Chalabi denies supplying false WMD information
Controversial Iraqi visiting Bush officials in Washington
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Chalabi said Wednesday that he did not supply false information to the Bush administration about Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to the Iraq war.
The controversial former exile leader, who is visiting Washington on a fence-mending trip, was asked by reporters about his role in providing information that helped lead to the decision to invade Iraq in March 2003.
"I respond by saying it's always more important to look to the future than to the past," Chalabi said. "The country is in a dire situation. We need to improve the quality of life of the Iraqi people and establish Iraq in the community of the nations."
Asked if he supplied false intelligence to the administration, he said, "No."
After extensive investigations, a report by chief weapons inspector Charles Duelfer concluded that Hussein had ended his WMD program more than a decade ago.
Chalabi made his remarks after meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
"I am very pleased with the reception and the warmth and the welcome that I received from everyone, including Secretary Rice. She was very nice," he said outside the State Department.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan defended Chalabi's visit, telling reporters President Bush believes it is important to work closely with the Iraqi government and their leaders to advance democracy.
"It's not up to us to pick the leaders of Iraq; it's up to the Iraqi people," McClellan said.
At the State Department, Chalabi said Iraq wanted better relations with Iran and Syria.
"We must work to get Syria to stop supporting terrorists' incursions into Iraq," he said. "This is very important at this stage, and I believe that we must do this by engaging them in dialogue after we see them taking steps to help the infiltration of terrorists in Iraq."
Chalabi's presence in Washington has stirred controversy, not only for his possible role in advance of the invasion, but also because U.S. intelligence officials accused him in 2004 of leaking top-secret information about American code-breaking capabilities to Iran. He has denied any wrongdoing, but U.S. officials said that an FBI probe is ongoing.
The FBI declined to comment on the investigation. A government official told CNN there are no plans to interview Chalabi at this time.
Democrats urge Chalabi be subpoenaed
Congressional Democrats called for the Iraqi official to be subpoenaed during his visit.
"It's rather unusual that any prosecutor would pass up the opportunity to grab an absolute key, central witness that's in plain sight," said Rep. George Miller, D-California.
Miller said Democrats have asked the Justice Department and intelligence committees in both houses of Congress to subpoena Chalabi. He said Chalabi played an "absolutely central" role in the U.S. decision to invade Iraq based on reasons that "have turned out to be false, have turned out to be misleading."
"I think it's important to know whether or not he did this knowing and how he transmitted that information, how he presented that information and what meetings were held," Miller said.
Cheney meeting on agenda
McClellan said Chalabi would meet with Vice President Dick Cheney and national security adviser Stephen Hadley.
The Iraqi official also was to meet with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Treasury Secretary John Snow and other officials. He is set to speak to the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank that backed the invasion of Iraq.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, called the Bush administration's meetings with Chalabi "totally inappropriate."
"How can you have the Federal Bureau of Investigation say that he is under active investigation as to whether or not he leaked sensitive data to the Iranians, that could have endangered American soldiers, and this man is being treated like some visiting dignitary?" asked Durbin, the Senate's second-ranking Democrat.
Chalabi was once a top Pentagon favorite -- the beneficiary of millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars for his Iraqi National Congress, which provided prewar intelligence to the administration. After the invasion that toppled Hussein, Chalabi was named to the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council and put in charge of the country's finances. (Chalabi timeline)
Chalabi was elected to Iraq's parliament in January as an ally of the Shiite Islamic parties that dominate the country's transitional government, but he has announced plans to run on a separate slate in December's vote for a permanent parliament.
Chalabi was convicted in absentia on bank fraud charges by a Jordanian court in 1992.
He has blamed Jordan for smearing him because he exposed the country's weapons-dealing with Hussein.
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