UNITED NATIONS – U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search) says he believes questions about U.S. intelligence on Iraq will make people "very suspicious" about future claims. Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) disagrees.
President Bush has come under increasing criticism over the U.S. failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq — the prime U.S. justification for the war. The issue surfaced last month with the resignation of top U.S. weapons hunter David Kay (search), who said Saddam's purported weapons didn't exist at the time of the U.S. invasion.
Annan and Powell, in separate news conferences, disagreed Friday on the long-term effects of the intelligence controversy.
"There has been some damage — damage that will probably take some time to heal," Annan said at an international donors conference for Liberia. "People are going to be very suspicious when one talks to them about intelligence. And they are going to be very suspicious when we try to use intelligence to justify certain actions."
Powell strongly defended U.S. intelligence, saying Saddam had every intention of keeping Iraq's weapons programs going "and anyone who thinks he didn't is just dead wrong."
"There is no evidence to suggest this was an incorrect judgment," he insisted.
Saddam had used weapons of mass destruction in the past and it was clear that, if given the opportunity, he would use them in the future, Powell said. He also had the infrastructure, and the dual-use facilities.
"We knew that he was working on these matters. What we weren't sure of and what we ... couldn't be absolutely sure, was the nature of his stockpiles. And so it's the stockpile question that we are still examining," he said.
Powell came to the United Nations a year and a day after he presented the U.S. case for war against Iraq to the Security Council. On Thursday in Washington, CIA Director George Tenet gave his first public defense of prewar intelligence, saying U.S. analysts never claimed before the war that Iraq posed an imminent threat.
Tenet said analysts had varying opinions on the state of Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs and those differences were spelled out in the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate given to the White House. That report summarized intelligence on Iraq's weapons programs.
Powell said the prewar intelligence available to the United States and other countries was solid.
"I don't think any apologies are necessary," he said.
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, who met with Powell in New York, expressed sympathy for the Bush administration's predicament saying, "everyone knows we are working with the kind of information we have."
But Annan said he believes "the bar has been raised" on what is required to convince people, whether domestically or internationally.
Annan cautioned, nonetheless, that people who use intelligence must be "very, very careful as to the quality of the intelligence and perhaps be extra careful to check with other sources to make sure that it is solid."
The secretary-general also expressed President Bush's appointment of a bipartisan commission to examine intelligence on Iraq's weapons. "I think is a step in the right direction," Annan said.