WASHINGTON, July 30: US President George Bush took full responsibility on Wednesday for claims about Iraq’s nuclear weapons programmes that turned out to be based on now-discredited documents.
The controversy has raised questions about the Bush administration’s use of dubious intelligence reports to justify the invasion of Iraq.
Mr Bush’s acceptance of responsibility came in a nationally televised news conference and is so far his most direct response to questions about how his Jan 28 State of the Union speech had included erroneous allegations about Iraqi attempts to buy uranium in Niger, Africa.
“I take personal responsibility for everything I say, of course. Absolutely. I also take responsibility for making decisions on war and peace,” he said.
The US president said he had analysed “good, solid, sound intelligence” in making his decision to move against Saddam Hussein. Part of his case against the former Iraqi leader was based on documents that the United Nations termed forgeries. The White House itself now admits the Niger allegation should not have been included in the president’s speech.
CIA Director George Tenet has taken responsibility for the mistake, as has the deputy to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.
Appearing to share some of that blame on Wednesday, President Bush defended Ms Rice as “an honest, fabulous person” and the United States, he says, “is lucky to have her service”.
“We know that Saddam Hussein produced and possessed chemical and biological weapons, and has used chemical weapons. We know that. He also spent years hiding his weapons of mass destruction programmes from the world. We now have teams of investigators who are hard at work to uncover the truth,” said Mr Bush while defending his decision to invade Iraq.
He said he also believed that the Saddam government had ties to Al Qaeda, but “it’s going to take time for us to gather the evidence and analyse the mounds of evidence, literally, the miles of documents that we have uncovered”.
The success of a free Iraq, he said, would also demonstrate to other countries in the region that national prosperity and dignity are linked to representative governments and free institutions. “They are not found in tyranny, resentment, and for support of terrorism,” he added.
President Bush also pledged to “wage war on terror against every enemy who plots against our forces and our people”.
Mr Bush said he did not know how close US troops were to catching Saddam Hussein but they will get him the way they got his sons.
He warned Iran not to work for the destruction of Israel and said that the United States would have to work with other nations to prevent Iran from doing so.
“The stated objective of Iran is the destruction of Israel. And we’ve got to work in a collective way with other nations to remind Iran that they shouldn’t develop a nuclear weapon,” he said.
He reminded his European allies that it would require “a collective effort” to “recognize the true threat of an armed Iran to peace in the Middle East”.
Mr Bush said he had not contemplated attacking Iran because he believed that the best way to deal with the Iranians was to convince others to join the US in preventing Tehran from making nuclear weapons.
He indicated that the Iranians living abroad, particularly those in the US, could play a key role in bringing about a change in Iran.