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Bush Defends Search for Iraqi WMDs - 2003-10-03

President Bush is defending the search for evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, after the chief U.S. weapons inspector told Congress that his team has not yet found any such weapons.

The immediacy of the threat from Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was President Bush's biggest justification for toppling Saddam Hussein.

But after nearly six months of searching, the chief U.S. arms inspector for Iraq, David Kay, says his team has not yet found any.

That has made Congressional Democrats even more critical of the president's decision to invade Iraq, with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi saying Mr. Kay's interim report shows there was more time for diplomacy before the U.S.-led invasion.

Before the war, France, Germany and Russia asked President Bush to give U.N. inspectors in Iraq more time to search for those weapons. But Mr. Bush said Iraq presented a "grave and growing" threat.

The president Friday stood by his decision to go to war, saying Saddam Hussein's weapons program was "a danger to the world."

"Iraq's WMD programs spanned more than two decades, involved thousands of people, billions of dollars, and was elaborately shielded by security and deception operations that continued even beyond the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom," he said.

Mr. Bush says the world is better off, now that Saddam Hussein is no longer in power, because Iraq was in clear violation of U.N. resolutions limiting weapons production. The interim report by U.S. inspectors says Iraq was engaged in a program to extend the range of its missiles beyond the U.N.-mandated limit of 1,000 kilometers.

Mr. Kay told Congressional leaders Thursday that his team has uncovered evidence of what he says were "activities" related to chemical and biological weapons programs, but he will need at least six more months to reach any conclusions.

Just because he has not yet found any actual weapons, Mr. Kay says, that does not mean there are no actual weapons.

Congressional officials say the Bush administration is asking for $600 million to continue the weapons search. That is part of the $87 billion the president wants Congress to spend to help rebuild Iraq and pay for the U.S. occupation.

President Bush spoke following the release of a public opinion poll showing more than half of Americans believe the war in Iraq was not worth the costs. Responding to the poll, Mr. Bush said, sometimes the American people like his decisions, and sometimes they don't. But he said they need to know he makes tough decisions, based on what he thinks is right.