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IN THE NEWS - July 19, 2003: Bush and Blair Defend War in Iraq - 2003-07-18

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program, In the News.

President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair this week defended their decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Mister Blair was in Washington Thursday to speak to both houses of Congress and meet with the president. The two leaders also held a news conference.

Mister Bush and Mister Blair have been close allies on the war in Iraq. Now, they have been dealing with questions about their statements before the war that Saddam Hussein was seeking nuclear material.

In recent days, Bush administration officials have worked to explain the decision to include a line in the president’s State of the Union speech in January. That is an important yearly speech that the president gives to Congress and the nation.

In the speech, Mister Bush said the British government had learned that Saddam Hussein tried to buy uranium from Africa. Uranium can be used in a nuclear weapons program.

But documents that appeared to provide evidence for this claim were later found to have been false. The Bush administration says the claim should not have been included in the speech.

The documents were a series of letters reportedly between officials in Iraq and Niger. The letters suggested that Niger would supply uranium to Iraq in a form that could be used to produce nuclear weapons.

After the Niger claim first appeared, the American Central Intelligence Agency sent a retired diplomat to Africa in February of last year to investigate. The diplomat, Joseph Wilson, says he found no evidence that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger.

The U-N International Atomic Energy Agency had already declared the documents false. British intelligence, however, declared the information about Niger as evidence of Iraq’s illegal weapons program.

Prime Minister Blair says he stands by the intelligence report. He says his government had separate sources for the information, and did not use the false documents.

The C-I-A had the Niger claim removed from at least two other speeches. But the claim was kept in the State of the Union speech after administration officials noted that it came from British intelligence.

The issue has resulted in new questions about the uses of intelligence leading up to the war. Some opposition Democrats charge that the Bush administration apparently tried to win support for the Iraq war by using questionable intelligence.

C-I-A Director George Tenet has taken blame. He says the sentence should have been removed from the State of the Union speech. He answered questions this week during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing.

During the news conference on Thursday, Mister Bush said again that he still believes the former Iraq government possessed biological and chemical weapons, and wanted nuclear arms. The president said people must understand it will take time to get answers.

This VOA Special English program, In the News, was written by Cynthia Kirk. This is Steve Ember.