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Rice cites 'personal responsibility' over disputed uranium claim

Bush offers vigorous defense of adviser

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said she feels "personal responsibility" for the flap over President Bush's State of the Union address, which included a discredited claim that Iraq had sought to buy uranium from Africa.

The White House has since said intelligence was too weak to support the assertion.

"The president of the United States has every right to believe that what he is saying in his speeches is of the highest confidence of his staff," Rice said Wednesday night in an interview with "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" on PBS. "A rigorous clearance process exists to ensure that, she said, but "in this one case, the process did not work."

Despite the acknowledgment that the uranium claim was dubious, Rice said the rest of the president's case for going to war was solid. It was based on assessments by intelligence agencies that Iraq was actively procuring nuclear scientists and designs for a weapon, and might be able to have a nuclear weapon by the end of the decade, she said.

"That's the judgment on which the president was going, and not the question on whether or not he [Saddam] was trying to acquire yellowcake [uranium] in Africa," Rice said.

Earlier Wednesday, Bush, asked about the uranium claim, said he takes "personal responsibility" for everything he says and maintained that the case for war with Iraq was solid. He also offered a vigorous defense of Rice.

"Dr. Condoleezza Rice is an honest, fabulous person, and America is lucky to have her service," Bush said. "Period."

Rice spoke in advance of a closed-door hearing on Capitol Hill Thursday in which lawmakers are to hear from U.S. officials in charge of the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

The United States is putting together the "broad and deep case" that exists for proving deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had such weapons, Rice said.

David Kay, the top CIA consultant in Iraq on the issue, and Major Gen. Keith Dayton, the head of the Pentagon's Iraq Survey Group, are expected to tell the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that although the United States has not so far discovered a "smoking gun" in Iraq, it has growing evidence Iraq had an "active WMD program," sources said.

Kay is putting together a case for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, and the administration will be patient in waiting for it, Rice said.

"What the president said to David Kay is, 'Take your time. Do this in a comprehensive way, do this in a way that makes the case, that looks at all of the evidence, and then tells us the truth about this program,'" Rice said.

"What David Kay did say to me and to others is that this is a program that was built for deception over many, many years," Rice said. Saddam "got to be very good at making certain that no one would be able to uncover the truth of his programs, and so it's not surprising that it's going to take some time to really put this picture together."

Rice: More nations needed in N. Korea talks

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The experience in Iraq is precisely why the United States is working to dismantle the nuclear program in North Korea, Rice said. But because North Korea has proceeded with its nuclear program despite a 1994 agreement with the United States not to do so, Washington is now trying a different tack, she said.

"It only goes without saying that it doesn't make sense to go down that road again, because you can't trust the North Koreans in a bilateral arrangement of that kind," Rice said.

Under the 1994 Agreed Framework, North Korea promised to stop trying to develop nuclear weapons in exchange for the United States and others building light-water nuclear reactors. Pyongyang went back on its word "before the ink was dry on the agreement," Rice said.

This time, the United States is pressing for multilateral talks that would include South Korea, China, Japan, and Russia. Their involvement, Rice said, "will bring far greater pressure on the North Koreans than the United States could bring on its own." (Undersecretary Bolton on North Korea)

Hopes for peace in Liberia

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Another multiple nation effort is involved in trying to bring peace to Liberia, where rebels, who have for years been trying to oust President Charles Taylor, have besieged the capital for nearly two weeks now.

America's role is to assist the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in stabilizing Liberia, Rice said, after which much-needed humanitarian assistance can begin to flow into the country. (Leaders plan Liberia action)

Bush has pledged that U.S. forces will give logistical and communications support to other forces in Liberia. The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit will be deployed off the Liberian coast, Rice said, "to help ECOWAS get in."

In the interview, Rice also addressed the controversy over disclosing 28 edited pages of the recent congressional report on the September 11 attacks, echoing Bush's explanation that revealing the material would jeopardize intelligence investigations.

"The president is determined to try to bring to justice those who might have been associated with the attacks on 9/11, thus the importance of protecting investigative information on this," Rice said.

Saudi Prince Saud al Faisal visited the White House Tuesday to urge that the classified section be unsealed so the Saudi government may defend itself, because the prince believes the report indicts his country "by insinuation."

Bush decided to keep the pages under seal.


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