Sun, Feb 01, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Bush too concedes there is `a problem' with Iraq's WMD

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

US President George W. Bush finally conceded on Friday that there may be a problem over Iraq's missing weapons of mass destruction when he said he wanted to know why there were discrepancies between pre-war intelligence and the negligible material investigators had found on the ground.

He said he "wanted to know the facts" about any intelligence failures but he refused to endorse calls for an independent investigation.

Bush's comments are likely to add pressure on British Prime Minister Tony Blair to comment on why Iraq's banned weapons have not been found. In the run-up to the war he said Saddam Hussein's WMD posed a "real and present danger to this country."

The White House has said it is too soon to rule out finding weapons but it has also stopped predicting it will be vindicated.

Bush is fending off calls for a public inquiry in a debate which intensified yesterday after the president's national security adviser said Washington had not found what it had expected in Iraq.

Condoleezza Rice said: "I think that what we have is evidence that there are differences between what we knew going in and what we found on the ground."

The British government is also facing renewed calls to explain the failure to find WMD, an issue Lord Hutton said was outside his terms of reference.

Parliament's intelligence and security committee is preparing an investigation and will question Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of MI6.

It is also expected to question the prime minister. The committee meets in private but it showed it is willing to flex its muscle in a critical report last year on the government's weapons dossier.

Sir Menzies Campbell, the opposition Liberal Democrats' foreign affairs spokesman, said on Friday: "When Colin Powell [the US secretary of state] and now Condoleezza Rice express reservations about the likelihood of finding WMD, even No. 10 Downing Street [the British prime minister's official residence] should pause and consider whether its continuing confidence is justified.

"What is certain is that the skepticism of so many major players simply adds to the justified clamor for a wider investigation into the question of whether the British government took us to war on a flawed prospectus," he said.

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