From the Post …
President Bush said the Iranian government has “declared they want to have a nuclear weapon to destroy people” and vowed that the United States would be “firm” in preventing Tehran’s acquisition of such arms.
Washington has long suspected that Iran wants to use its civilian nuclear power program as cover for an effort to build nuclear weapons. But the Iranian government has not publicly declared a desire to obtain such weapons. In fact, Iranian leaders have said the opposite, repeatedly insisting that they do not want nuclear arms and asserting that their nuclear program is intended only to generate electricity.
Joseph Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation specializing in nuclear policy, called Bush’s statement “uninformed” and “troubling.”
“Iran has never said it wanted a nuclear weapon for any reason,” he said. “It’s just not true.”
Asked to explain Bush’s comment, White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said he spoke in “shorthand,” combining Iranian threats against Israel with concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.
“The president was referring to the Iranian regime’s previous statements regarding their desire to wipe Israel off the map,” Johndroe said. “The president shorthanded his answer with regard to Iran’s previously secret nuclear weapons program and their current enrichment and ballistic missile testing.”
According to Farsi-speaking commentators including Juan Cole, a professor of Middle Eastern history at the University of Michigan, Ahmadinejad’s exact quote was, “The Imam said that this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time.” Cole has written that Ahmadinejad was not calling for the “Nazi-style extermination of a people,” but was expressing the wish that the Israeli government would disappear just as the shah of Iran’s regime had collapsed in 1979.