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Bush defends decision on Iraqi war

Democrats want discredited uranium claim probed

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During a news conference with S. African President Thabo Mbeki, President Bush defended his decision to go to war with Iraq. CNN's Chris Burns has the details.
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Democrats call for an investigation into discredited claims made by President Bush about Iraqi uranium purchases. CNN's Jonathan Karl reports.
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CNN's Dana Bash on calls for a probe into President Bush's assertion that Iraq tried to buy uranium in Africa.
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CNN Access: Wilson says U.S. knew 
Interactive: How uranium is enriched 

• N.Y. Times: What I didn't find in Africa -- Wilson's op-ed articleexternal link
• N.Y. Times' Nicholas D. Kristof: Lessons from Blair 
• Interactive: Search for weapons 
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PRETORIA, South Africa (CNN) -- President Bush said Wednesday that he was "absolutely confident" in his decision to remove Saddam Hussein 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.

"There is no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein was a threat to the world peace, and there is no doubt in my mind that the United States, along with allies and friends, did the right thing in removing him from power," Bush said during a joint news conference with South African President Thabo Mbeki.

Bush also said that his predecessor, President Clinton, raided Iraq in 1998 "based upon the very same intelligence."

In Washington, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee, where he said the coalition went to war in Iraq not because of new weapons evidence but because the events of September 11 "changed our appreciation of our vulnerability" to WMD attacks. (Full story)

Many Democrats are calling for an investigation into Bush's claim in his State of the Union address that Iraq tried to buy large amounts of uranium in Africa -- an allegation that has since been proven to be false.

A Bush administration official said the president never would have included the information in his speech if his advisers had known it was false. Other U.S. officials said the White House had a report citing a former U.S. ambassador that the intelligence was bogus.

U.S. Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the latest White House statements "only reinforce the importance of an inquiry into why the information about the bogus uranium sales didn't reach the policymakers during 2002, and why, as late as the president's State of the Union address in January 2003, our policymakers were still using information which the intelligence community knew was almost certainly false."

U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, used even stronger language.

"It's bad enough that such a glaring blunder became part of the president's case for war. It's far worse if the case for war was made by deliberate deception," Kennedy said.

"It's more important than ever that Congress conduct a real investigation into the use of intelligence sources as a justification for war. The American people deserve to know whether the president is making war and peace decisions based on reliable information. We cannot risk American lives because of shoddy intelligence or outright lies."

Senate Republican Conference Chairman Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania defended the administration, saying it has been "very forthright ... as to what they knew and when they knew it, and I think they had the best information that they thought was reliable at the time the president said it."

Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota said that "a full investigation of the facts surrounding this situation be undertaken, the sooner the better."

U.S. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, a Democratic presidential candidate, also called for an investigation.

"The Bush administration doesn't get honesty points for belatedly admitting what has been apparent to the world for some time -- that emphatic statements made on Iraq were inaccurate," Kerry said.

Key point in war rationale

Senior White House officials have conceded information that former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein tried to buy uranium from Niger was inaccurate, but they said Bush's State of the Union speech was based on a broader range of intelligence.

"The issue of Iraq's attempts to acquire uranium from abroad was not an element underpinning the judgment reached by most intelligence agencies that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program," White House spokesman Michael Anton said.

start quoteThe British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.end quote
-- President Bush in January's State of the Union address

The assertion that Iraq was trying to reconstitute its nuclear weapons program was a key point in the administration's rationale for war.

In his State of the Union address, Bush said, "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

Bush cited British intelligence, which had published a similar report the previous September.

In March, the International Atomic Energy Agency dismissed as forgeries documents that alleged Iraq may have tried to buy 500 tons of uranium from Niger. (Full story)

What happened to report?

It remains unclear why senior administration officials did not know about former ambassador Joseph Wilson's conclusions that were given to the CIA.

U.S. officials said a report citing Wilson's information was given to the White House and other agencies nearly a year before the State of the Union address.

The officials said the report said Nigerian officials denied the suggestion Iraq had tried to buy the uranium, and that given the entities controlling the mines, it was illogical there could have been such a contract with Niger.

A U.S. official said the report was just part of a "flood of paper" the White House gets daily.

Correspondents Dana Bash and David Ensor contributed to this article.

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