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Inside Politics

Rice defends Bush's debate comments

National security adviser raps Kerry's 'global test'

Condoleezza Rice defends President Bush's performance Sunday on CNN's "Late Edition."
• The Candidates: Bush | Kerry
John F. Kerry
Condoleezza Rice
George W. Bush

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- National security adviser Condoleezza Rice used Sunday's talk shows to defend President Bush's performance at last week's debate and counterpunch Sen. John Kerry's ideas about pre-emptive strikes.

Rice also defended comments she made September 8, 2002, on CNN that Iraq was trying to buy aluminum tubes for a nuclear weapons program -- part of Bush's rationale for invading Iraq.

A New York Times report Sunday cited Rice's comments and quoted CIA and administration officials as saying that Department of Energy experts told her staff almost a year before -- in 2001 -- that they thought the tubes were for artillery rockets, not for creating nuclear weapons.

Rice said she was vaguely aware of a debate about the tubes but believed that the intelligence community "as a whole" agreed they were meant for nuclear weapons work.

"If you're a policymaker, you do not want to end up on the short side," she said on CNN's "Late Edition."

Rice said that when she said the tubes were "only really suited for nuclear weapons programs," she "knew there was some debate out there but ... I didn't know the nature of the debate."

The debate was over whether the tubes might have been intended for use not in nuclear weapons but rather in small artillery launchers.

George Tenet, then the director of intelligence, told the White House that the tubes were for nuclear weapons, she said, and "at that time that was what we thought."

"But the fact is the president made this decision [to invade Iraq] on a body of evidence, not just aluminum tubes," she said.

Rice defended Bush's decision to invade Iraq as "central to the war on terror," which went beyond dealing with al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

"The idea that you just deal with Osama bin Laden and you're through with the war on terror simply is not a good understanding of the war on terror," she said.

Rice also praised her boss's performance at Thursday's debate, saying Bush did "a fine job of showing the American people why he is the leader he is and why he is the leader to carry us through."

She said Kerry did not display the right understanding of the war on terror.

"I heard Senator Kerry say that there was some kind of global test that you ought to be able to pass to support pre-emption, and I don't understand what that means," Rice said.

"I don't understand 'proving to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons,'" she said, quoting Kerry's remarks during Thursday's night's debate.

Kerry said during the debate he would never grant another country a veto on U.S. actions to protect itself, but he said the decision to go to war should pass a "global test" of legitimacy.

"No president, through all of American history, has ever ceded -- and nor would I -- the right to pre-empt in any way necessary to protect the United States of America," Kerry said in the debate.

"But if and when you do it, ... you've got to do it in a way that passes the ... global test where your countrymen, your people, understand fully why you're doing what you're doing, and you can prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons."

Rice said the administration had gone as far as it could have in that direction, offering "explanation after explanation" of why it was necessary to invade Iraq.

Rice also was asked to address several statements Bush made during the debate, including one that 75 percent of the al Qaeda leadership had been captured or killed.

Rice said the total number was in the "tens to 100." U.S. officials estimate that most if not all of those positions have been filled, and the top two members of the organization -- bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri -- remain at large.

Rice said Bush did not misspeak when he said that the network of Pakistan's A.Q. Khan -- the founder of Pakistan's nuclear program who was caught selling secrets on the global black market -- had been "brought to justice."

Khan is living in a villa and was pardoned this year by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. None of Khan's co-conspirators have been brought to trial.

Asked how that could be interpreted to mean Khan has been brought to justice, Rice said, "He has been brought to justice because he's out of business."

Rice defended Bush's contention during the debate that 100,000 trained Iraqi security forces are on duty, a figure that has been disputed by some Democrats in Congress.

Democratic members of the House Appropriations Committee were quoted by Reuters last week as saying that based on Pentagon documents they had seen, only about 23,000 Iraqi security forces, which include police, border patrolmen and national guard troops, had enough training to be "minimally effective."

"Not one single, solitary Iraqi policeman has completed the 24-week training course on the ground," Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on CBS's "Face the Nation" last month.

Biden said his information came from Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who is in charge of recruiting and training operations, and Pentagon officials at the time could not say how many police had undergone the training course.

The Pentagon itself has had trouble coming up with a count of trained Iraqi forces. Initial estimates were 206,000, but Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said last month the figure was less than half that.

"We figure we may still have that many people on the rolls. But of the ones that are trained and equipped, the number now looks to be, the latest number -- last week it was 105,000 -- now it looks to be 95,000, that is to say that are trained and equipped," Rumsfeld told the National Press Club on September 10.

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