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White House spokeman has 'contentious' battle with CNN reporter over alleged Iranian 'meddling' in Iraq
David Edwards and Ron Brynaert
Published: Tuesday February 13, 2007
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White House spokesman Tony Snow's press briefing turned "contentious" this afternoon, CNN reports, after correspondent Ed Henry asked if the Bush Administration and the US Military were both "on the same page" with regards to accusations that Iran is "meddling" in Iraq.

"You know, this past weekend, US Military officials in Baghdad laid out what they claim to be evidence of Iranian meddling in Iraq," Henry reported on CNN. "Specifically, providing bomb-making materials to insurgents in Iraq who were, in turn, using those materials to kill US soldiers and Marines."

Henry noted that the allegations were "being met with skepticism in part because so many claims the Bush administration made in advance of the Iraq war turned out to be false."

"The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Pace, is now saying, in fact, while these explosive projectiles are, in fact, manufactured in Iran, 'I would not say but that I know, that the Iranian Government clearly knows or is complicit,'" Henry continued. "It sounded to some, including me, that perhaps the US government is not on the same page here."

So Henry said to Snow, "General Peter Pace is now saying that he was not aware that this briefing was going ahead in Baghdad where military officers were talking about Iran's influence in Iraq, this past weekend. How could the chairman of the Joint Chiefs not know that military officers would be briefing in Baghdad?"

The White House press secretary said that he'd "refer that back to General Pace, frankly," before accusing some in the media of trying to "whomp up" controversy.

"Let me tell you what -- I think a lot of people are trying to whomp up a fight here that doesn't exist," Snow said. "I spoke with General Pace a bit this morning as well."

Henry interjected, "With all due respect, it's General Pace's comments, not anyone's else's."

After some more words were exchanged, Snow said to Henry, "Ed, calm down. I know you're excited. Your voice is rising, your pace is increasing --"

But Henry pressed on, attempting to get Snow to admit that there was some difference in Pace's public statements and what the Administration has been alleging, about whether or not there was strong evidence connecting the bombs to the Iranian government.

Snow said, "Well, I think what General Pace may have been saying -- in fact, I know he -- he -- and this is where we get to the rhetorical question I was asking you before. Do we have a signed piece of paper from Mr. Khamenei or from President Ahmadinejad signing off on this? No. But are the Qods Forces part of the army -- part of the government? The answer is yes. So the question is, I think this ends up being a semantic dispute about senior levels of the government or the government, and the fact is, the government knows about it."

"But isn't it really a question about whether or not you have strong evidence?" Henry asked. "When the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff seemed to be saying something different than the White House, does that raise questions about how solid this evidence is?"

On CNN, Henry added that "another curious aspect of this is how the information was delivered this past weekend."

"It was delivered by US officials on 'background,' meaning they would not have their names used," Henry said. "It was also done off-camera. That's raising questions about whether or not those US officials wanted to be on camera, whether they were concerned about this evidence being shaky."

Henry continued, "I put that to Tony Snow as well. He insisted that is not the case. It's not because he felt the evidence was shaky. And, finally, Tony Snow also said in this briefing that he had just recently, in the last hour or so, gotten off the phone with General Pace and insisted that General Pace is saying privately that they're on the same page. There's really not a difference here. The problem, though, is that General Pace is now, apparently, on an airplane coming back from Australia or Indonesia and -- bottom line -- we're not going to be able to get to him for another day to get his side of the story."

The following video contains clips from CNN and AP. A transcript also follows.

Transcript:

Kyra Phillips: Let's go straight to White House correspondent Ed Henry who just came out of a briefing with Tony Snow. Ed, it was pretty interesting. You and Tony Snow, it got a little contentious between the two of you.

Henry: That's right, Kyra. You know, this past weekend, US Military officials in Baghdad laid out what they claim to be evidence of Iranian meddling in Iraq. Specifically, providing bomb-making materials to insurgents in Iraq who were, in turn, using those materials to kill US soldiers and Marines. These claims being met with skepticism in part because so many claims the Bush administration made in advance of the Iraq war turned out to be false. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Pace, is now saying, in fact, while these explosive projectiles are, in fact, manufactured in Iran, 'I would not say but that I know, that the Iranian Government clearly knows or is complicit.' It sounded to some, including me, that perhaps the US government is not on the same page here. So I put that question to Tony Snow..."

[BEGIN VIDEO CLIP]

Henry: Tony, on Iran. General Peter Pace is now saying that he was not aware that this briefing was going ahead in Baghdad where military officers were talking about Iran's influence in Iraq, this past weekend. How could the chairman of the Joint Chiefs not know that military officers would be briefing in Baghdad?

Snow: Well, I'll refer that back to General Pace, frankly. But I'll tell you, what General Pace --

Henry: Didn't you loop him in? Did you -- did the White House loop in the chairman of the Joint Chiefs?

Snow: I believe that this was a Pentagon briefing. So again, it typically is something that when the Pentagon's doing it, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs knows about it.

Let me tell you what -- I think a lot of people are trying to whomp up a fight here that doesn't exist. I spoke with General Pace a bit this morning as well.

And there is a core of information that everybody agrees upon. Number one, there's weaponry that is of Iranian manufacture that's in Iraq killing Americans. There are Iranians involved. There are Iranians on the ground. Our intelligence indicates that the explosively formed penetrators, the EFPs, in fact are directly associated with Qods forces, which are part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, which are part of the government.

The Qods force is, in fact, an official arm of the Iranian government, and as such, the government bears responsibility and accountability for its actions, as you would expect of any sovereign government. And I think that's pretty clear. I mean, General Pace, again, if you go through his --

Henry: (Off mike.) That's where -- you said people are trying to whomp up a fight. With all due respect, it's General Pace's comments, not anyone's else's.

Snow: No, if you go back to --

Henry: Well, he said -- let me just say he said, quote, "It is clear that Iranians are involved and it's clear that materials from Iran are involved, but I would not say by what I know that the Iranian government clearly knows or is complicit." Are you saying that you from this podium know more than the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff?

Snow: I am telling you that -- I am telling you what the intelligence indicates.

Henry: Is he not in the loop? I'm just trying to understand why there's a contradiction --

Snow: I'll tell you what --

Henry: -- where the chairman of the Joint Chiefs --

Snow: I just know that there's -- Ed, calm down. I know you're excited. Your voice is rising, your pace is increasing --

Henry: I'm telling you that -- I'm telling he is saying this, I'm not.

Snow: Well, I'm telling you I talked with him. Okay? And I talked with him since he said --

Henry: Well, we'll follow up with him as well.

Snow: You better, because I think you will find out that the intelligence does indicate, as he said, this stuff was in -- let me pose you with two possibilities. First, the intelligence indicates that the Qods forces, which are part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, are associated with this.

Now, let me ask a second question to you. I don't know what's more frightening, the fact that the Qods forces would be operating with the knowledge of senior officials or without the knowledge of senior officials.

What is beyond dispute and what is of primary importance here -- and General Pace hasn't disagreed with it, we don't disagree. And frankly, again, I think you'll find upon further conversation -- he's going to be in the air for about 23 hours, so give him a day -- that in fact you're going to find that we generally agree on -- we agree on the basics of the situation here, which is there are armaments that have made their way from Iran into Iraq; there are Iranian forces in Iraq; these weapons are being used to kill Americans; and we'll do everything we can to protect our people.

Henry: On the substance of it, the briefers over the weekend said that these parts are sent to Iraq with the approval of senior Iranian officials, and the bottom line, he seems to be contradicting that.

Snow: Well, I think what General Pace may have been saying -- in fact, I know he -- he -- and this is where we get to the rhetorical question I was asking you before. Do we have a signed piece of paper from Mr. Khamenei or from President Ahmadinejad signing off on this? No. But are the Qods Forces part of the army -- part of the government? The answer is yes. So the question is, I think this ends up being a semantic dispute about senior levels of the government or the government, and the fact is, the government knows about it.

Henry: But isn't it really a question about whether or not you have strong evidence? When the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff seemed to be saying something different than the White House, does that raise questions about how solid this evidence is?

Snow: No, because you've got -- you have explosively formed penetrators. He says they exist; correct?

Henry: I didn't see that in this particular quote. But I --

Snow: Well, no, no. He said that there are weapons that are coming from Iran.

Henry: He said that there are projectiles manufactured in Iran, yes.

Snow: Okay. All right. So okay, so there's no doubt about that, correct?

Henry: Right.

Snow: There are Iranians in Iraq. There's no question about that; correct?

Henry: Sure.

Snow: All right, so where's the credibility problem in terms of -- are you saying --

Henry: In terms of the Iranian government being behind it. That's not --

Snow: That's --

Henry: -- no one is disputing whether they're manufactured in Iran. That's what you keep changing what my question is.

Snow: No, no. I'm trying to clarify your question because I think this is --

Henry: Well, I don't need it clarified. I'm trying to tell you -- I know what my question is. And basically, he's saying that he doesn't see evidence that the Iranian government is clearly behind it.

Snow: I think --

Henry: That's why -- I've asked that three our four times. You haven't answered that. You're saying the Iranian government is behind it.

Snow: Okay, let me put it this way. I'll say it one more time. The Qods Force is part of the Iranian government. The Qods Force is behind it, is associated with it.

[END VIDEO CLIP]

Henry: Another curious aspect of this is how the information was delivered this past weekend. It was delivered by US officials on "background", meaning they would not have their names used. It was also done off-camera. That's raising questions about whether or not those US officials wanted to be on camera, whether they were concerned about this evidence being shaky. I put that to Tony Snow as well. He insisted that is not the case. It's not because he felt the evidence was shaky. And, finally, Tony Snow also said in this briefing that he had just recently, in the last hour or so, gotten off the phone with General Pace and insisted that General Pace is saying privately that they're on the same page. There's really not a difference here. The problem, though, is that General Pace is now, apparently, on an airplane coming back from Australia or Indonesia and -- bottom line -- we're not going to be able to get to him for another day to get his side of the story.

Phillips: Tony Snow was saying that the Quds are behind this, because there's three parts to the Iranian government: the president, the radicals, the Qods, and the Clergy, which is the Ayatollah. So he's saying it's that part of the Iranian government that he believes is behind these weapons?

Henry: He's saying that directly. One of the questions that's out there is these briefers over the weekend in Baghdad, these US Military officials were saying that it went to the highest level of the Iranian government. There's some question about exactly what that means. Are they on the same page there as well? Does this really go to the highest levels of Iranian government or not?

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