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Rumsfeld: War not prompted by new proof

Rumsfeld defends the decision to go to war.
Rumsfeld defends the decision to go to war.

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During a press conference in South Africa, U.S. President George Bush defended his decision to go to war with Iraq.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says the U.S. went to war in Iraq not because of new evidence of Iraq's pursuit of weapons but because the events of September 11 "changed our appreciation of our vulnerability" to WMD attacks.

Rumsfeld, testifying Wednesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, also rejected concerns that the reasons for the war were based on faulty intelligence, calling a now-retracted report about Iraqi uranium purchases just "one scrap" of a larger picture.

"The coalition did not act in Iraq because we had discovered dramatic new evidence of Iraq's pursuit of weapons of mass murder," Rumsfeld told the committee.

Instead, he said, the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington in September 2001 "changed our appreciation of our vulnerability" to attacks with chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.

The Iraqi government "had an international obligation to destroy its weapons of mass destruction and to prove to the world that they had done so," Rumsfeld said.

Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein "refused to do so," he added.

"The United States did not choose war. Saddam Hussein did."

Ten weeks after declaring an end to major combat operations in Iraq, the United States has yet to find evidence of weapons of mass destruction, although the search continues.

President Bush declared Wednesday that he was "absolutely confident" in his decision to remove Saddam from power.

But he refused to be drawn into the controversy over an assertion he once made that Iraq sought to buy uranium from Africa. (Bush defends war)

A meeting of prominent experts on arms control has disputed the claims that Iraq possessed significant amounts of weapons of mass destruction.

In a conference presented by the Arms Control Association Wednesday, a former intelligence official was scathing as he took the administration to task for presenting an inadequate case for the war in Iraq.

"I believe the Bush administration did not provide an accurate picture to the American people of the military threat posed by Iraq," said Greg Thielmann, who retired in 2002 after a 25-year career in the U.S. Foreign Service.

"While the search is not yet over, I am confident in concluding that as of March 2003, Iraq posed no imminent threat to either its neighbors or the United States," Thielmann said.

While he said that it was entirely possible that Iraq had potentially dangerous chemical and biological weapons, he suggested it was unlikely they would be used against the United States, its neighbors or Israel.

Joseph Cirincione, director of the Non-Proliferation Project of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, argued that Iraq, in his view, was not even among the three most dangerous threats to the United States.

He considers Russia, because of its large nuclear arsenal, the pre-eminent threat, and he believes Pakistan and North Korea pose far more imposing threats than Iraq did before the war.

Critics on both sides of the Atlantic are now questioning whether the U.S. and British governments exaggerated the Iraqi threat as they sought to win support for war.

The BBC reported Wednesday that a source "at the top" of the British government said he no longer believes weapons of mass destruction would be found in Iraq.

Asked about the report, a spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair referred to Blair's own insistence Tuesday that he did not mislead Britain ahead of the conflict, and was justified in going to war. (Blair: WMD reports 'accurate')

-- CNN National Security Correspondent David Ensor and producer Rich Dubroff contributed to this report.

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