The New York Times
July 9, 2003
Bush Defends War, Sidestepping Issue of Faulty Intelligence
By RICHARD W. STEVENSON
PRETORIA, South Africa, July 9 _ President Bush brushed aside questions today about the accuracy of a piece of evidence he used to justify war with Iraq, saying he was "absolutely confident" he made the right decision to use military force to remove Saddam Hussein from power.
Speaking at a news conference here with President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Mr. Bush did not directly answer a question about whether he regretted including in his State of the Union address this year a statement that Iraq had tried to acquire uranium in Africa for use in a nuclear weapons program. The White House acknowledged on Monday that the intelligence behind the statement was incomplete and perhaps inaccurate, drawing criticism from Democrats on Capitol Hill who said it raised doubts about the administration's case for the war.
But Mr. Bush, in his first comments on the matter, made clear that the specific piece of evidence in question did not make any difference to his basic position that Mr. Hussein's government posed a threat to the United States and the stability of the Middle East.
"There is no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein was a threat to world peace," Mr. Bush said. "And there's no doubt in my mind that the United States, along with allies and friends, did the right thing in removing him from power. And there's no doubt in my mind, when it's all said and done, the facts will show the world the truth."
The administration's failure so far to find any substantial caches of chemical or biological weapons and the weakening of its case that Mr. Hussein was trying to rebuild his nuclear program have fed the longstanding and deep skepticism among many opponents of the war that Iraq was as much of a threat as Mr. Bush made it out to be.
Some Democrats have seized on the doubts about the accuracy of the intelligence on the uranium as new justification for a full-scale investigation, seeking to put Mr. Bush on the defensive over his handling of the war at a time when his reelection campaign is stressing his role as commander in chief of a continuing war against terrorism.
Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman, said the Bush administration was being "forthright" in acknowledging that information that it received after the State of the Union address led it to pull back the assertion that Iraq had been trying to purchase uranium in Niger, in West Africa.
"This information should not have risen to the level of a presidential speech," Mr. Fleischer said. "There was reporting, although it wasn't very specific, about Iraq's seeking to obtain uranium from Africa."
But he also suggested that the White House continued to put some store in the intelligence that was the basis of Mr. Bush's statement.
"Just because something didn't make it to the level where it should have been included in a presidential speech, in hindsight, doesn't mean the information was necessarily inaccurate," Mr. Fleischer said.
The White House has faced questions about Mr. Bush's assertion about the uranium purchase for months, and they intensified this week after an article was published on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times on Sunday by Joseph C. Wilson 4th, a former ambassador who was sent last year to Niger to investigate reports of the attempted purchase. Mr. Wilson, who said he was dispatched after Vice President Dick Cheney's office took an interest in the matter, reported back that the intelligence was likely fraudulent.
But Mr. Fleischer said Mr. Wilson's report was vague and did not specifically address the main problem with the intelligence, that documents purporting to document Iraq's efforts were almost certainly forged.
"He spent eight days in Niger and concluded that Niger denied the allegation," Mr. Fleischer said. "Well, typically nations don't admit to going around nuclear nonproliferation."
He said there had been "other reporting" beyond the apparently forged documents about Mr. Hussein's efforts to acquire a lightly processed form of uranium known as yellow cake, but did not specify what it was.
"I think the American people continue to express their support for ridding the world of Saddam Hussein based on just cause, knowing that Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons that were unaccounted for that we're still confident we'll find," Mr. Fleischer said. "I think the burden is on those people who think he didn't have weapons of mass destruction to tell the world where they are."
Mr. Bush said that the United States had underestimated how close Mr. Hussein was to building a nuclear weapon in 1991, before the first Persian Gulf war, and that there had long been evidence that Iraq was trying again. He dismissed the criticism of his justification for war as "attempts to try to rewrite history."
"Imagine a world in which this tyrant had a nuclear weapon," Mr. Bush said.
Original URL: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/07/09/international/worldspecial/19CND-INTE.html?pagewanted=print&position=
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