WASHINGTON – Coming off a rousing speech to members of Congress, British Prime Minister Tony Blair (search) said Thursday that he has no regrets about ousting Saddam Hussein and stood by his country's intelligence that Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa to build nuclear weapons.
"The intelligence we have, we believe is genuine. We stand by that intelligence and one interesting fact ... in case people think the link between Iraq and Niger (search) was invention — in the 1980s we knew for sure that Iraq purchased some 200 tons of uranium from Niger," Blair said in a press conference with President Bush at the White House.
The White House on Thursday continued to press its case that while the intelligence may have been shaky, all intelligence agencies agreed that Saddam Hussein (search) was trying to reconstitute his weapons program.
Bush, who repeated his assertion that Saddam Hussein was building weapons of mass destruction, said he takes unapologetic responsibility for sending troops into Iraq.
"I take responsibility for making the decision, the tough decision, to put together a coalition to remove Saddam Hussein, because the intelligence — not only our intelligence, but the intelligence of this great country — made a clear and compelling case that Saddam Hussein was a threat to security and peace," Bush said.
"We won't be proven wrong. I believe that we will find the truth, and the truth is, he was developing a program of weapons of mass destruction," Bush said.
Bush and Blair, the United States' staunchest ally prior to the war against Iraq, have been under tremendous pressure as they face tough questions about the rationale for war in Iraq and the quality of prewar intelligence.
Several Democratic lawmakers have suggested that the president is to blame for allowing a statement about Iraq's weapons pursuit to end up in his State of the Union (search) speech last January, particularly if he knew it was based on questionable intelligence.
Sen. Dick Durbin (search), D-Ill., said Thursday morning that the CIA Director George Tenet (search) told a Senate panel that a White House aide insisted on keeping the claim in the president's address last January that Iraq was seeking to buy uranium from Niger to make nuclear weapons. Tenet said the aide made the demand even though he knew at the time that the intelligence wasn't reliable, according to Durbin.
In his speech to Congress, Blair said the war was justified even if weapons of mass destruction are never found.
"I believe with every fiber of instinct and conviction I have that we are" right in having decided to go to war without broad international support, Blair said.
To have hesitated "in the face of this menace when we should have given leadership ... that is something that history will not forgive," Blair said.
After the speech to Congress, Blair headed to the White House where Bush offered nothing but praise for his ally.
"Tony Blair is a leader of conviction, of passion, of moral clarity, of eloquence," Bush said.
Bush repeated his assertion that war in Iraq was the correct course.
"I really don't believe that any responsible leader could ignore the evidence we see or ignore the responsibility we face," Blair said.
Blair said the coalition will not abandon Iraq until it is up and running peacefully.
"We promised Iraq democratic government. We will deliver it," he said, pledging not to abandon neither Afghanistan (search) or Iraq.
"Finishing the fighting is not finishing the job," he said. Bush too said that the United States will continue to help Iraqis "as long as necessary."
"Defeating these terrorists is an essential commitment on the war on terror. This is the duty we accept. This is the fight we will win," Bush said. "We are being tested in Iraq. Our enemies are looking for signs of hesitation. They are looking for weakness. They will find none. Instead, our forces in Iraq are finding these killers and bringing them to justice."
That comes as cold comfort to the families of U.S. troops, who were informed on Wednesday that soldiers in Iraq may not return home until next year. But Blair said the coalition must stay the course in order to fend off charges of imperialism and to create prosperity.
The prime minister said the greatest challenge to Iraq's and any other nation's freedom today is the "virus" of terrorism that "seeks to divide humanity in hate."
"The purpose of terrorism is not the single act of wanton destruction. It is the reaction it seeks to provoke: economic collapse; the backlash; the hatred; the division; the elimination of tolerance; until societies cease to reconcile their differences but become defined by them," Blair said. He challenged the United States to quash the anti-Americanism bred by terrorism.
Daring America to stand up and spread democracy globally, Blair told Congress that the United States can lead the way by exporting its values and freedoms.
"As Britain knows, all predominant power seems for a time invincible; but in fact it is transient. The question is: What do you leave behind?" Blair asked.
"Our ultimate weapon is not our guns but our beliefs. Don't ever apologize for your values," Blair said to rousing applause.
"You are not going to be alone. We will be with you in this fight for liberty," he added.
Blair arrived at Andrews Air Force Base Thursday for a roughly seven-hour visit that would be filled with a whirlwind round of talks. His visit started with a closed meeting with congressional leaders, which was followed by his address to Congress.
Blair received several rounds of applause and earned hearty laughter when he expressed some mixed emotions about receiving the Congressional Gold Medal (search). He said the first winner of the medal was George Washington, who won it for defeating the British.
While he appeared to be enjoying the many standing ovations, the prime minister was very serious in his remarks about how to stop terrorism at its source, the Middle East.
"Here it is that the poison is incubated. Here it is that the extremist is able to confuse in the mind of a frighteningly large number of people, the case for a Palestinian state and the destruction of Israel; and to translate this moreover into a battle between East and West; Muslim, Jew and Christian," Blair said.
He added that while Palestinian and Jewish states can stand side by side, "We must never compromise the security of the state of Israel."
Bush too said that terrorism is the obstacle to peace in the Middle East.
"Terrorists are the chief enemies of Palestinian aspirations. The sooner terrorism is rooted out by all the governments in the region, the sooner the Palestinian flag will rise over a peaceful Palestinian state," Bush said.
Blair said that while it seems bleak right now, the president must continue with the "road map" to peace.
"One thing I have learned about peace processes is that they are always frustrating, often agonizing and occasionally seem hopeless. But for all that, having a peace process is better than not having one," he said.
Speaking in conciliatory tones, Blair also tried to help heal the rift between the United States and Europe that emerged over whether to start war with Iraq.
"To be a serious partner, Europe must take on and defeat the anti-Americanism that sometimes passes for its political discourse. What America must do is to show that this is a partnership built on persuasion, not command," he said.
During his speech, Blair thanked Bush for his leadership, and said that anyone who attempts to challenge the United States' status is merely against freedom.
"There is no more dangerous theory in international politics today than that we need to balance the power of America with other competitive powers, different poles around which nations gather. Such a theory made sense in 19th century Europe. ... Today it is an anachronism to be discarded like traditional theories of security," he said.
"It is dangerous because it is not rivalry but partnership we need, a common will and a shared purpose in the face of a common threat."
Blair said Americans may ask why it is their job to end terrorism.
"The only answer is that destiny put you in this place in history, at this moment in time, and the task is yours to do," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.