The following is a transcribed excerpt from Fox News Sunday, July 13, 2003.
TONY SNOW, FOX NEWS: There's been a furious battle in Washington this week over a single sentence in the president's State of the Union address.
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GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.
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SNOW: The White House since has disclaimed the statement, and CIA Director George Tenet has accepted responsibility for failing to strike the sentence from the text. But was the sentence, in fact, untrue?
Joining us to discuss this and other matters, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Good morning, Tony.
SNOW: Good morning.
Let's talk about the president's statement. Is it not true that the British, in fact, had an intelligence estimate that Saddam was seeking uranium from Africa?
RICE: Absolutely. And there are two things about this, Tony. First of all, it is ludicrous to suggest that the president of the United States went to war on the question of whether Saddam Hussein sought uranium from Africa. This was a part of a very broad case that the president laid out in the State of the Union and other places.
But the statement that he made was indeed accurate. The British government did say that. Not only was the statement accurate, there were statements of this kind in the National Intelligence Estimate. And the British themselves stand by that statement to this very day, saying that they had sources other than sources that have now been called into question to back up that claim. We have no reason not to believe them.
What we have said is that we have a higher standard for presidential speeches than just, "Was this accurate?" And we don't put everything into presidential speeches that's in intelligence documents like the NIE. We send them out to clearance, to the relevant agencies, and to the NSC principles, and we ask the question, "Will you stand behind this statement?"
SNOW: All right, so the statement is true, and if the president said it today, it would still be true.
RICE: If the president said that statement, it would still be true today. But the problem is that we have a higher standard, as George Tenet said in his statement, than just the accuracy of a statement. We want it to be based for the president on the firmest possible intelligence, and that's why we go through the clearance process.
SNOW: Do you believe Iraqi businessmen in Niger were trying, maybe not successfully, but were trying to cut deals to get uranium?
RICE: Tony, given Saddam Hussein's history of trying to get nuclear weapons, of being close when the IAEA got there in 1991, I think it's entirely possible that he was doing that.
However, we can't base a claim like that on speculation. We cannot place it even on the fact that there was some reporting, if we're going to put it in a presidential speech.
SNOW: All right, just to follow up, was Iraq trying to procure uranium elsewhere in Africa?
RICE: We have reporting that the Iraqis were trying to procure uranium in countries other than Niger, which has been called into question. And again, what is cited in the president's speech is the British report.
The British stand by their statement. They have told us that despite the fact that we had apparently some concerns about that report, that they had other sources, and that they stand by the statement.
SNOW: Have you been privy to those sources and that information?
RICE: The British have reasons, because of the arrangements that they made, apparently, in receiving those sources, that they cannot share them with us.
SNOW: When they have information of that sort and they've passed it on in the past, has it generally been reliable?
RICE: We have every reason to believe that the British services are quite reliable.
But I want to return to the point that we were making. First of all, this was a point in a very broad speech. And secondly, we do have a standard for the president's speech that was not met here.
SNOW: Well, he also talked about aluminum tubes, and it turns out that that wasn't the case. Why was that included in the speech?
RICE: No. The Central Intelligence Agency, the DCI, said that the aluminum tubes, despite the fact that there was an objection from one agency — from a couple of intelligence agencies, the collective judgment of the intelligence agencies was that he had acquired those nuclear tubes for purposes of centrifuge construction.
SNOW: All right, but since then, it's been knocked down.
RICE: Since then, there have been questions raised about it. But the DCI continues to stand by the view that all of this was a part of a procurement effort for...
SNOW: So, DCI is the director of central intelligence, George Tenet.
RICE: That's right. Continues to stand by the procurement effort that was under way to reconstitute the Iraqi nuclear program.
The president relies on a national intelligence estimate, which is a coordinated product of the intelligence agency, coordinated by the director of central intelligence.
SNOW: Based on what you know, would it be safe to say that Saddam did not have nuclear weapons? He wanted to reconstitute the program, but did not have nuclear weapons when the war commenced?
RICE: I believe, if you look back, Tony, we have never said that we thought that he had nuclear weapons. This was an issue of reconstitution, of how quickly he might be able to reconstitute a vast infrastructure that was still in place, of the fact that we missed, the last time around, how close he was to a nuclear weapon.
But the reconstitution case was based on a number of issues: the procurement, the brain power of the scientists, the efforts to get high-quality components for centrifuges. We have found, for instance, with the scientists that we found, that he was burying pieces of centrifuges in his yard.
SNOW: You had a scientist who had stuff buried in his front yard for a dozen years. Does that, to the president and to your satisfaction, provide proof positive of a program of weapons of mass destruction?
RICE: We are looking at an entire range of documents — and there are thousands and thousands of documents to be reviewed — interviews with scientists.
The fact that there were missing or unaccounted-for weapons — what we have done is to have David Kay, a respected former inspector, go out to Iraq. He's going to put together the whole picture of how he, Saddam Hussein, concealed what we are quite certain was an advanced weapons of mass destruction program and, indeed, what happened to the missing weapons of mass destruction that were cited in numerous U.N. reports.
SNOW: So you believe that David Kay will find weapons of mass destruction?
RICE: I believe that we will find the truth, and I believe that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
SNOW: David Kay has given a briefing recently to members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who, in turn, have said that he has put together what they call a smoking gun. Now, Americans have heard this before, and they're becoming skeptical about such reports.
Number one, does David Kay have evidence that, if the American public saw it, it would resolve the issue immediately?
RICE: Tony, we're going to wait until we can put together a picture that is more complete than the one that we have now.
It took Saddam Hussein 12 years to get into a position of deceiving weapons inspectors. He built a program that we believe was built for concealment. And it's going to take some time to unravel this. We've got lots of people to interview, lots of documents to go through.
And I don't think we want to get into a premature discussion or characterization of what we're finding.
SNOW: Is it the case that many of your sources are going to be afraid to talk until they're sure Saddam Hussein's dead?
RICE: Well, there's no doubt that there is still some residual fear among the Iraqi people. If you remember, way back at the time of the U.N., when we were working with Hans Blix, we wanted him to take people out of the country, because we didn't think they would speak freely.
They certainly are in a position to speak more freely now, but, obviously, Saddam Hussein still has henchmen around who are trying to threaten their fellow countrymen in the way that they threatened their countrymen before he was thrown out of power.
SNOW: Speaking of which, do you think Saddam has any role in coordinating attacks against Americans or allies right now?
RICE: I don't know, but I will say this: He's not in power. He ruled the old-fashioned way, which was by secret police and torture chambers and prisons and the army and territory and wealth. And he's stripped of all of that.
Now, there is no doubt that it will be a very good thing for the reconciliation and closure for the Iraqi people when we can say precisely what happened to Saddam Hussein and his sons.
But let's remember, he's out of power. And just today, there's about to be a new governing council of Iraqis who will start to look toward the future for Iraq, to appoint ministers, to put together a budget, to do the things that the Iraqi people really want to do.
And those henchmen who spent almost 30 years oppressing the Iraqi people are still trying to stifle their success. They're not going to succeed.
SNOW: OK, I want to talk more about Iraq in a moment. But let's get back to the State of the Union address and some of the stories.
"The Washington Post" today has a story that when the president spoke in Cincinnati, Ohio, on October 7th last year, the CIA director, George Tenet, directly struck out a reference to yellow cakes from Niger. And he passed that word on to Steve Hadley, who was your deputy.
Did you know at the time about the striking of that sentence?
RICE: I saw the speech after it has been struck. But let me just say, the Cincinnati speech was constructed apparently with a reference to a specific incident, one specific incident, based on a specific source. The director told Steve Hadley in a brief conversation that he didn't want — taken out, without question, taken out.
Now, the State of the Union was then constructed with language that was broader than a single incident and a single place and a particular quantity.
SNOW: So you...
RICE: It was based instead on broader information, including the British report, which the British say is broader.
SNOW: All right, so when people are saying that the sentence in the State of the Union is simply a clever way of covering up a discredited story about yellow cakes from Niger, you say that's not true. There were more sources of what?
RICE: There were broader statements taken out of the NIE than this...
SNOW: The National Intelligence Estimate.
RICE: The National Intelligence Estimate — than that particular story which had been in the Cincinnati speech.
We then sent what was in the State of the Union out for clearance. There was some discussion about what should be said, how much could be said. The sentence that was agreed upon, which is the one that appeared, "The British intelligence services have found" so forth and so on, was then cleared as a part of the speech in its entirety by the DCI.
SNOW: As you know, I've worked on State of the Union addresses. And typically, guidance for that kind of language comes from your office, from the National Security Council. The CIA doesn't talk to speech writers, at least not very often.
RICE: No, that's right.
RICE: Well, in fact, what we do is that we put together a lot of documentation from all kinds of sources and give that to the speech writers as grist to write from.
SNOW: Yes, and you approve — I mean, quite often, your office drafts language. Did your talking points include mention of the possibility that Saddam was trying to obtain uranium from Africa?
RICE: What was given to the speech writers was, in effect, data from various sources about the nuclear activities of Saddam Hussein. The National Intelligence Estimate had references to uranium acquisition, not only to the specific source, the specific case. And that was, I understand, given to the speech writers; they wrote it.
But what we do, Tony — and I want to be very clear — is that it is also the practice, once something is written, to send it out to the agencies and to say, "Will you stand by this?"
SNOW: Right. So you now say that it doesn't rise to the standard. Is the president mad? The president ought to be ticked about this.
RICE: The president understands that what he said was, first of all, accurate, but secondly, that we have higher standards for what he says. And the reason that we send this out in the clearance process is because we're trying to meet that higher standard.
SNOW: OK, the question that people have is — I mean, you keep talking about a higher standard, and yet this got through. There had been specific requests to delete something that was similar from an October speech. How did it happen?
RICE: Tony, first of all, it was not something that was similar. It was based on different sourcing, and it was broader. It was also, with the British report, in the British report in a way that it's actually sourced in the speech.
Now, what we have to depend on, and this is what the director said, we have to depend on the intelligence agencies to say, "No, we're not confident enough in that for the president of the United States to say it."
SNOW: Do you — I look at "The Washington Post" story and I think, you know what, this looks like something somebody at the CIA is leaking to fire back at the White House. How'd you read it?
RICE: I don't know. I don't know where the story comes from. I've said what the story is. The story is that, for Cincinnati, there was a reference in the speech that was specific to an amount, and therefore came from a particular source about a specific place. The director said, "Can't stand with that," took it out without question.
In the State of the Union, we looked at the intelligence. We did say, do you have anything more? They said there was in the NIE, the National Intelligence Estimate, a broader story that had to do with other places in Africa. And so it says, "The British have said" — which is accurate — "The British have said that" so forth and so on.
Now, as Director Tenet has said, he is responsible for his agency's process. I am a — have a very close working relationship with the director. We both agree it was a mistake for this to go in, because it didn't meet the president's standards.
SNOW: OK, I'm going to let you off the hook on this one. I want to do a lightning round on a couple of things.
One, Liberia. Would U.S. troops be operating solely under U.S. commanders, or would they be subordinate to regional troops?
RICE: We're going to look at command arrangements if, in fact, we get to the point of the deployment of American forces.
SNOW: And we're going to find this out tomorrow?
RICE: No, the president is waiting for the assessment team to report back. He's going to then have to meet with his national security principals.
And what he has committed to is to being a part of the effort to bring stability to Liberia, but that also means, on the diplomatic side, we're working very closely with the United Nations and with others.
SNOW: Should Charles Taylor face war-crime trials?
RICE: Charles Taylor is indicted of war crimes.
SNOW: But should he actually face a jury?
RICE: Well, he's indicted of war crimes, and we will see how all of this plays out. There are very sensitive and important discussions going on here, and I think we should just let those go on.
SNOW: The North Koreans say they've reprocessed all the plutonium at the Yongbyon nuclear facility. How are the Chinese going to help us?
RICE: The Chinese have been very helpful, because it's in the Chinese interest to be helpful. The Chinese have made it very clear that they don't want a nuclear peninsula — a Korean Peninsula. And so we're working with them and with the Japanese and the South Koreans to make very clear to the North Koreans that they are never going to be able to enjoy the benefits of the international community as long as they continue on this road.
SNOW: Final question: Is Iran now the biggest handicap to Middle Eastern peace?
RICE: Well, Iran is a very big handicap to Middle Eastern peace, yes. We were fortunate, and the president said, when we went into Iraq, that once the Iraqi regime was gone, one of the impediments to a more peaceful and transformed Middle East would be out of the way. That is now done; we're going to help to build a stable Iraq.
Iran is a problem, because it is a rejectionist state. It does not recognize either Israel's right to exist or to even be there, and continues to be dedicated to the destruction of Israel. Obviously, it's fueling Hamas and Hezbollah and other rejectionist groups.
Yes, it's a very big impediment, and the Iranians are going to have to realize that the Middle East is moving on.
SNOW: All right. Condoleezza Rice, thanks for joining us.
RICE: Thank you very much.