively put down.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Senior White House correspondent John King is live with more now on the administration's issues with Iran -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, there are many issues. There also is a debate within the administration over how to handle those issues. Not unlike the policy over Iraq. A bit of a tug-of-war between the State Department, the Pentagon and others.

Some in the administration believe that it's time to give up on President Khatami of Iran. Many for years have wondered, perhaps he is a reformer, perhaps the he is being reigned in by the clerics, perhaps the United States should be patient and give him time, and some day perhaps be able to do business with him.

Increasingly in the Bush administration, they believe that not to be the case, but they also say here at the Bush White House that they're not sure just what comes next.

Some of the administration want to do more to support opposition movements within Iran. The most urgent focus now, though, is on al Qaeda. U.S. officials telling us they have clear and convincing intelligence that some of those responsible for the recent bombings in Saudi Arabia, in fact, planned and orchestrated the attacks and have received shelter inside Iran.

Here at the White House today, the press secretary, Ari Fleischer, saying no, there's not a major policy shift but yes, Iran is very high on this president's list of international policy concerns. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: We were pressing the Iranians to end their support for terror, including the harboring of al Qaeda terrorists. Our policy on Iran remains that the future of Iran should be determined by the Iranian people, and we continue to press Iran to end its nuclear weapons program. We continue to press Iran to cease its harboring of terrorists. And we will continue to work that message to the Iranians from multiple channels, through our channels, as well as through international channels.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Again, some of the administration arguing that the CIA and other avenues through the administration should be used to support students, support others who are protesting within Iran to try to topple the government.

Still there is a debate ongoing within the Bush administration. Some say that Iran actually was helpful when it came to planning for the war in Afghanistan and there were good communications about the possibility of errant bombs and search and rescue operations during the war in Iraq.

The most urgent focus now is on al Qaeda and Iran's nuclear program. Anderson, U.S. officials say no change in policy, but certainly a debate high within the Bush administration.

COOPER: And a important debate it is. John King at the White House. Thanks very much.

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