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Bush Absolutely Confident of His Decision on Iraq

Bush "Absolutely Confident" of His Decision on Iraq

(Even though White House admits one prewar claim not accurate)

By Charles Hays Burchfield Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- President Bush on July 9 defended his use of prewar intelligence as justification for the Iraq war, saying he is "absolutely confident" about his actions, despite White House acknowledgement that one claim Bush made in his 2003 State of the Union Address about Saddam Hussein pursuing nuclear weapons in Africa was based on unreliable information.

"I'm absolutely confident in the decision I made," Bush told reporters at a press availability with South African President Thabo Mbeki in Pretoria, South Africa.

Bush was on his second day of a five-day, five-country trip to Africa.

"And there's no doubt in my mind, when it's all said and done, the facts will show the world the truth," Bush said. "And so there's going to be a lot of attempts to try to rewrite history, and I can understand that. But I am absolutely confident in the decision I made."

Bush did not directly address his claim in the January 28, 2003, State of the Union Address to Congress in which he said, "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

Instead, he defended his decision to go to war by saying Saddam Hussein posed a threat, and the world is a more peaceful place now that he no longer rules Iraq.

"There is no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein was a threat to the world peace," 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."

Bush continued by saying, "And in 2003, after the world had demanded he disarm, we decided to disarm him. And I'm convinced the world is a much more peaceful and secure place as a result of the actions."

After Bush made his statements, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters traveling with Bush that the statement about Saddam Hussein seeking uranium from Africa "should not have risen to the level of a presidential speech."

After the speech, Fleischer said, the Bush administration learned that the statement came from forged documents: "With the advantage of hindsight, it's known now what was not known by the White House prior to the speech."

The charge of seeking African uranium was based on documents "now known to be bogus," that were obtained by European intelligence agencies, Fleischer said. The bogus documents appeared to be communications between officials in Iraq and Niger.

"It's a classic issue of how hindsight is 20-20," Fleischer said. "[I]nformation about the [uranium] yellowcake was only brought to the White House's attention later."

Uranium yellowcake -- a form of lightly processed ore -- through further processing can be used in fuel rods for nuclear reactors or in nuclear weapons.

Fleischer said "there's a bigger picture here, and this is what's fundamental -- the case for war against Iraq was based on the threat that Saddam Hussein posed because of his possession of weapons of mass destruction, chemical and biological, and his efforts to reconstitute a nuclear program."

"The case for going to war against Saddam is as just today as it was the day the president gave that speech," Fleischer said.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Gabon Joseph Wilson, a career diplomat who served in the U.S. foreign service from 1976 to 1998, was asked by the Central Intelligence Agency to travel to Niger in February 2002 to investigate reports that Niger sold Iraq processed uranium in the 1990s that could be used to make nuclear weapons.

Wilson -- in a July 6 op-ed article in the New York Times -- wrote, "It did not take long to conclude that it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place."

In an interview on July 6 with NBC's "Meet the Press" Wilson said that if the British and Bush were referring to Niger when they said Africa, then "that information was erroneous, and ... they knew about it well ahead of both the publication of the British White Paper and the president's State of the Union address."

Wilson's report "did not address whether the [yellowcake] documents were forged or not," but only that Niger denied the allegation that it sold uranium yellowcake to Iraq, Fleischer said.

"He [Wilson] spent eight days in Niger and concluded that Niger denied the allegation," Fleischer said. "Well, typically, nations don't admit to going around nuclear nonproliferation. That's different from what he reported. The issue here is whether the documents on yellowcake were forged. He didn't address that issue. That's the information that subsequently came to light, not prior to the speech."

Fleischer said Bush's statement in the State of the Union Address "was based on the national intelligence estimate; it was based on contemporaneous reporting leading up to the speech, which with the advantage of hindsight we now know that the yellowcake ties to Niger were not accurate."

Fleischer said that although the specific sentence on Niger yellowcake was wrong, "that does not change the fundamental case from being right."

"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 biological and chemical weapons that were unaccounted for that we're still confident we'll find," Fleischer said. "It will take as long as it takes until they (WMD) are discovered."

Fleischer said "It is the nature of events that information can later be discovered after a speech -- and when that happens, as is in this case, it's important to be forthright, which is what this administration has done -- to discuss it openly, and that's what this administration has done."

Committees in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives are investigating pre-war intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

On July 9 in the U.S. Capitol Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (Democrat-South Dakota) urged "having a good, bipartisan investigation so that we know exactly what the facts are." Such an investigation, he said, is "critical to understanding and writing history the way it should be."

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