Bush: Iran must release British sailors
Sunday, April 1, 2007
CAMP DAVID, Md. -- President Bush on Saturday said Iran's capture of 15 British sailors and marines was "inexcusable" and called for Iran to "give back the hostages" immediately and unconditionally.
Bush said Iran plucked the sailors out of Iraqi waters. Iran's president said Saturday they were in Iranian waters and called Britain and its allies "arrogant and selfish" for not apologizing for trespassing.
"It's inexcusable behavior," Bush said at the Camp David presidential retreat, where he was meeting with the president of Brazil. "Iran must give back the hostages. They're innocent. They did nothing wrong."
Bush also said during the joint appearance with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva that Alberto Gonzales is "honorable and honest" and has his full support, despite contradictory statements about the embattled attorney general's role in the firing of federal prosecutors.
The comments on the captured Britons were the first from Bush, as Washington has taken a low-key approach so far out of concern that more robust intervention might aggravate the situation and shake international resolve on Iran's nuclear program.
Bush did not answer a question about whether the United States would react militarily if those captured had been American. With the crisis in its second week, the president said he supports British Prime Minister Tony Blair's efforts to find a diplomatic resolution.
Bush would not discuss options for what might be done if Iran does not comply, but he seemed to reject any swapping of the British captives for Iranians detained in Iraq.
"I support the prime minister when he made it clear there were no quid pro quos," the president said.
He added, "The British hostage issue is a serious issue because the Iranians took these people out of Iraqi water." Iran disputes this.
On Gonzales, Bush defended the attorney general against charges he has not been forthcoming enough about his role.
"He is providing documents for Congress to find the truth. He will testify in front of Congress. And he will tell the truth," the president said. "I will remind you there is no credible evidence there has been any wrongdoing."
Gonzales' credibility took a blow this past week during testimony by his former chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sampson, who resigned March 12, said the attorney general was regularly briefed about plans to fire the prosecutors and was involved with discussions about "this process of asking certain U.S. attorneys to resign."
Gonzales is to testify on Capitol Hill on April 17.
Gonzales on Friday sought to explain weeks of inconsistencies about how closely involved he had been in decisions to dismiss the U.S. attorneys. He said he had been aware his staff was drawing up plans for the firings but did not recall taking part in discussions over which people would actually be told to go.
"I believe in truth and accountability, and every step that I've taken is consistent with that principle," Gonzales said in Boston. "At the end of the day, I know what I did. And I know that the motivations for the decisions that I made were not based upon improper reasons."