President Bush says there is no evidence of a direct link between Saddam Hussein and the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. But Mr. Bush stresses the ousted Iraqi leader had ties to terrorist groups.
The president says he has always been concerned about Saddam Hussein's ties to terrorists, but says there is no proof he was connected to the attacks. "We've had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with September 11," he said.
Mr. Bush was asked about the matter by reporters because of ambiguity surrounding comments made by Vice President Dick Cheney.
During an appearance Sunday on the NBC television program Meet the Press, Cheney faced a similar question. He said he would not be surprised if the American people believe there is a direct link to the attacks, noting Saddam Hussein had contacts with al-Qaida terrorists in the 1990s.
President Bush said Mr. Cheney was trying to make a simple point. "There is no question that Saddam Hussein had al-Qaida ties," he indicated.
Critics have charged that the White House has tried to manipulate the facts to give Americans the impression that the ousted Iraqi leader had a role in the attacks. They point to a recent poll by The Washington Post newspaper in which 69 percent of those surveyed said they believe such a link exists.
White House Spokesman Scott McClellan says the Bush administration never misled the public. He added that the September 11 attacks brought to light the need to deal with the threat terrorism poses to the Middle East and the world. Mr. McClellan says Iraq was always raised in the context of that threat.
"One of the most dangerous new threats we face in the post September 11 world is the nexus between outlaw regimes with weapons of mass destruction and terrorists," he said. "And the horrific attacks of September 11 vividly brought to light the importance of confronting these threats."
He spoke as the Bush administration prepared to officially send the president's emergency spending request for Iraq to the U.S. Congress for approval. The $87 billion request is expected to generate hot debate but ultimately clear the legislature.