President Bush's national security adviser says she stands by her pre-war assessment of Iraq's suspected nuclear ambitions. Condoleezza Rice says she remains convinced ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein wanted to acquire nuclear weapons.
Before the invasion, Ms. Rice and other administration officials said Iraq had acquired thousands of aluminum tubes that they believed were destined for use in a nuclear weapons program.
"We do know that there have been shipments going into Iraq of aluminum tubes, high quality aluminum tubes, that are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs," Rice told CNN in 2002.
A report published Sunday in The New York Times said the administration did not fully disclose the assessment of some of the government's leading nuclear experts, who had concluded the tubes in question were not ideally suited for nuclear arms, and were more likely intended for rocket production.
Ms. Rice was back on CNN's Late Edition program when the story hit the newsstands. She said the White House got all sorts of information prior to the war about Saddam Hussein's plans to reconstitute Iraq's nuclear program, and acknowledged there was a debate within the intelligence community on the aluminum tubes. She stressed, however, that taken together, the evidence led President Bush to conclude that Iraq posed an unacceptable security threat.
"The fact of the matter is, the president made this decision based on a body of evidence, not just on aluminum tubes, and on the key judgment of his intelligence organization that this was a program of a reconstitution of the nuclear program," said Ms. Rice.
The rationale for war has become an issue in the U.S. presidential campaign. Joe Lockhart, an advisor to Democratic Party nominee John Kerry was asked about The New York Times report on the CBS television program Face the Nation. Mr. Lockhart said President Bush owes the country an explanation, and should detail how he sifted through contradictory information and made his decision to invade Iraq.
"I think the president needs to come forward, tell us what he knew and what he knew about the debate, and how he came to this assessment, in order make the decisions he made," said Joe Lockhart.
The situation in Iraq and the president's decision to take military action were the lead topics at last's Thursday's campaign debate between Mr. Bush, the Republican nominee, and Senator Kerry.
Public opinion polls taken after the debate show the race for the White House is virtually tied, with about a month to go until Election Day. The two vice-presidential nominees will hold their one and only debate on Tuesday. President Bush and Senator Kerry will meet again on October 8 and on 13.