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White House to Improve Process for Bush Speeches

White House to Improve Clearance Process for Bush Speeches - But stands by its policy to rid Iraq of WMD...

By Charles Hays Burchfield
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- Improvements will be made in the process that is used to clear presidential speeches, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters July 14, when he was asked again about a statement in President Bush's January 2003 State of the Union Address to Congress.

Bush administration officials have recently acknowledged that a sentence in the speech referring to a British intelligence report that Saddam Hussein sought uranium from Africa should not have been included in that address.

"I think it's safe to say that everybody involved in the vetting process already knows that this process has to be improved," Fleischer said. "I think what's going to happen in every future speech is people are going to make certain that they do their due diligence with each and every sentence of every presidential address so that everything is made sure it is as accurate as is possible."

The sentence that administration officials are saying should never have made it into the president's 2003 State of the Union Address is: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

In a July 11 statement, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet took responsibility for not removing the questionable sentence.

"These 16 words should never have been included in the text written for the president," the statement said.

"From what we know now, [Central Intelligence] Agency officials in the end concurred that the text in the speech was factually correct -- i.e. that the British government report said that Iraq sought uranium from Africa," Tenet said in his statement. "This 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."

President Bush told reporters August 14, after meeting in the Oval Office with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, that this one sentence does not affect the fact that Saddam Hussein had a weapons program and posed a threat to the United States.

"The larger point is, and the fundamental question is: Did Saddam Hussein have a weapons program? And the answer is: Absolutely," Bush said.

"And we gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in. And therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power, along with other nations, so as to make sure he was not a threat to the United States and our friends and allies in the region. I firmly believe the decisions we made will make America more secure and the world more peaceful."

Fleischer said this one issue does not undermine the president's argument for war against Iraq.

"We went to war because Saddam Hussein had chemical weapons, had biological weapons, and was indeed seeking to reconstitute a nuclear program, whether it did or did not involve uranium coming from Africa," Fleischer said. "That's, in the scheme of things, a minor element in the judgment that was made in the events that led up to war."

Fleischer gave the following as evidence that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program:

"In addition to the long-standing ambitions that Iraq had to procure nuclear weapons, in addition to the fact that they had a nuclear facility that had to be destroyed by Israel before it was actually able to come onto line, in addition to the fact that the international community concluded that Iraq was much closer to possessing nuclear weapons during the Gulf War, in addition to the fact that we underestimated -- not overestimated but underestimated -- how close they were in the early 1990s, we have seen, since the sanctions were imposed on Iraq, Iraq do the following events:

"They had an indigenous production -- overt and covert procurement of uranium compounds; they had development of multiple indigenous uranium capabilities; they had the intent to divert research reactor fuel in a crash program to produce a nuclear weapon; they had limited production and separation of plutonium for weapons research at their facilities; they had weaponization research and development at dedicated facilities aimed at producing a missile-deliverable weapon; and of course, we all saw it on TV, how many meetings did Saddam Hussein have with his nuclear scientists? Why did he retain the group that he called the 'Nuclear Mujahideen' if he did not have an intention of working on a nuclear program?"

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