And for the second time in four days, the U.S. leader faced questions from reporters about an ally that appears to be getting along better with Iran than he might prefer.
Doubts About Iran's 'Helper' Status
On August 6, Bush was asked about Afghan President Hamid Karzai's comment on CNN that Iran has been a peaceful neighbor and "a helper" in the fight against narcotics trafficking. Bush replied that he would be "cautious" about that statement.
Today a reporter noted that al-Maliki is currently in Iran in hopes of enlisting Tehran's help in stabilizing Iraq. The reporter noted that al-Maliki thanked Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad for his "positive and constructive stance" as neighbor.
Bush responded that the public view of such meetings are always cordial, and that he hoped in private, al-Maliki told Ahmadinejad to stop being a "destabilizing influence" in the region, and stop supplying arms to Iraqi militias.
Bush added that if al-Maliki truly believes Iran is being constructive, he'll make a point of discussing it with him.
"If the signal is that Iran is constructive, I will have to have a heart-to-heart [intimate and sincere talk] with my friend, the [Iraqi] prime minister, because I don't believe they are constructive," Bush said. "I don't think he, in his heart of hearts, believes they are constructive, either. Now, maybe he is hopeful and trying to get them to be constructive by laying out a positive picture."
Bush said al-Maliki's message to Ahmadinejad should be the same as his own message to Iran: Stop sending weapons to Iraq or "there will be consequences." He didn't say what those consequences might be.
Confidence In Pakistan
During the morning press conference, Bush also urged patience with al-Maliki's government. He acknowledged that Iraqi lawmakers have not met U.S. benchmarks for progress, but stressed that democracy is new to the country's ministers.
"It's difficult [for Iraqi leaders to work together] because of years of tyrannical rule that have created a lot of suspicions, and these folks need to trust each other more," Bush said. "Secondly, from my perspective, we're watching leaders learn how to be leaders. It's a new process for people to be democratic leaders."
On Pakistan, Bush said he's confident that General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, will continue to cooperate with the United States in the fight against terrorists, and that he wouldn't resist any effort to go after "high-value" Al-Qaeda or Taliban targets in the mountainous and largely lawless region of northwestern Pakistan.
"I have made it clear to [Musharraf] that I would expect there to be full cooperation in sharing intelligence, and I believe we've got good intelligence sharing. I have indicated to him that the American people would expect there to be swift action taken if there's actionable intelligence on high-value targets inside his country," Bush said.
"Now, I recognize Pakistan is a sovereign nation, and that's important for Americans to recognize that," he added. "But it's also important for Americans to understand that he shares the same concern about radicals and extremists as I do."
Guantanamo Trials Under Review
A reporter also asked Bush about efforts to close the U.S. detention facility for suspected enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The reporter noted that a year ago, Bush said he'd prefer to close it, but since then there have been reports that some members of his administration have resisted the idea.
Bush replied that the biggest resistance to closing the prison comes from the countries where the prisoners would be returned.
"We are working with other nations to send folks back," he said. "Again, it's a fairly [difficult task]. A lot of people don't want killers in their midst, and a lot of these people are killers. Secondly, of course, we want to make sure that when we do send them back, they're treated as humanely as possible."
About 350 prisoners remain at Guantanamo Bay. Bush says his administration still wants to bring at least some of them to trial, although it is still trying to work out how such trials will be conducted.
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President Ahmadinejad in parliament (ISNA photo)
Mohammad Maleki, the first head of Tehran University following the Islamic revolution, says he doesn't believe the students' criticism of the government constitutes a revolution.
"What is going on right now is that because [the government] cannot tolerate the students' criticism, they try to prevent it by shutting down universities and by threatening professors and students," Maleki says. "What they are currently doing is in my opinion, and in the opinion of many professors, aimed at creating an atmosphere of fear and terror among professors and students to stop them from openly criticizing the government."
Ali Niku Nesbati, a member of the Office to Foster Unity, Iran's largest pro-reform student group, says that during Ahmadinejad's presidency, the disciplinary committee has issued warnings to 523 students for political activism. He adds that over the past year alone, more than 1,700 students have been "marked with stars" and subsequently encountered difficulties when applying for graduate degrees. (Ahmadinejad's government has reportedly adopted a "star rating" system for student activists and gives regime critics between one and three stars, depending on the perceived threat they pose.)
Nesbati says what is noteworthy is that "as the government is faced with more problems and is unable to resolve them, we are encountering more repression."
"As we have witnessed over the past few months, more pressures have been exerted on women, workers, and teachers," Nesbati says. "The same obviously applies to students."
(Nesbati was imprisoned on July 9, 2007. He made the above statements before his imprisonment.)
Abbas Marufi, an Iranian writer and publisher based in Berlin, says never in Iran's history has the book market faced tougher circumstances than today.
"The government has laid the foundations for the destruction of good and professional publishing in Iran," he says, adding that the government has created a situation that is exploited by "pseudo-publishers" -- as he describes them -- who are in the business solely to profit by publishing books for which they can get subsidies.
Marufi says that over the past two years, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance has even started to revoke publishing rights issued by previous governments.
Ebrahim Nabavi, a journalist and satirist, says the book-publishing sector today faces circumstances similar to those 10 years ago. According to Nabavi, it has become very difficult to get accreditation for new publications or to renew old licences.
But Sadegh Samii, director of publishing house Ketabsara, says many government critics are simply ignorant of the rules and regulations of publishing in Iran.
"We Iranians are in the habit of blaming others for our own failures," says Sadegh Samii, director of the publication "Ketabsara." "So if at any point in time, I'm unable to select a good book and find a qualified translator, I put the blame on the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. But this is unjustified."
Samii says over the past 27 or 28 years, the ministry's regulations have not changed at all. But he admits that the regulations have been applied more or less strictly during different periods.
Siamak Taheri, a newspaper journalist based in Iran, says Ahmadinejad was elected two years ago on the promise that he would bring social equality to the country. At the time, many Iranians were dissatisfied with their country's economic situation and had lost faith in the reformists' ability to improve it, so they pinned their hopes on Ahmadinejad.
"But the economic situation has worsened under Ahmadinejad and unemployment and corruption have increased." Taheri blames the situation on the makeup of the government.
Shirin Ebadi, Iranian human rights lawyer and Nobel Peace Prize winner, says she has not seen the government "take any positive action in the fight against high prices and in the struggle for prosperity, which is an important human right." Ebadi says this has prompted workers and teachers to hold strikes, which unfortunately have led to arrests and interrogations.
Nahid Kheirabi, a journalist and women activist based in Iran, says one of the "reactionary viewpoints of the 9th republic has been the renewed discourse on the legitimacy of temporary marriage," which according to Kheirabi constitutes "an insult and a threat to humanity, to both men and women." But Kheirabi says society's negative reaction to the concept of temporay marriage has forced Ahmadinejad's people to retreat on this issue.