ABC Suggests Bush 'Lashing Out' at Iran Could 'Inflame' Standoff, Not 'Cool-Headed'

On Saturday's World News, ABC's David Kerley characterized President Bush's statement regarding the standoff between Britain and Iran as "lashing out," presumably because the President referred to the captured British soldiers as "hostages," as the ABC anchor suggested that Bush risked "inflaming" the situation. After relaying that the "outspoken" Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, today called Britain "arrogant" while still demanding an apology, Kerley also suggested that Bush's statement was not "cool-headed" as he introduced a story by correspondent Mike Lee playing up the possibility of a diplomatic solution. Kerley: "In spite of that rhetoric [from Ahmadinejad] and those remarks from President Bush today, there were some new signs that cooler heads may be prevailing." (Transcripts follow)

By contrast, while ABC saw in Iran a "sharp turn away from the tough talk," the NBC Nightly News contended that "there are no visible signs that Iran is backing down," and gave more focus to Ahmadinejad's defiant comments. NBC also reported Bush's criticism of Iran without undermining the President's words.

During the teaser for ABC's World News, Kerley announced: "Tough talk: President Bush lashes out at Iran, calling the 15 British sailors 'hostages,' and demanding their release." Kerley then opened the show contending that Bush was "stepping forcefully into the fray," and that he was running the risk of "inflaming an already tense situation." This opening was then followed by a clip of the President saying he supports the British government's attempts to "resolve this peacefully," while also saying "the Iranians must give back the hostages."

Kerley: "The standoff between Iran and Britain over the capture of 15 British navy personnel is nine days old. And until today, the White House has largely stayed out of it, trying not to inflame an already tense situation. But at a Camp David news conference late this afternoon, President Bush stepped forcefully into the fray."

Bush, from press conference: "And it's inexcusable behavior. And I strongly support the Blair government's attempts to resolve this peacefully. And I support the Prime Minister when he made it clear there were no quid pro quos. The Iranians must give back the hostages."

After Kerley mentioned that Ahmadinejad called Britain "arrogant" and demanded an apology, correspondent Lee still saw signs that both Iran and Britain were taking a "sharp turn away from the tough talk," a view likely shared by Kerley as he introduced the segment saying that "cooler heads may be prevailing."

Kerley: "For its part, Iran insists the sailors were trespassing, and today Iran's outspoken president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, called Britain and other countries 'arrogant' for not apologizing. In spite of that rhetoric and those remarks from President Bush today, there were some new signs that cooler heads may be prevailing. ABC's Mike Lee reports from London."

Mike Lee: "As the British captives began their second week in Iranian custody, their government today suddenly abandoned rhetoric and talked only of diplomacy. It is a sharp turn away from the tough talk from British and Iranian officials, during a week that included anti-British protests in Iran, an apparently doctored letter of apology from a British sailor, and a so-called 'video confession.'"

After featuring a soundbite of former Ambassador to the UN John Bolton arguing that it is important to make the the Iranian government believe that force could be used against them because "weakness is provocative," Lee then provided a soundbite in support of the "tried and tested" strategy of diplomacy supported by Middle East analyst Rosemary Hollis, who argued that "force doesn't solve everything," and that the "British tradition of diplomacy" could succeed without "behaving like a cowboy," possibly referring to President Bush.

Below is a complete transcript of the relevant stories from ABC's World News and the NBC Nightly News, while the CBS Evening News was preempted by basketball:

From the Saturday March 31 World News:

David Kerley, in opening teaser: "Good evening. I'm David Kerley, and this is World News. Tough talk: President Bush lashes out at Iran, calling the 15 British sailors 'hostages,' and demanding their release."

George W. Bush, from press conference: "The Iranians must give back the hostages."
...

Kerley: "Good evening. The standoff between Iran and Britain over the capture of 15 British navy personnel is nine days old. And until today, the White House has largely stayed out of it, trying not to inflame an already tense situation. But at a Camp David news conference late this afternoon, President Bush stepped forcefully into the fray."

Bush, from press conference: "And it's inexcusable behavior. And I strongly support the Blair government's attempts to resolve this peacefully. And I support the Prime Minister when he made it clear there were no quid pro quos. The Iranians must give back the hostages."

Kerley: "Now, President Bush would not say whether the U.S. would have reacted militarily if the sailors had been American. But, as you just heard, he said he backs British efforts at diplomacy. For its part, Iran insists the sailors were trespassing, and today Iran's outspoken president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, called Britain and other countries 'arrogant' for not apologizing. In spite of that rhetoric and those remarks from President Bush today, there were some new signs that cooler heads may be prevailing. ABC's Mike Lee reports from London."

Mike Lee: "As the British captives began their second week in Iranian custody, their government today suddenly abandoned rhetoric and talked only of diplomacy. It is a sharp turn away from the tough talk from British and Iranian officials, during a week that included anti-British protests in Iran, an apparently doctored letter of apology from a British sailor, and a so-called 'video confession.'"

Unidentified British soldier from video: "I would like to apologize for anything-"

Lee: "But today the Iranian state news agency backed away from earlier reports the sailors could face trial and punishment, saying there had been a poor translation. British officials today said they would give diplomacy a chance to work."

Margaret Beckett, British Foreign Secretary: "Things have gone a little quieter, and so we hope that that is a good sign and that people are thinking afresh, 'What is the way out of this situation?'"

Lee: "But a former American official disagrees with Britain's low-key approach, saying that Iran is using the boat incident to test Western resolve, which might be challenged in a showdown over its nuclear program."

John Bolton, Former Ambassador to UN: "The government in Tehran needs to understand that force is a viable option. If they think they are immune from the use of force, they will behave accordingly. Weakness is provocative."

Rosemary Hollis, Royal Institute of International Affairs: "Force doesn't solve everything."

Lee: "In London, Middle East analyst Rosemary Hollis says that while the British response may conflict with the American approach, it is tried and tested."

Hollis: "A British tradition of diplomacy, which is about literally relishing the complexity of the situation and finding what is achievable without having to behave like a cowboy."

Lee: "For better or worse, British officials have chosen quiet diplomacy, at least for now. Mike Lee, ABC News, London."

From the Saturday March 31 NBC Nightly News:

John Seigenthaler, in opening teaser: "President Bush demands the release of British troops held by Iran."

George W. Bush: "The Iranians must give back the hostages. They're innocent. They've done nothing wrong."
...

Seigenthaler: "Good evening, everyone. President Bush joined America's strongest ally today in demanding the release of 15 British marines and sailors held in Iran. Speaking publicly about the situation for the first time, the President made a point of calling the 15 'hostages' and said their detention was inexcusable. But after a nine-day standoff with Britain, there are no visible signs that Iran is backing down. We have two reports tonight, beginning with NBC's John Yang at the White House. Good evening, John."

John Yang: "John, this was the first time President Bush has spoken out about the captured British troops. And he made clear the he supports the tough stand being taken by British Prime Minister Tony Blair."

Bush: "The Iranians took these people out of Iraqi water, and it's inexcusable behavior. And I strongly support the Blair government's attempts to resolve this peacefully. And I support the Prime Minister when he made it clear there were no quid pro quos. The Iranians must give back the hostages. They're innocent. They were doing nothing wrong, and they were summarily plucked out of water. And it is, as I say, it's inexcusable behavior."

Yang: "Right now, there are two U.S. aircraft carrier groups off the waters of Iran, the Stennis and the Eisenhower. They're conducting military exercises in the Persian Gulf. Officials here at the White House and at the Pentagon stress that they are not seeking a confrontation with Iran in the Persian Gulf. And, John, it's interesting he did not answer one part of the question he was asked, and that's about what he would have done if these were American troops who had been taken."
...

Seigenthaler: "From Iran today, more defiance. Despite diplomatic efforts to find a solution to the crisis, tension between Iran and Britain appeared to be growing today. NBC's Stephanie Gosk reports from London."

Stephanie Gosk: "As the crisis reached its ninth day, the president of Iran blamed what he called the 'world arrogant powers.' During a speech, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the British sailors trespassed in Iranian waters when they were seized, but, quote, 'arrogant powers, because of their arrogant and selfish spirit, are claiming otherwise.' These comments come as a British official struck a measured tone at the European Union meeting in Germany."

Margaret Beckett, British Foreign Secretary: "What we want is a way out of it. We want it peacefully, and we want it as soon as possible."

Gosk: "The British have been denied access to the 15 prisoners, though their pictures have appeared on Iranian TV. Behind the scenes, the British government says there is a high-stakes diplomatic effort under way, including meetings in the exchange of letters, but still no breakthrough. Today a European Union official demanded the prisoners' release after Iran suggested they might be put on trial. Concern that the prisoners may be tried was sparked today by a Russian TV interview with the Iranian ambassador in Moscow. The Iranian government later said the ambassador's words had been translated incorrectly. But the threat of a trial still looms, and quick release of the troops seems unlikely."

Bruce Reidel, Iran expert: "The Iranians are going to get something before they give these guys up. They're not just going to say, 'Oops, here are your people back.' That's not how Iran works."

Gosk: "The 15 were taken in disputed waters long a cause of friction between Iran and Iraq. And one opposition group says Iran's leaders planned the capture to gain leverage for the country's nuclear program."

Hossein Abedemi, National Council of Resistance of Iran: "This was a carefully and meticulously concocted operation which has ... the approval of the highest authorities of the regime to gain concessions."

Gosk: "But as frustration builds among Britain and its allies, concessions, for now, seem unlikely. Stephanie Gosk, NBC News, London."