| CIA director George Tenet
Washington/Entebbe (Uganda), July 12 (Reuters): CIA director George Tenet took responsibility yesterday for a false claim by President George W. Bush over Iraq’s nuclear ambitions which raised embarrassing questions about the way he made the case for war against Saddam Hussein.
“I am responsible for the approval process in my agency,” Tenet said in a statement marking the latest twist in the controversy over an alleged Iraq-Niger uranium deal that has embroiled both the US and British governments. Bush, seeking to win backing for the invasion of Iraq that US-led forces launched in March, cited the uranium deal in his State of the Union address in January, calling it evidence that Saddam was trying to develop nuclear weapons.
The White House acknowledged this week the accusation should not have been in the speech because the documents it was based on proved to have been forged.
Bush, who has been dogged by the issue during his tour of Africa, said yesterday the wording had been approved by his “intelligence services”.
Hours later Tenet issued his statement in Washington, saying: “The President had every reason to believe that the text presented to him was sound.”
Tenet said the reference to an Iraqi attempt to buy African uranium, quoting British intelligence, “should never have been included in the text.”
However, Bush today speaking in Abuja, Nigeria, on the last leg of his five-nation Africa tour, said he had confidence in Tenet and considered the controversy to be closed. “I’ve got confidence in George Tenet. I’ve got confidence in the men and women who work at the CIA and I... look forward to working with them as we win this war on terror,” Bush said.
Yesterday in Entebbe, Uganda, Bush repeated that he had been right to go to war against Saddam. “I gave a speech to the nation that was cleared by the intelligence services,” Bush said. “It speaks in detail to the American people of the dangers posed by the Saddam Hussein regime. My government took the appropriate response to those dangers.” Critics have accused the Bush administration and British Prime Minister Tony Blair of misleading the public by hyping a weapons of mass destruction threat posed by Saddam.
In a lengthy session with reporters on the issue, US national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said: “The CIA cleared the speech in its entirety ... If (Tenet) had said: ‘Take this out of the speech’, then it would have been done.”
Tenet’s statement said Bush’s speech was “technically” correct because the British were in fact reporting that Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa. “This did not rise to the level of certainty which should be required for presidential speeches, and the CIA should have ensured that it was removed,” Tenet said.
Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas criticised the CIA for “extremely sloppy handling” of the information. Roberts blamed Tenet but stopped short of calling for the CIA director’s resignation, saying that such a decision was the President’s call.