July 19, 2004

Bush Says U.S. Will Look Into Possible Iranian Ties to 9/11


New York Times

WASHINGTON, July 19 — President Bush said today that the United States would continue to investigate whether Iran, one of the three countries he has said compose an "axis of evil," had any role in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"As to direct connections with Sept. 11," Mr. Bush said at the White House, "we're digging into the facts to determine if there was one." The president spoke as official Washington was eagerly awaiting the report by the independent commission investigating the attacks, which is scheduled for release on Thursday.

From the tone of Mr. Bush's remarks, delivered in response to a question, it did not appear that he was hinting at any startling new intelligence about Iran. He seemed, rather, to be expressing determination to get to the bottom of new reports that as many as 10 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers passed through Iran before the attacks.

"Of course, we want to know all the facts," Mr. Bush said. Noting that Thomas McLaughlin, the acting Director of Central Intelligence, has said there appeared to be no direct connection between Iran and the Sept. 11 attacks, the president said, "We will continue to look and see if, see if the Iranians were involved."

Early in his presidency, Mr. Bush described Iran, Iraq and North Korea as an "axis of evil." He initially argued that the military campaign to topple Iraq's Saddam Hussein was necessary because his regime was thought to possess deadly unconventional weapons.

With the failure so far to find any such weapons, Mr. Bush has insisted that the military campaign was still the right thing to do, because it removed an evil dictator from the Middle East. He and Vice President Dick Cheney have characterized the campaign as part of the war on terror that began on Sept. 11, 2001, even though the 9/11 commission said in an interim report last month that there had been no "collaborative relationship" between Iraq and Al Qaeda terrorists.

Critics of the Bush administration say it made no sense to go to war with Iraq if the United States' most dangerous enemy was Al Qaeda. With new reports that Iran enabled some hijackers to travel more easily, the critics may have fresh grist to use against the White House.

The United States has no diplomatic relations with Iran and has long accused the Iranian intelligence services of cooperating with terrorist networks, including Al Qaeda. There were reports over the weekend that the 9/11 commission had uncovered evidence that as many as 10 of the hijackers had traveled through Iran after training in Afghanistan, and that they had been allowed to do so without Iranian stamps on their passports — thus enabling them to enter the United States without special scrutiny.

"I have long expressed my concerns about Iran," Mr. Bush said during a White House appearance with President Ricardo Lagos of Chile.