WASHINGTON – Deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein (search) may have not been involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, but he definitely is linked to the terrorists who did commit those crimes, President Bush said Wednesday.
"We have no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with the Sept. 11" attacks, Bush said at the start of a meeting with congressional lawmakers discussing new energy legislation. But, he added, "There's no question that Saddam Hussein had Al Qaeda ties."
The White House expressed consternation earlier in the day over reports that members of the administration have led the public to believe a link exists between Saddam and the attacks on the United States.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said that in no way did Vice President Dick Cheney (search) suggest in interviews over the weekend that there was evidence of Saddam's participation in the attacks. Bush never came to that conclusion either, the spokesman said.
McClellan could offer no clear explanation as to why recent public opinion polls indicate that 70 percent of Americans think there is a tie between Iraq and the attacks.
In an appearance on a Sunday newsmaker show, Cheney was asked whether he was surprised that more than two-thirds of Americans in a Washington Post poll would express a belief that Iraq was behind the attacks.
"No, I think it's not surprising that people make that connection," Cheney answered.
Cheney said on Sunday that success in stabilizing and democratizing Iraq would strike a major blow at the "the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault for many years, but most especially on 9-11."
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (search) said Tuesday he had no reason to believe that Iraq's deposed leader, Saddam Hussein, had a hand in Sept. 11.
At a Pentagon news conference, Rumsfeld was asked about the Post poll.
"I've not seen any indication that would lead me to believe that I could say that," Rumsfeld said.
He added: "We know he [Saddam] was giving $25,000 a family for anyone who would go out and kill innocent men, women and children. And we know of various other activities. But on that specific one, no, not to my knowledge."
The Bush administration has asserted that Saddam's government had links to Al Qaeda (search), the terrorist network led by Usama bin Laden that conducted the Sept. 11 attacks. And in various public statements over the past year or so, administration officials have suggested close ties.
In a television interview Tuesday night, White House National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (search) said that one of the reasons Bush went to war against Saddam was because he posed a threat in "a region from which the 9-11 threat emerged."
Rice, asked about the same poll numbers, said, "We have never claimed that Saddam Hussein had either direction or control of 9-11."
She continued: "What we have said is that this is someone who supported terrorists, helped to train them, but most importantly that this is someone who, with his animus toward the United States, with his penchant for and capability to gain weapons of mass destruction, and his obvious willingness to use them, was a threat in this region that we were not prepared to tolerate."
Cheney said he recalled being asked about an Iraq connection to Sept. 11 shortly after the attacks, and responded that the time that he knew of no evidence at that point.
"Subsequent to that, we have learned a couple of things," he said.
"We learned more and more that there was a relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda that stretched back through most of the decade of the '90s; that it involved training, for example, on [biological warfare] and [chemical warfare]; that Al Qaeda sent personnel to Baghdad to get trained on the systems, and involved the Iraqis providing bomb-making expertise and advice to the Al Qaeda organization."
Bush and others have stressed that the war in Iraq is part of the overall war on terror. The war was also aligned with Bush's preemption policy, or first-strike doctrine, which says the United States will not stand by and wait to be attacked before it takes action to root out those who wish to do harm to Americans.
"This is a new kind of war against a new enemy," Cheney said at an Air Force Association National Convention in Washington on Wednesday. "In addition to taking on terrorists, we're also going after the states that sponsor terror."
While many were critical of suggestions Saddam had anything to do with the Sept. 11 attacks, most people agree that Saddam himself terrorized his own people and others.
Officials maintain that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction and/or was in the process of building them. Those weapons could at some point be used against Americans, officials have said.
Coalition forces in Iraq have been hunting for those weapons for months and administration officials have expressed confidence that some will eventually be found.
But former U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix told an Australian radio station Wednesday that he thinks Iraq destroyed most of its weapons of mass destruction 10 years ago, but kept up the appearance that it had them to deter a military attack.
"The more time that has passed, the more I think it's unlikely that anything will be found," Blix said.
McClellan responded on Wednesday that the president stands by his warnings before the war. He added that Iraq's threat was documented in resolution after resolution at the U.N. Security Council (search).
At his Pentagon news conference, Rumsfeld reiterated his belief that U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq are making satisfactory progress in stabilizing the country.
He said it was an "open question" whether the United States would get the 10,000 to 15,000 additional international troops it seeks to create a third multinational division for security duty in Iraq. The Pentagon hopes to get at least that many additional troops from Turkey, Pakistan or other friendly countries to beef up security and possibly to allow some of the 130,000 U.S. troops there to go home next year.
"It would relieve some of the pressure on our forces," Rumsfeld said. "Whether or not there will be a [United Nations] resolution and whether or not — even if there were a resolution — we would get that number of troops is an open question."
Rice acknowledged that if commitments for more troops are gained, it "could be months" before they were in place.
Gen. Peter Pace, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who appeared with Rumsfeld, said there are more than 210,000 coalition troops in Iraq: 130,000 American troops, 24,000 British and other international troops, and 60,000 Iraqi police, border guards and members of civil defense forces.
Fox News' Wendell Goler, Liza Porteus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.