Administration: Bush Statement Was Accurate

The Bush administration continued Sunday to defend remarks made by the president to the American people regarding Iraq's alleged attempts to obtain uranium from Africa.

"The statement that he made was indeed accurate," Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice (search), said on Fox News Sunday. "Not only was the statement accurate, there were statements of this kind in the National Intelligence Estimate (search)," a classified document compiled by U.S. agencies, she said.

In this year's State of the Union (search) address on Jan. 20, President Bush laid out reasons for military action against Iraq and said: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

But during the past week, the White House has faced a barrage of criticism after it disavowed the accusation that Saddam's regime sought to buy uranium from Niger for a nuclear weapons program. The CIA, in turn, admitted it had doubts about the claim.

As it turns out, some of the intelligence obtained by British officials may have been forged, but the message passed on to U.S. officials was that the charge was true.

Prime Minister Tony Blair (search) said he still believes the uranium charge to be true. He says the charge was based on sources other than the forged document, which were not shared with the United States.

"U.K. officials were confident that the dossier's statement was based on reliable intelligence which we had not shared with the U.S.," British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw (search) said over the weekend. "A judgment was therefore made to retain it," Straw said, referring to the intelligence contained in the dossier.

Still, Rice agreed the statement shouldn't have been mentioned in the State of the Union address because it wasn't verified thoroughly.

"We have a higher standard for presidential speeches" than raw intelligence, she said.

U.S. intelligence agencies had earlier raised questions about assertions of Saddam's attempts to obtain nuclear material.

Rice said CIA Director George Tenet (search) had removed a more specific reference to Iraqi efforts to buy uranium for nuclear weapons from a Bush speech in Cincinnati three months earlier. Underlying documents to support the British contention proved to have been forged.

Although the CIA didn't discover until well after the January speech that some documents obtained by British intelligence were forged, CIA officials recognized from the beginning that the allegation was based on "fragmentary intelligence gathered in late 2001 and early 2002," Tenet said Friday.

An October 22 CIA report mentioned the allegations but did not give them full credence, stating "we cannot confirm whether Iraq succeeded in acquiring uranium ore." In addition, the report noted that State Department intelligence analysts found the allegations "highly dubious."

"These 16 words should never have been included in the text written for the president," Tenet said, in reference to the controversial allegation. "This was a mistake."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Sunday it's time to put the furor over Tenet and the entire issue to rest.

Rumsfeld told ABC's This Week that Bush's statement was "technically correct" and that Tenet's statement "said it all." He called Tenet "an enormously talented public servant."

The controversy even followed Bush around Africa during his trip last week as he tried to focus on issues such as his $15 billion global AIDS package for Africa and the U.S. commitment to peacekeeping troops in Liberia.

Democrats hoping to get their party's nomination to run against Bush for the White House in 2004 wasted no time blasting the administration for the current Iraq imbroglio.

Sen. John Kerry (search), D-Mass., said in a television interview Sunday that the controversy raises "enormous questions" about the quality of U.S. intelligence gathering. He said Tenet's statement doesn't "answer the question or questions about what really happened."

Another Democratic contender, Florida Sen. Bob Graham (search), said Vice President Dick Cheney first asked the CIA to determine whether Saddam's government was trying to get its hands on uranium.

He said Cheney must have been given a report on the investigation by Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who went to Niger last year and concluded that the government had not been contracted to sell uranium to Iraq. Administration officials have said the White House had no knowledge of Wilson's report.

"That stretches belief," Graham said on NBC's Meet the Press.

But administration officials continue to stand by the president, Tenet and to some extent, the British.

"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," Rice said on Fox News Sunday. "This was a part of a very broad case that the president laid out in the State of the Union and other places."

"The British stand by their statement," Rice continued. "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."

Asked whether she or her colleagues in the administration had seen such additional British evidence, Rice said: "The British have reasons, because of the arrangements that they made, apparently, in receiving those sources, that they cannot share them with us. We have every reason to believe that the British services are quite reliable."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.