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'Saddam Hussein Was a Danger to America,' Insists Bush - 2004-02-08

President Bush has again defended his decision to invade Iraq - this time in an hour-long interview on American television, in which he said he was right to launch military action to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

"There was no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein was a danger to America," he said.

The president made his case for war last year largely based on the assertion that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. But no stockpiles have been found, and during an appearance on NBC's Meet the Press Mr. Bush put the emphasis on Iraq's ability to produce dangerous arms.

"He had the capacity to have a weapon, make a weapon," said Mr. Bush. "We thought he had weapons. The international community thought he had weapons. But he had the capacity to make a weapon and then let that weapon fall into the hands of a shadowy terrorist network."

President Bush raised the possibility that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction just prior to the war, and listed several theories as to what might have happened to the stockpiles.

"They could have been destroyed during the war," he said. "Saddam and his henchmen could have destroyed them as we entered into Iraq. They could have been hidden. They could have been transported to another country. And we will find out."

Under questioning, Mr. Bush acknowledged some of the pre-war intelligence was flawed, although he stressed he still has confidence in CI Director George Tenet. He said a new independent commission will analyze what went right and what went wrong, and he defended the panel's March 2005 deadline to make its report - months after this year's presidential election.

"The reason why we gave a time was because we didn't want it to be hurried," he defended. "This is a strategic look, kind of a big picture look at the intelligence gathering capacities of the United States of America."

It was Mr. Bush's first appearance as president on one of the news programs that dominate American television on Sunday morning. And it came at a time when these shows, which air on five networks, are focusing on the race for the White House.

On the Fox News Sunday program, which aired in some cities at the same time as the Bush interview, North Carolina Senator John Edwards was asked about the intelligence commission. Senator Edwards, who is seeking the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, said it is a good idea, but emphasized the panel should complete its work before election day.

"I would very much like to see this done before the election," said Mr. Edwards. "If it is possible to do it before then, that is what should happen."

New polls predict a tough election race should the president face the current Democratic Party frontrunner, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts. Mr. Bush downplayed the polls during his Meet the Press interview saying simply, "I am not going to lose, I don't plan on losing."