Sun, Jul 13, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Bush supports CIA head's work despite faulty intelligence


US President George W. Bush said yesterday he had confidence in CIA Director George Tenet and considered a controversy about false US claims that Iraq tried to buy African uranium to be closed.

Tenet, appointed as head of the CIA by former US president Bill Clinton, took responsibility on Friday for the false claim by Bush over Iraq's nuclear ambitions, which raised embarrassing questions about the way he made the case for war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

"I've got confidence in George Tenet. I've got confidence in the men and women who work at the CIA and I ... look forward to working with them as we win this war on terror," Bush said in Abuja during a visit to Nigeria.

Asked if he considered the controversy over, he said: "I do."

Bush, seeking to win backing for the invasion of Iraq that US-led forces launched in March, cited the uranium deal in his State of the Union address in January, calling it evidence that Saddam was trying to develop nuclear weapons.

The White House acknowledged this week the accusation should not have been in the speech because the documents it was based on proved to be forged.

Bush was speaking in Nigeria on the last leg of a five-day, five-nation Africa trip that has been dogged by questions about the issue.

On Friday evening in Washington, Tenet issued a statement saying: "The president had every reason to believe that the text presented to him was sound."

Tenet said the reference to an Iraqi attempt to buy African uranium, quoting British intelligence, "should never have been included in the text."

"I am responsible for the approval process in my agency," Tenet said in the statement marking the latest twist in the controversy over an alleged Iraq-Niger uranium deal that has embroiled both the US and British governments.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said discussions with Tenet had been going on for days and that it was a mutual decision between the White House and the CIA to put it out.

"The discussion was, the CIA needs to explain what it's role was in this," he said.

He said the president had moved on and "I think frankly that much of the country has moved on as well."

Fleischer dismissed the controversy over the statement as "a slap" that missed the larger issue of alleged Iraqi attempts to acquire weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons.

But he said he believed Americans still supported the decision to go to war.

"I think the American people had a very good perspective," Fleischer said. "The president is pleased that the director of central intelligence acknowledged what needed to be acknowledged which is the circumstances surrounding the State of the Union speech."

"The president said that line because it was based on information from the intelligence community and the speech was vetted," he told reporters. "The president sees this as much ado that is beside the point."

Britain has defended its allegations that Iraq had sought uranium from Niger for a nuclear weapons program, saying its evidence was separate from the forged information.

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