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Rice to Testify Publicly Before  9/11 Commission - 2004-04-07

Listen to this testimony or watch it LIVE here on, at 1300 UTC, Thursday, 8 April 2004

White House National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice testifies Thursday before a commission investigating the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Ms. Rice has already met in private with the commission for about four hours. But that was before allegations by a former counterterrorism chief that the White House did not pay enough attention to terrorist threats before the September 11th attacks.

Her public testimony Thursday, is expected to focus largely on those claims by Richard Clarke that the Bush administration focused more on suspected state-sponsors of terrorism, including Iraq, than it did on individual terrorist groups, including al-Qaida.

Ms. Rice has said the administration took all threats seriously, and Mr. Clarke was not involved in every White House meeting on terrorism, so is not in a position to offer an authoritative account.

President Bush had long resisted calls to have Ms. Rice appear publicly before the commission. But last week, he gave in to bipartisan Congressional pressure, and agreed to allow her to testify under oath.

Speaking Monday to reporters in the state of North Carolina, Mr. Bush said he is looking forward to her setting the record straight.

"She will be great. She is a very smart, capable person who knows exactly what took place and will lay out the facts," he said. "And that is what the commission's job is meant to do, and that is what the American people want to see. I am looking forward to people hearing her."

The president said he is also looking forward to meeting privately with the entire September 11th commission, alongside Vice President Dick Cheney.

Mr. Bush said, if he could have prevented the attacks, he would have. "Had we had the information that was necessary to stop an attack, I would have stopped the attack," he said. "And I am convinced any other government would have, too. Make no mistake about it. If we had known that the enemy was going to fly airplanes into our buildings, we would have done everything in our power to stop it."

After those attacks, Mr. Bush says, the stakes changed, and it took him very little time to go to war against al-Qaida and its allies in the Taleban leadership in Afghanistan.

National security is central to the president's drive for re-election. It is one of the areas where public-opinion polls show him leading the presumptive Democratic challenger, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry.