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Kissinger fights voices of doubt

Washington, Dec. 1 (Reuters): Former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger and former Senate majority leader George Mitchell promised today to sever ties with clients that conflict with a new commission they are heading to investigate the September 11 attacks on the US.

The two men said it was too early to say whether President George W. Bush would be called to testify before the panel, appointed last week to try to determine if the hijacking attacks could have, or should have, been prevented. “It’s premature at this point,” Kissinger told CNN. “We haven’t made any judgement in that regard,” Mitchell said on Fox Television.

Bush appointed Kissinger last week to lead an independent investigation of the government’s failure to prevent the attacks, instructing him to “follow all the facts wherever they lead”.

Kissinger, 79, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and secretary of state under former Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, promised a full investigation, including an examination of any ties between US ally Saudi Arabia and Osama bin Laden’s al Qaida network, which the US accuses of masterminding the attacks.

Kissinger said he knew of no clients at the high-priced, New York-based consulting firm he founded in 1982, five years after leaving government service, who would have conflicts with the commission investigation.

“If there are any clients that are involved in investigations, I will certainly sever my relations with them,” Kissinger said. “But I cannot conceive that there will be any.”

Senator John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat and possible presidential contender, said Kissinger should sever all ties with his company “at least for the time being”.

“It is going to be extraordinarily important for Dr. Kissinger to prove to the nation that he comes to this without any linkages that could remain suspect,” Kerry said.

Kissinger said his company, which does not disclose its clients, had no Saudi clients and represented no West Asian governments. He said he would assure the White House counsel and relevant congressional ethics committees that there were no conflicts.

“Under no circumstances would we ever permit — would I ever permit — a foreign government to affect my judgement,” Kissinger said. “And the possibility that the investigation of a commission that contains eight commissioners would be affected by any conceived commercial interests is outrageous.”

Former Democratic Senator Mitchell, the commission vice-chairman known for high-profile efforts to broker peace in West Asia and Northern Ireland, said “yes, of course” he would drop clients that pose conflicts of interest at his New York law firm. “There are no conflicts to the best of my knowledge,” he said. “But certainly, should someone that we, I personally or my law firm, are now representing that is a subject of this inquiry, then there would be no question about that.”

“Everyone should be assured that this is our highest priority. We will do whatever is necessary to conduct a very thorough investigation,” Mitchell added.

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