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State Department official: I misspoke on Iraq policy

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A senior State Department diplomat apologized Sunday for having told the Arab satellite network Al-Jazeera on Saturday that there is a strong possibility history will show the United States displayed "arrogance" and "stupidity" in its handling of the Iraq war.

"Upon reading the transcript of my appearance on Al-Jazeera, I realized that I seriously misspoke by using the phrase 'there has been arrogance and stupidity' by the U.S. in Iraq," Alberto Fernandez said in an e-mail sent to reporters by the State Department and attributed to him.

"This represents neither my views nor those of the State Department. I apologize," the statement said.

Fernandez gave the Qatar-based network the 35-minute interview from Washington, where he is director of the Office of Press and Public Diplomacy in the Bureau of Near East Affairs.

His apology Sunday differed from a defense of his comments that he made to CNN during an interview Saturday night.

"History will decide what role the United States played," he told Al-Jazeera in Arabic, based on CNN translations. "And God willing, we tried to do our best in Iraq.

"But I think there is a big possibility (inaudible) for extreme criticism and because undoubtedly there was arrogance and stupidity from the United States in Iraq."

Fernandez told CNN he was replying to a question about how people will assess the United States in the future, and he said he thought that was how the country would be judged.

He was defending U.S. policy in a region where everyone dislikes the United States, he said, and was doing so in an aggressive way that was faithful to U.S. policy, and trying to put it in the best light. Fernandez said he was "not dissing U.S. policy."

"I know what the policy is and what the red lines are, and nothing I said hasn't been said before by senior officials," the diplomat told CNN. "Nothing I said during this interview broke new ground."

He cited as an example a speech made in March by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

During a visit to Blackburn, England, Rice acknowledged to journalists that mistakes had been made in the war.

"I am quite certain there are going to be dissertations written about the mistakes of the Bush administration," she said. "I know we've made tactical errors, thousands of them, I'm sure ... But when you look back in history, what will be judged" is whether the "right strategic decision" was made.

Ousting Saddam Hussein was the correct thing to do, because he was a threat to the international community, she added.

Responding to Fernandez's comments over the weekend, before the apology, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters "He (Fernandez) says he has been misquoted. I asked if he thought it was lost in translation and he said, 'That's my take.' "

Additionally, a senior Bush administration official earlier said, "I can only assume his remarks must have been mistranslated. Those comments obviously don't reflect our policy."

CNN's Elise Labott, Elaine Quijano and Octavia Nasr contributed to this report.

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State Department official Alberto Fernandez told Al Jazeera on Saturday that history may show U.S. arrogance in its Iraq policy.


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