11 July 2003
Bush, Rice Say Intelligence Services Cleared State of Union Speech
President not trying to mislead public, Powell says
By Charles Hays Burchfield
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington -- President Bush says intelligence services cleared his January 28, 2003 State of the Union Address to the U.S. Congress that included a sentence indicating that Saddam Hussein was seeking uranium from Africa, a statement White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer has said should not have been in the speech.
"I gave a speech to the nation that was cleared by the intelligence services," Bush said in remarks in Entebbe, Uganda July 11, as he continued his five-day trip to Africa.
"And it was a speech that detailed to the American people the dangers posed by the Saddam Hussein regime. And my government took the appropriate response to those dangers. And as a result, the world is going to be more secure and more peaceful."
National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, who is accompanying Bush on his Africa trip, told reporters July 11 aboard Air Force One en route to Uganda that the Central Intelligence Agency cleared the entire State of the Union speech, including the sentence that read, "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
"The CIA cleared on it," Rice said. "There was even some discussion on that specific sentence, so that it reflected better what the CIA thought. And the speech was cleared. Now, I can tell you, if the CIA, the Director of Central Intelligence, had said, take this out of the speech, it would have been gone, without question."
Rice said the president's statement about Saddam Hussein seeking African uranium came from British intelligence and the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which is the document that the Director of Central Intelligence publishes as the collective view of the U.S. intelligence agencies about the status of any particular issue.
Rice said she is not blaming anyone for letting the sentence stay in the president's speech. She also said the Bush administration still has "great trust and faith in British intelligence." Asked whether Bush still had confidence in the CIA, Rice replied, "Absolutely."
"The CIA Director, George Tenet, has been a terrific DCI (Director Central Intelligence) and he has served everybody very, very well," Rice said.
"He (Bush) did not knowingly say anything that we thought to be false," Rice said. "And, in fact, we still don't know the status of Saddam Hussein's efforts to acquire yellowcake (uranium). What we know is that one of the documents underlying that case was found to be a forgery."
"What we've said subsequently is, knowing what we now know, that some of the Niger documents were apparently forged, we wouldn't have put this in the president's speech -- but that's knowing what we know now," Rice said.
"All that I can tell you is that if there were doubts about the underlying intelligence in the NIE, those doubts were not communicated to the president," Rice said.
Rice said Secretary of State Colin Powell did not consider the African uranium a "major issue" and that's why he left it out of his Iraq presentation to the U.N. Security Council a few days after the president gave his State of Union Address.
"This yellowcake issue, we did not consider to be a major issue," Rice said. "So I'm also not surprised the secretary didn't put it in."
In a July 10 interview on CNN's Larry King Live program, Powell said from Pretoria, South Africa that he thinks too much is being made out of the one questionable sentence in Bush's State of the Union speech.
"To single out this one statement having to do with an intelligence picture that wasn't entirely clear with respect to what he (Saddam Hussein) might have been trying to do with respect to acquiring uranium in Africa, I think there is quite an overstatement and quite an overreaction to this one line," Powell said.
"The president wasn't in any way trying to mislead. It was information that got into the speech; whether it should or should not have been in the speech is something we can certainly discuss and debate. But it wasn't a deliberate attempt on the part of the president to either mislead or exaggerate."
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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