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Bush Pleased CIA Director Has Taken Responsibility  for Falsehood in January Speech - 2003-07-12


President Bush is pleased that CIA Director George Tenet has taken responsibility for his agency's failure to alert the White House about its doubts concerning allegations about Iraq's weapons program.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says President Bush is pleased that Director Tenet has "acknowledged what needed to be acknowledged" about the mistake. He says Mr. Bush has "moved on" and now considers the issue closed.

On Friday, Mr. Tenet took responsibility for his agency's approval of language in the president's January State of the Union address that accused then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein of trying to buy uranium here in Africa.

The United Nations later concluded that documents concerning that allegation were forgeries.

Mr. Tenet says CIA concerns about those charges should have prevented them from being included in the speech. He says President Bush had every reason to believe that the text presented to him was sound and the mistake raises what he calls "legitimate questions" about the CIA's conduct.

Mr. Fleischer says President Bush still has confidence in the CIA and Director Tenet, who is a hold-over from the Clinton Administration.

Mr. Bush was asked about the issue during his visit to Uganda Friday. He said his speech was reviewed by U.S. intelligence services and explained to the American people some of the threats they were facing from Saddam Hussein.

"I gave a speech to the nation that was cleared by the intelligence services, and it was a speech that detailed to the American people the dangers posed by the Saddam Hussein regime, and my government took the appropriate response to those dangers, and as a result the world is going to be more secure and more peaceful, " Mr. Bush said.

National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice says President Bush did not say anything in his State of the Union that the White House knew to be false.

Just a week after that speech, Secretary of State Colin Powell chose not to use that claim in remarks to the United Nations because he decided it was not appropriate after reviewing what he calls "every single thing" the administration knew about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

Secretary Powell says the issue of the president's use of erroneous information against Iraq is "overblown and overwrought" and he does not believe it threatens the president's credibility.

Mr. Fleischer says it is not simply an issue of the media blowing this out of proportion and the events raise legitimate questions about the process for vetting presidential speeches

The immediacy of the threat from Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was Mr. Bush's biggest justification for invading Iraq. More than two months after the fall of Baghdad, none of those weapons has yet been found.