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Rice: Iraq now the central front in war on terrorism

Condoleezza Rice
Condoleezza Rice

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(CNN) -- National security adviser Condoleezza Rice talked to CNN anchor Paula Zahn about U.S. policy in Iraq from President Bush's request for $87 billion to the elusive weapons of mass destruction.

ZAHN: I'll begin by asking about the president's $87 billion request to help pay for the war effort and rebuilding in Iraq.

RICE: It's a large amount of money, and the president has said that. But you cannot put a price on freedom and you can't put a price on security.

Iraq is now the central front in the war on terrorism. It is a place where we must win. It is a place where we are resolute. And when we win in Iraq, when Iraq becomes stable and prosperous, we will be paid back many, many times over in terms of a different kind of Middle East, in terms of security for the region, and, most importantly, in terms of security for the American people.

ZAHN: Dr. Rice, what do you say to critics of the Bush administration's post-Iraq plan who say that, in fact, the war created an environment that made it very easy for terrorists to come into Iraq, and you created a problem that didn't even exist before?

RICE: It's true that some terrorists seem to be making their way to Iraq, because they understand that, if we win in Iraq and we have a stable and prosperous Iraq, that is seriously going to undermine their terrorist activities and seriously going to make it very difficult for them to fight in the war on terror.

The president said a long time ago, all the way back to shortly after September 11, that we were going to fight this war on the offense, we were going to take it to the territory of the terrorists. And if we can defeat the terrorists in Iraq, which we will, they will be seriously harmed and hurt and America will be a much more secure place.

ZAHN: Dr. Rice, turning to weapons of mass destruction, a subject that was -- at least the search for them -- conspicuously absent from the president's speech on Sunday night. It has been four months since combat operations have ceased. The search for weapons has gone on. None have been found. Why didn't the president bring the American public up to date on that search?

RICE: The president did mention weapons of mass destruction. It was a key reason that we went to war, given this dictator's possession of them in this very volatile region.

But the process now of understanding the weapons programs, understanding what became of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, is currently under way. David Kay, a former U.N. weapons inspector, is out heading an effort to go through all of the documentation, which is voluminous. There are many documents. There are many people to be interviewed. There's physical evidence to be assembled.

And the president told David Kay: "Take your time. Put this together in a coherent fashion, so we have a true picture of this problem."

ZAHN: Finally tonight, former chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix said on Sunday it is his belief that, in fact, the Iraqis could have been telling the truth that they destroyed weapons of mass destruction back in the early '90s.

RICE: It was the assessment of those very U.N. inspectors, the assessment of intelligence agencies around the world, the assessment of three U.S. administrations, that this was somebody who had them, had used them, and was continuing to pursue weapons of mass destruction. And so I just find it hard to believe that Saddam Hussein went to all that trouble to conceal the truth.

ZAHN: So are you fairly confident that weapons of mass destruction will ultimately be found in Iraq?

RICE: I'm quite confident that the president, going in, had strong intelligence.

Most importantly, though, we have done the world a tremendous favor by getting rid of this tyrant, whose aggressive intentions in the Middle East were demonstrated by his repeated wars on his neighbors. And the Iraqi people no longer have to worry about mass graves and torture prisons. This is a new day for Iraq. And when we succeed in reconstructing and stabilizing Iraq, it will be a new day for the Middle East, and therefore a new day for security for America and the rest of the world.

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