LONDONDERRY, N.H. – Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark (search) said Monday a statement he made in 2002 about connections between Iraq and Al Qaeda was consistent with his belief that Saddam Hussein was not linked to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
In an October 2002 news conference in which he endorsed a New Hampshire Democrat for Congress, Clark said, "Certainly there's a connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda."
According to a videotape provided by a rival campaign, Clark said, "It doesn't surprise me at all that they would be talking to Al Qaeda, that there would be some Al Qaeda there or that Saddam Hussein might even be, you know, discussing, 'Gee, I wonder since I don't have any scuds and since the Americans are coming at me, I wonder if I could take advantage of Al Qaeda? How would I do it? Is it worth the risk? What could they do for me?"'
Campaigning in New Hampshire, Clark said Monday the two-year-old statement is not inconsistent with views he expressed in a book and during his presidential bid.
"It would be naive to think the Iraqi intelligence agency never tracked anyone from Al Qaeda, but that's a far cry from saying there's any relationship between Saddam Hussein and 9/11," he said. "I've always said there's no relationship. I was doing nothing but explaining a New York Times front-page story of that day and discounting it."
On the day of Clark's 2002 news conference, the Times reported the CIA's claim that it had credible reports that Al Qaeda leaders had sought contacts in Iraq who could help them acquire weapons of mass destruction.
Asked Monday if he thinks low-level contacts still exist between Al Qaeda and Iraq, Clark said he has no idea.
"My point has been simply this: There wasn't any likelihood that Saddam Hussein was connected to 9/11," he said. "It would not surprise me if the Iraqi intelligence agency had sometime met with someone from Al Qaeda in Beirut, Lebanon, or somewhere else, just to find out who they were or what they were doing."
Also Monday, former New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (search), the national chairwoman of Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry's presidential campaign, renewed criticism of Clark's praise for the Bush administration two years ago.
Shaheen and two other state Democratic officials noted that Clark was a keynote speaker at a Republican fund-raiser in May 2001, and that he praised President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other members of the administration. They also played a video of Clark's speech.
Clark and Kerry are competing for second place, behind Howard Dean (search), in the New Hampshire presidential primary on Jan. 27.
Shaheen said "the issue here is this candidate is not a Democrat," and doesn't support Democratic values.
Clark responded: "When you're attacked like this, it's the sincerest form of flattery in politics."