Published January 13, 2015
President Bush said Monday that intelligence about Iraq is "darn good" despite some doubts in the CIA about intelligence that suggested that Iraq had been trying to buy uranium in the African nation of Niger.
"I think the intelligence I get is darn good intelligence. And the speeches I have given were backed by good intelligence," Bush said during a press conference with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. "And I am absolutely convinced today, like I was convinced when I gave the speeches, that Saddam Hussein developed a program of weapons of mass destruction and that our country made the right decision."
The intelligence on uranium sales was cited in the president's State of the Union address in January, but turned out to be based on phony documents. CIA Director George Tenet last week took the blame for allowing the sentence to appear in the president's address, but said White House aides were quick to jump on the information when it was first revealed.
Bush said Monday he remained convinced that Saddam was attempting to develop a weapons program that threatened the world and justified the United States going to war against Iraq.
"Our country made the right decision," Bush said.
Bush said he still has not made any decision about the type of assistance the United States can offer to the civil war-torn West African nation of Liberia (search), but it will help out the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States.
"We're in the process still of determining what is necessary, what ECOWAS can bring to the table, when they can bring it to the table, what is the timetable, and be able to match the necessary U.S. help to expediting the ECOWAS's participation," Bush said.
However, Bush said whatever U.S. presence does enter Liberia, it will be in addition to a U.N. peacekeeping force and not under it.
"We would not be blue-helmeted, we would be there to facilitate and then to leave," Bush said, referring to the U.N. troops by their helmet color.
Liberia has been wracked by civil war for 10 of the last 13 years. A shaky cease-fire is now in place.
Annan, along with European leaders and Liberians themselves, has pleaded with the United States to lead a team of international peacekeepers into the country to enforce a rebel-government cease-fire and prevent a descent into anarchy.
Bush returned to the White House Saturday night after a five-day, five-nation tour of Africa. Annan just returned from the African Union summit in Mozambique.
During the president's trip, he repeatedly said that for any stability to come to Liberia, Liberian President Charles Taylor (search) must leave the country.
Taylor, who was recently indicted for war crimes alleged to have taken place in neighboring Sierra Leone, has agreed to do so, having been granted asylum in Nigeria, but he said he wants a peacekeeping force deployed before he goes.
Annan's visit was an attempt to help Bush arrive at a decision. The meeting marked the first time the two have seen one another since Dec. 20, when they met over the impending war in Iraq, which Annan did little to support publicly.
Annan has urged the president to send troops to Liberia, where a U.S. assessment team is reporting back to the White House on how the United States can best help support a multinational force of 1,500 African troops likely to be deployed.
"The understanding, which is emerging now, is for the ECOWAS forces to send in a vanguard of about 1,000 to 2,500 troops, and I think this is something that has worked out among themselves," Annan said. "After that, from what I got from Taylor, President Taylor will leave Liberia and then the force will be strengthened. Hopefully, [with] the U.S. participation and additional troops from the West African region. Eventually the U.S. will assist at that time to stabilize the situation."
The White House said Monday that the U.S. military assessment team has not yet sent in its assessment of Liberian refugee camps, ports and landing strips to be used for either military or humanitarian aid. American specialists were in Ghana (search ) over the weekend to coordinate with the West African regional bloc expected to enter the country in less than two weeks.
After a Monday morning meeting with Secretary of State Colin Powell, Annan said a number of African countries have expressed willingness to contribute to a Liberia peacekeeping force, and whether those countries press the United States to join "remains to be seen."
Following a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R- Tenn., Annan sounded an understanding note about the U.S. decision-making process.
"Secretary Powell said [the administration] is still waiting on the report of the U.S. assessment team before making a final judgment ... but I hope the decision will be positive."
The two discussed several global issues and hotspots, including Congo, postwar Iraq, Afghanistan, the U.S.-led war on terrorism, the search for peace in the Middle East, and efforts to battle poverty and AIDS around the world.
Annan and Bush's conversation also touched on establishing a new Iraqi government and questions continuing attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq and Saddam's prewar nuclear program.
"I told him and assured him that the United States would stay the course because we believe freedom is on its way to the Iraqi people," Bush said. "A free society requires certain kind of responsible behavior, and we're seeing more and more of that amongst the Iraqi citizens."
Annan, who was not an active supporter of war against Iraq, said that any former disputes are past, and concentration must now be on the future.
"I indicated that regardless of the differences that existed between nations before the war, now we have a challenge. The challenge is to stabilize Iraq, to help Iraq to become a peaceful, stable and prosperous state. And I think everyone needs to help," Annan said.
The secretary-general also thanked the president for his interest in the African continent and his determination to help defeat the AIDS epidemic.
Regarding Congo, U.S.-U.N. differences appear to have been resolved last week, when Washington said it would support Annan's request to give a U.N. peacekeeping force in eastern Congo more troops and a stronger mandate to help end fighting.
Fox News' James Rosen and The Associated Press contributed to this report.