Bush: Iraq War Justified Despite No WMD
WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush said Friday that a vial of botulinum bacteria found in Iraq is evidence of Saddam Hussein’s weapons intent. But the chief U.S. weapons inspector said the vial had been stored for safekeeping in an Iraqi scientist’s refrigerator since 1993. He offered no evidence it had been used in a weapons program during the last decade.
Inspector David Kay also said American weapons hunters had found no evidence Iraq has recently tried to import a semi-refined form of uranium from Niger or anywhere else. Bush cited that claim in his State of the Union address, although administration officials later acknowledged it was based on shaky intelligence and should not have been included.
However, Kay’s search teams did locate documents suggesting another country in Africa _ which Kay refused to identify _ had offered uranium to Iraq, though it does not appear the deal went through. ``We don’t have any evidence it moved beyond what was probably an unsolicited offer,″ Kay said.
Kay had reported to Congress Thursday that his team has so far found no weapons of mass destruction inside Iraq. But Bush said Friday the Iraq war was justified and cited a handful of evidence in particular _ including the vial of bacteria _ that Kay found ample signs that Saddam ``was a danger to the world.″
``The report states that Saddam Hussein’s regime had a clandestine network of biological laboratories, a live strain of deadly agent botulinum, sophisticated concealment efforts and advanced design work on prohibited longer-range missiles,″ Bush told reporters before leaving for a daylong trip to Milwaukee.
Secretary of State Colin Powell also cited the discovery of the vial of bacteria, along with confirmation that Iraq was trying to develop longer missiles than the United Nations permitted.
``We are more convinced by the Kay report that we did the right thing,″ Powell told reporters. ``Do you think vials of botulism should constitute a weapons of mass destruction? .... They never lost that capability. They never lost that intent.″
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher added: ``You kill people with botuli. They have no other use.″
The toxin can be used as a biological weapon.
Kay, in a briefing later with reporters, said the Iraqi scientist who had the vial had been given it for safekeeping at his home by another, senior scientist, in 1993. He initially had other samples, most of which he quickly returned.
``He was storing them in his refrigerator,″ Kay said. ``He had small children.″
Although tests showed that the one vial of bacteria that the scientist kept was still viable, Kay offered no evidence it had been used in a weapons program during the last decade.
The president, in public remarks, also shrugged off polls showing rising doubts about whether the war was worth the costs. ``Sometimes the American people like the decisions I make, sometimes they don’t.″ he told reporters. ``But they need to know I make tough decisions, based upon what I think is right, given the intelligence I know.″
But Democrats, already hammering the president over his $87 billion request for military and rebuilding operations in Iraq, quickly latched onto Kay’s interim report as further proof that the attack on Iraq was ill-advised.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, emerging from a briefing with Kay, said it was ``clear to me that there was no imminence of a threat for weapons of mass destruction,″ as the White House had claimed.
Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, after a separate meeting with Kay on Friday, said the report reinforced the need to look into the reasons prewar intelligence ``could have been so far off and ... whether or not it was exaggerated or whether or not it was hyped, either by the intelligence community or by the users of that intelligence.″
Kay, who served as the U.N.’s chief nuclear weapons inspector in 1991, said it would take an additional six to nine months for the 1,200 people under his command to complete their work. Congressional sources say the administration has asked Congress for an additional $600 million for the project.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., a prominent critic of the Iraq war, said that after listening to Kay he was ``convinced more than ever″ that the main administration justification for the war _ that Iraq posed an imminent threat _ was unfounded.
He said the $600 million to hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq could be better spent by devoting $300 million to the search for Osama bin Laden and another $300 million investigating North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
Associated Press writer Jim Abrams contributed to this report