Bush, Blair defend Iraq intelligence
By Joseph Curl
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
President Bush, standing shoulder to shoulder with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in the White House, yesterday said U.S. and British intelligence on weapons of mass destruction "made a clear and compelling case that Saddam Hussein was a threat to security and peace."
"I strongly believe he was trying to reconstitute his nuclear-weapons program," Mr. Bush said at a joint press conference, adding that after the first Persian Gulf war in 1991, "it became clear that Saddam Hussein was much closer to developing nuclear weapons than anybody ever imagined."
The British prime minister was equally strong in backing British intelligence that charged Saddam had sought to obtain uranium from Niger — a claim that U.S. intelligence agencies now believe was probably erroneous.
He said U.S. and British forces were not deployed to Iraq "on the basis of some speculative intelligence."
"We based our decisions on good, sound intelligence. And ... our people are going to find out the truth. And the truth will say that this intelligence was good intelligence," Mr. Blair said at the White House, shortly after telling the U.S. Congress that Saddam's brutality and the enormous risks of being wrong about his weapons mean the war was morally justified, regardless of intelligence details.
Under fire from Democrats on Capitol Hill for citing British intelligence about the Niger uranium in his January State of the Union address, the president said, "I take responsibility for putting our troops into action.
"The regime of Saddam Hussein was a grave and growing threat. Given Saddam's history of violence and aggression, it would have been reckless to place our trust in his sanity or his restraint. As long as I hold this office, I will never risk the lives of American citizens by assuming the good will of dangerous enemies," Mr. Bush said.
While the validity of a British intelligence report charging that Iraq had sought to buy nuclear material from Niger has been questioned, Mr. Blair stood by other intelligence that Saddam was attempting to restart his atomic-weapons program.
"The British intelligence that we have, we believe is genuine. We stand by that intelligence," Mr. Blair said. "And one interesting fact I think people don't generally know, in case people should think that the whole idea of a link between Iraq and Niger was some invention, in the 1980s we know for sure that Iraq purchased ... about 270 tons of uranium from Niger. So I think we should just factor that into our thinking there."
Mr. Bush also said that enemies of the United States are seeking to undermine efforts to bring democracy to Iraq.
"We are being tested in Iraq. Our enemies are looking for signs of hesitation. They're looking for weakness. They will find none," the president said.
The two leaders made clear that removing Saddam from power ends a clear and present threat of terrorism and advances the effort to squash terror cells across the world.
"The removal of Saddam Hussein is an integral part of winning the war against terror," Mr. Bush said. "A free Iraq will make it much less likely that we'll find violence in that immediate neighborhood. A free Iraq will make it more likely we'll get a Middle Eastern peace. A free Iraq will have incredible influence on the states that could potentially unleash terrorist activities on us."
Both leaders also said that while no mass-destruction weapons have yet been found in Iraq, they have no doubt that Saddam's weapons will be eventually discovered.
"I believe that we will find the truth, and the truth is, he was developing a program for weapons of mass destruction," Mr. Bush said.
"Now, you say, 'Why didn't it happen all of a sudden?' Well, there was a lot of chaos in the country, one. Two, Saddam Hussein has spent over a decade hiding weapons and hiding materials. Three, we're just beginning to get some cooperation from some of the high-level officials in that administration, or that regime," he said.
Mr. Blair took up the Bush administration's argument that the recent criticisms leveled by the president's detractors — who have been emboldened by the claims of erroneous British intelligence — does not match their words over the 12-year period that Saddam defied weapons inspectors and the United Nations repeatedly sought to check the Iraqi dictator.
"In the debate in the past few weeks, it's as if prior to the early part of this year the issue of Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction was some sort of unknown quantity, and on the basis of some speculative intelligence, we go off and take action," Mr. Blair said.
"The history of Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction is a 12-year history, and is a history of him using the weapons, and developing the weapons, and concealing the weapons, and not complying with the United Nations inspectors who were trying to shut down his programs," he said.
"The proposition that actually he was not developing such weapons and such programs rests on this rather extraordinary proposition: that having for years obstructed the United Nations inspectors and concealed his programs, having finally effectively gotten rid of them in December 1998, he then took all the problems and sanctions and action upon himself, voluntarily destroyed them, but just didn't tell anyone," Mr. Blair added.
"I don't think that's very likely as a proposition," he said
Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair departed from the White House together last night, with the president heading for his ranch in Crawford, Texas, and the prime minister going to Japan on a trade mission.