Bush Defends Intelligence As 'Darn Good'
Jul 14, 5:45 PM (ET)
By WILLIAM C. MANN
WASHINGTON (AP) - Defending his credibility, President Bush said Monday the United States made the right decision to invade Iraq and the intelligence on which he relied was "darn good" - even though some of it now is in question.
Bush said the United States was reviewing documents and interviewing Iraqis in an intensive effort to support the administration's still unproven claim that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
"When it's all said and done," Bush insisted, "the people of the United States and the world will realize that Saddam Hussein had a weapons program."
Bush spoke in the Oval Office alongside U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who opposed the U.S.-led war. The two met to discuss Iraq, the Middle East and peacekeeping in Liberia.
Amid the finger-pointing over blame, the embarrassing episode forced the administration to concede it did not know the source of the British intelligence - and, in fact, was not trying to determine the source.
"We don't know if it's true but nobody - but nobody - can say it was wrong," White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said. "That is not known." Administration officials said Bush's statement was technically correct since he was simply saying that British intelligence said something was true.
Nevertheless, Bush is not pleased with the turn of events, Fleischer said, and the administration is tightening its scrutiny of material that goes into his speeches.
Democrats questioned the administration's explanation, and anti-war advocacy groups launched a television advertising campaign accusing Bush of misleading Americans about Iraq's nuclear ambitions. The ad ends with the word "leader" superimposed on Bush's face - and then the word changes to "misleader."
Defending his administration, Bush said, "I think the intelligence I get is darn good intelligence. And the speeches I have given were backed by good intelligence.
"And I am absolutely convinced today, like I was convinced when I gave the speeches, that Saddam Hussein developed a program of weapons of mass destruction and that our country made the right decision."
The administration said the questionable intelligence claim was simply one piece in a long, documented list of evidence showing that Iraq was trying to acquire material for nuclear weapons.
Said Fleischer: "The fact of the matter is whether they sought it from Africa or didn't seek it from Africa doesn't change the fact that they were seeking to reconstitute a nuclear program."
The White House also drew a distinction between the way Bush handled intelligence claims about Iraq in a speech he gave in Cincinnati last October compared with his State of the Union address in January.
In October, acting on Tenet's suggestion, Bush excised a sentence about Iraq seeking a specific quantity of uranium from Niger, Fleischer said. Yet, several months later, Bush went ahead and raised the claim about seeking uranium in Africa.
Fleischer said it was an apples-and-oranges difference because the
Cincinnati speech mentioned Niger while the State of the Union speech
talked about all of Africa, and that there was different reporting from
the CIA. "So it's an apple in Cincinnati and an orange in the State of the
Union," he said. "The two do not compare that directly."
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