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Bush need not apologize over Iraq-uranium statement, Powell says

Associated Press
Jul. 10, 2003 01:40 PM

PRETORIA, South Africa - Secretary of State Colin Powell defended the administration in its handling of information about Iraqi weapons programs, saying Thursday that President Bush shouldn't have to apologize for a statement that later proved false.

Powell's remarks were the administration's strongest defense yet of Bush's decision to include an assertion in his State of the Union speech that Saddam Hussein had sought uranium from Africa.

"There was no effort or attempt on the part of the president or anyone else in the administration to mislead or to deceive the American people," Powell said in Pretoria, South Africa, where he was traveling with Bush. "The president was presenting what seemed to be a reasonable statement at that time."

As weeks have passed with the American search turning up no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, criticism, especially from Democrats, has been building concerning assertions the administration made as justification for the war.

One reason Bush gave for taking military action was that Saddam possessed of weapons of mass destruction. In his Jan. 28 State of the Union message, Bush said: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

Powell said the line in Bush's speech reflected the best available intelligence at the time. Days later, as Powell prepared his Feb. 5 speech on Iraq to the United Nations, the secretary said he decided not to use the information.

"I didn't use it, and we haven't used it since," Powell said. "But to think that somehow we went out of our way to insert this single sentence into the State of the Union Address for the purpose of deceiving and misleading the American people is an overdrawn, overblown, overwrought conclusion."

Democratic lawmakers are calling for deeper investigations into how Bush handled the intelligence.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who is running for president, said the issue was not a matter of politics, but national security.

"When we go to other countries and say we have evidence of X or Y or Z, it is important that they believe us," Kerry said Thursday at the Capitol in Washington. "And when we go to the American people and ask them to support some effort in the future, it is more than important that they believe us. So I believe we need a thorough investigation in order to re-establish the credibility of our own government."

Powell compared intelligence gathering to a moving train.

"It turned out that the basis upon which that statement was made didn't hold up and we said so," Powell said. "And we have acknowledged it. And we moved on. ... We can chew on this sentence in the State of the Union Address forever, but I don't think it undercuts the president's credibility."

He reiterated the administration's message - that Saddam's government had developed weapons of mass destruction and had used them. When the 1991 Gulf War was over, American forces found them and destroyed some, he said. For years, the U.N. weapons inspectors searched for more, but could not find them all, Powell said.

He also noted that President Clinton ordered missile strikes against Saddam in 1998.

"What did he bomb?" Powell asked, rhetorically. "He bombed for four days, in Operation Desert Fox, facilities that were believed to possess or were developing or producing weapons of mass destruction.

"The entire international community has felt over this entire period that Saddam Hussein had these weapons and there was sufficient intelligence available to all the major intelligence agencies of the world that they existed and they do exist."

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