Secretary of State Colin Powell conceded Thursday that despite his assertions to the UN last year, he had no "smoking gun" proof of a link between the government of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and terrorists of al-Qaeda. \n"I have not seen smoking-gun, concrete evidence about the connection," Powell said, in response to a question at a news conference. "But I think the possibility of such connections did exist, and it was prudent to consider them at the time that we did." \nPowell's remarks Thursday were a stark admission that there is no definitive evidence to back up administration statements and insinuations that Saddam had ties to al-Qaeda, the alleged authors of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Although President George W. Bush finally acknowledged in September that there was no known connection between Saddam and the attacks, the impression of a link in the public mind has become widely accepted -- and something administration officials have done little to discourage. \nPowell offered a vigorous defense of his Feb. 5 presentation before the UN Security Council, in which he voiced the administration's most detailed case to date for war with Iraq. After studying intelligence data, he claimed that a "sinister nexus" existed "between Iraq and the al-Qaeda terrorist network, a nexus that combines classic terrorist organizations and modern methods of murder." \nWithout any additional qualifiers, Powell continued: "Iraq today harbors a deadly terrorist network, headed by Abu Musaab al-Zar-qawi, an associate and collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda lieutenants. Iraqi officials deny accusations of ties with al-Qaeda. These denials are simply not credible." \nOn Thursday, Powell dismissed second-guessing and said that Bush had acted after giving Saddam 12 years to come into compliance with the international community. \n"The president decided he had to act because he believed that whatever the size of the stockpile, whatever one might think about it, he believed that the region was in danger, America was in danger, and he would act," he said. "And he did act." \nIn a rare, wide-ranging meeting with reporters, Powell voiced some optimism on several other issues that have bedeviled the administration, including North Korea and Sudan, while expressing dismay about the Middle East and Haiti. \nBut mostly, the secretary, appearing vigorous and in good spirits three weeks after undergoing surgery for prostate cancer, defended his justification for the war in Iraq. He said he had been fully aware that "the whole world would be watching," as he painstakingly made the case that Saddam's government presented an imminent threat to the US and its interests. \nThe immediacy of the danger was at the core of debates in the UN over how to proceed against Saddam. \nA report released Thursday by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a nonpartisan Wa-shington research center, concluded that Iraq's weapons programs constituted a long-term threat that should not have been ignored. But it also said the programs did not "pose an immediate threat to the United States, to the region or to global security." \nPowell's UN presentation -- complete with audiotapes and satellite photographs -- asserted that "leaving Saddam Hussein in possession of weapons of mass destruction for a few more months or years is not an option." The secretary said he had spent time with experts at the CIA combing through reports. \n"Anything that we did not feel was solid and multi-sourced, we did not use in that speech," he said on Thursday. \nHe noted that Saddam had used prohibited weapons in the past -- including nerve gas attacks against Iran and against Iraqi Kurds -- and said that even if there were no actual weapons at hand, there was every indication he would reconstitute them once the international community lost interest. \nThe administration has quietly withdrawn a 400-member team of US weapons inspectors who were charged with finding chemical or biological weapons stockpiles or laboratories, officials said this week.
‘TRAVEL FREELY’: Visitors from 10 countries deemed low-risk would be allowed into Thailand, while others must still undergo a week of quarantine at a hotel Thailand plans to fully reopen to vaccinated tourists from countries deemed low risk from Nov. 1, the country’s leader said on Monday, citing the urgent need to save the kingdom’s ailing economy. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Thailand attracted nearly 40 million visitors a year drawn to its picturesque beaches and robust nightlife, with tourism making up almost 20 percent of its national income. However, pandemic-related travel restrictions have left the economy battered, contributing to its worst performance in more than 20 years. Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha announced that the country would be reopening its borders to vaccinated tourists travelling by air from
Vaccination is highly effective at preventing severe cases of COVID-19, even against the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2, a vast study in France has shown. The research published yesterday — focusing on prevention of severe COVID-19 and death, not infection — looked at 22 million people over 50 and found those who had received jabs were 90 percent less likely to be hospitalized or die. The results confirm observations from the US, the UK and Israel, but researchers say it is the largest study of its kind so far. Looking at data collected starting in December last year, when France launched its vaccination campaign,
Australia’s highest court yesterday dismissed an intellectual freedom claim by a university physicist who was fired in part over his public statements that scientists exaggerated damage to the Great Barrier Reef. Five High Court judges unanimously dismissed physicist Peter Ridd’s claim that he had been unlawfully dismissed in 2018 by James Cook University in Townsville, Queensland. The court ruled that a clause in his employment contract that protected his intellectual freedom was not a “general freedom of speech” clause and did not protect him from being fired for serious misconduct under the university’s code of conduct. Australian Minister for Education Alan Tudge said
HUMAN RIGHTS FIRST: The US and the EU have said they are ready to back humanitarian initiatives in Afghanistan, but are wary of providing direct support to the Taliban Afghanistan’s new Taliban government has warned US and European envoys that continued attempts to pressure it through sanctions would undermine security and could trigger a wave of economic refugees. Acting Afghan Minister of Foreign Affairs Amir Khan Muttaqi told Western diplomats at talks in Doha that “weakening the Afghan government is not in the interest of anyone because its negative effects will directly affect the world in [the] security sector and economic migration from the country,” a statement published late on Tuesday showed. The Taliban overthrew Afghanistan’s former US-backed government in August after a two-decade-long conflict, and have declared an Islamic emirate