Date: 09-23-07 22:12
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski likened U.S. officials' saber rattling about Iran's alleged nuclear ambitions to similar bellicose statements made before the start of the Iraq war.
"I think the administration, the president and the vice president particularly, are trying to hype the atmosphere, and that is reminiscent of what preceded the war in Iraq," Brzezinski told CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer" Sunday.
In October 2002, five months before Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was toppled for what the United States said was his pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, President Bush said, "Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof -- the smoking gun -- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud."
No evidence was found that Iraq was then pursuing such weapons.
Earlier this month during a televised speech about Iraq, the president said, "Iran would benefit from the chaos and would be encouraged in its efforts to gain nuclear weapons and dominate the region."
Brzezinski disapproved of the statement.
"When the president flatly asserts they are seeking nuclear weapons, he's overstating the facts," he said. "We are suspicious, we have strong suspicions, but we don't have facts that they are."
Brzezinski, who served under President Jimmy Carter, said he is not sure how to interpret Iran's intentions. Iran has insisted its nuclear program is intended solely for peaceful purposes.
"I think it's quite possible that they are seeking weapons or positioning themselves to have them, but we have very scant evidence to support that," he said. "And the president of the United States, especially after Iraq, should be very careful about the veracity of his public assertions."
But Henry Kissinger, the former national security adviser and secretary of state under President Nixon, appeared not to doubt Iran's alleged ambitions.
"I believe they are building a capability to build a nuclear bomb," Kissinger told CNN. "I don't think they're yet in a position to build a nuclear bomb, but they may be two or three years away from it."
Brzezinski urged American officials to be patient, whatever Tehran's intentions may be. "If we escalate the tensions, if we succumb to hysteria, if we start making threats, we are likely to stampede ourselves into a war, which most reasonable people agree would be a disaster for us," he said.
"And just think what it would do for the United States, because it would be the United States which would be at war. We will be at war simultaneously in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. And we would be stuck for the next 20 years."
Kissinger said the international community should enlist support from countries opposed to Iran becoming a nuclear power.
"The current objective has to be to unite the countries that will suffer directly from Iranian nuclear weapons, the members of the Security Council and other countries in a program of diplomacy," he said.
Kissinger and Brzezinski also disagreed over whether Columbia University in New York should have offered to present a lecture by Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, scheduled for Monday.
"Ahmadinejad is the first speaker in a distinguished-lecture series under the auspices of the president of Columbia University, and I do not believe that that is an appropriate invitation," Kissinger said.
Kissinger then clarified, "I do not oppose his speaking. I oppose its sponsorship by Columbia University."
Brzezinski said Ahmadinejad should be able to speak.
"You know, basically, it seems to me a university's a place where ideas, issues, very controversial issues, should be discussed, can be discussed," he said. "So if there is an audience that wants to hear the guy, I would have him speak."
Prior to departing Tehran for New York, Ahmadinejad called his planned address to the United Nations General Assembly "a good opportunity for presenting the Iranian people's clear views regarding the problems of the world and materialization of peace and tranquility," IRNA, Iran's state-run news agency, reported Sunday.
Ahmadinejad added that, in addition to speaking at Columbia, he would meet with a number of ex-patriot Iranians, American Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders, IRNA said.
Some students and Jewish leaders planned to protest at the Ivy League school, which last year withdrew a speaking invitation it had extended to the Iranian president after citing security concerns.
Pressed about how he feels about Ahmadinejad's denial of the Holocaust and allegations he sent weapons to Iraq used to kill U.S. troops, Brzezinski said, "Look, if his views are odious, we can say so, but we have a society of openness," he said. "If we start censoring in advance what it is we like to hear and what we don't hear, we're on a slippery slope."