WASHINGTON – President Bush's erroneous reference to an Iraqi-Africa uranium (search) link was understandable, former President Clinton (search) said Tuesday, in part because Saddam Hussein's regime had not accounted for some weapons by the time Clinton ended his term in 2001.
Clinton's comments reinforce one of the pillars of Bush's defense of the war in Iraq -- that his Democratic predecessor was never satisfied that Saddam had rid himself of weapons of mass destruction.
"When I left office, there was a substantial amount of biological and chemical material unaccounted for," Clinton said during a televised interview.
Clinton said he never found out whether a U.S.-British bombing campaign he ordered in 1998 ended Saddam's capability of producing chemical and biological weapons. "We might have gotten it all, we might have gotten half of it, we might have gotten none of it," he said.
In his State of the Union (search) speech in February justifying the planned war in Iraq, Bush referred to British intelligence reports that Saddam had tried to purchase uranium for nuclear weapons production. His administration says it now believes those reports were based in part on forged documents.
Clinton confined his remarks to biological and chemical weapons, and did not say whether he would consider credible any report that Saddam had wanted to build a nuclear weapons program.
Nonetheless, he suggested that Bush's mistake was par for the course -- and that it was time to move on now that Bush had acknowledged the error.
"You know, everybody makes mistakes when they are president," he said. "I mean, you can't make as many calls as you have to without messing up once in a while. The thing we ought to be focused on is what is the right thing to do now."
Clinton said ending tensions in Iraq should be the priority now -- another echo of the current White House's talking points. "We should be pulling for America on this. We should be pulling for the people of Iraq."
Clinton made his remarks as a call-in guest on a program observing the 80th birthday of Bob Dole, his rival for the White House in 1996.