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Iraq story falls short, Democrats say

Rice: Disputed charge doesn't change justification for war

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry says the larger issue is that confidence in U.S. intelligence might be shaken.
Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry says the larger issue is that confidence in U.S. intelligence might be shaken.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The administration's explanation of how questionable intelligence about Iraq's alleged nuclear weapons programs made it into President Bush's State of the Union address leaves numerous questions unanswered, two Democratic presidential candidates said Sunday.

CIA Director George Tenet took responsibility Friday for allowing the statement to remain in Bush's address. (Bush's 16 words)

In March, the International Atomic Energy Agency said intelligence that Iraq had tried to buy 500 tons of uranium oxide, or yellowcake, from Niger was based on forged documents. (Full story)

The White House later admitted the reference should not have been included in the speech, though Britain stands behind the allegation. (Full story)

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts said on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer" that Tenet's statement of responsibility leaves "a host of questions" unanswered.

"Making him the fall guy does not resolve the question or make go away the questions about the overall intelligence, and why the administration clearly had this political tug of war over the kind of information they were presenting America," Kerry said "That is only going to be answered by the White House."

Another Democratic candidate, Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, who was chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee during last year's debate about Iraq, said the uranium claim was part of a "pattern of deception" by the Bush administration.

"This is not a problem of George Tenet, it's a problem of George Bush," Graham said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"Throughout his administration -- from the first weeks, when there was energy policy developed essentially excluding the American people, through economic policy, environmental policy and now the war in Iraq and the war against terrorism -- this has been a pattern of selective use of intelligence, of deception, of overstatement," Graham said.

Tenet said that at the time the speech was delivered, the line was factually correct because British intelligence did indeed believe it had evidence of such activity.

But he said the CIA's own investigation of those same allegations was that the evidence was inconclusive.

"The president of the United States did not go to war because of a question of whether or not Saddam Hussein sought uranium in Africa," national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said on "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."

"He took the American people and American forces to war because this was a bloody tyrant who for 12 years defied the international community."

Tenet had a similar claim stricken from a speech about Iraq that Bush delivered in October in Cincinnati, Ohio, Rice told CNN. But she said that statement dealt with a particular transaction, and other information emerged later about other African countries.

She said the dispute "has been blown out of proportion.

"It is unfortunate that this one sentence, these 16 words, remained in the State of the Union, but this in no way has any effect on the president's larger case about Iraqi efforts to reconstitute the nuclear program, and most importantly in the bigger picture of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program," Rice said.

Rice said the administration still has confidence in Tenet, whom she called "a fine director of central intelligence."

But Sen. Richard Shelby, a Republican of Alabama and a former Intelligence Committee chairman, said the issue was "more than just a little flap."

"There's substance behind that, and somebody ought to be accountable," Shelby said on "Late Edition." The senator, who has been an outspoken critic of Tenet in the past, said Tenet would not remain CIA director if Shelby were president.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "This Week" that the information is still "technically correct."

"The British today still believe they're accurate," he said.

Kerry said the issue will hurt confidence in U.S. intelligence during a future crisis.

"The question is, what about the future? What happens when they come to us and tell us, 'Well, now, this is what our intelligence tells us about Iran,' or 'This is what our intelligence tells us about Syria or North Korea'?" Kerry asked.

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