Rice Downplays Significance of Iraqi Uranium Claim
National security advisor says it was not crucial to war decision
By Thomas Eichler
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington -- Responding to continuing questions about the inclusion in President Bush's January 2003 State of the Union speech of a reference to alleged Iraqi efforts to obtain uranium, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said July 13 "it is ludicrous to suggest that the president of the United States went to war on the question of whether Saddam Hussein sought uranium from Africa."
Interviewed on Fox News Sunday, Rice said the statement in Bush's speech ["The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa"] was only part of a broad case the president made in that speech and in other places.
She added that although Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet now says it was a mistake to make reference in a major presidential speech to a British intelligence report that U.S. intelligence agencies could not confirm, "the British themselves stand by that statement to this very day, saying that they had sources other than sources that have now been called into question to back up that claim." Some of the documents on which the claim was originally based now have been revealed to have been forged.
Tenet said in a statement July 11 that the State of the Union speech passage "should never have been included in the text written for the president." Although the passage was "factually correct," Tenet said, "[t]his should not have been the test for clearing a presidential address. This did not rise to the level of certainty which should be required for presidential speeches, and CIA should have ensured that it was removed."
Appearing the same day on the CBS program Face the Nation, Rice said "The president took the nation to war to depose a bloody tyrant who had defied the world for 12 years, who was building a weapons of mass destruction program and had weapons of mass destruction which he had used in the past."
Now that Saddam Hussein has been removed from power, Rice said, there is "an opportunity for a Middle East that might finally be at peace and that will not create an atmosphere in which you have ideologies of hatred spawning people who slam airplanes into the World Trade Centers."
Asked whether intelligence officials reviewing the State of the Union speech prior to its delivery might have been reluctant to speak up because of a perceived strong White House interest in including material on Iraqi weapons efforts, Rice said "These are intelligence professionals. And the president and the vice president and I and others always made clear to intelligence professionals and especially to the DCI [Director of Central Intelligence Tenet] that there was to be nothing but what the intelligence agencies wanted to tell us. The last thing that we need or want is to have an intelligence agency that's telling you what you want to hear. That's not how this president operates."