Bush meets with ex-inspector

Posted in Iraq , Broader Middle East , United States , Terrorism , Asia | 03-Feb-04 | Author: Brian Knowlton| Source: International Herald Tribune

WASHINGTON - President George W. Bush met Monday with the former weapons inspector David Kay, saying that he wanted ‘‘all the facts’’ before naming an independent commission to examine intelligence shortcomings on Iraq and in the global war on terrorism. ‘‘I’m putting together an independent, bipartisan commission to analyze where we stand, what we can do better as we fight this fight, this war against terror,’’ he said, after a meeting with his cabinet to discuss a new federal budget plan.

First, he said, ‘‘I want to sit down with Mr. Kay,’’ the former lead U.S. in spector in Iraq who has said that his team found no significant signs of banned weapons there. Kay arrived at the White House shortly afterward. The news that Bush, in a reversal, will launch an inquiry into intelligence shortcomings on Iraq, on secretive states like Iran and North Korea, and on stateless terror groups like Al Qaeda, raised the pressure on some of his allies in the Iraq war to do the same. In London, Tom Kelly, a spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair, said that the government would announce late in the day whether it would follow suit. It was expected to do so. Opposition party leaders in Spain and Australia sharply challenged their governments’ reliance on U.S. and British prewar intelligence about Iraq, which pointed to threatening weapons programs that Kay said probably will never be found.

Bush’s decision drew quick criticism from his own opposition party, the Democrats. He has set no timetable for the inquiry, and Bush sidestepped a reporter’s question Monday about whether Americans were owed an explanation before the Nov. 2 elections. By using an executive order to establish the commission, he will retain greater control over its membership and mission; aides said it will probably be given until next year to complete its work. But Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota, the Senate Democratic leader, said Monday that Bush may be seeking to maintain too much control. The commission, he told reporters, ‘‘truly should be independent. It sounds as if the president is going to call for one where he gets to appoint each of the members and dictate the design and ultimately the circumstances under which they do their work.’’ Still, he said he was pleased that the administration had agreed to an outside inquiry.

Senator Jon Corzine, Democrat of New Jersey, who had vainly pushed in July for creation of such a bipartisan commission, said that any investigative panel must consider the question of ‘‘whether there was any misrepresenta tion or exaggeration’’ of available intelligence. Even in agreeing to the panel, Bush has said little about intelligence or policymaking errors. He repeated Monday Senator Tom Daschle said the panel ‘should be independent.’ his frequent assertions that Saddam Hussein was a dangerous man with dangerous intent ‘‘and the capabilities to cause great harm.’’ Still, by agreeing to create an independent commission he appears to be acknowledging that he cannot otherwise put to rest a central question: How his administration could so confidently have insisted on a threat from weapons that Kay said may never be found. Until this is answered, congressmen of both parties have said in recent days, U.S. credibility abroad cannot be restored.

‘‘The issue is not just shortcomings of U.S. intelligence,’’ Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraka, a senior Republican member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Sunday, but ‘‘the credibility of who we are around the world and the trust of our government and our leaders.’’ Senator Joseph Biden, Democrat of Delaware, agreed, saying on CNN that ‘‘America’s credibility’s at stake.’’ Kay gave the administration some breathing room by saying last week that he knew of no political pressure to manipulate intelligence on Iraq. Democrats, however, have said that any inquiry must examine whether policymakers ignored hedges and qual ifications from CIA analysts, and overrode their doubts, in marshaling a case against Iraq. Bush provided no other details on his plans for the makeup of the bipartisan commission.

In London, a British spokesman promised the ‘‘sensible cooperation’’ of British intelligence agencies with the work of the U.S. commission, Bloomberg News reported. In Canberra, Kevin Rudd, a spokesman for the opposition Labor Party, said that Bush’s decision to launch an intelligence inquiry ‘‘brings enormous political pressure to bear on John Howard,’’ the country’s prime minister. ‘‘The mercury continues to rise on the truthfulness of the Howard government’s prewar claims on Iraqi WMD,’’ he said, referring to weapons of mass destruction. But Rudd stopped short of calling for an independent inquiry in Australia, The Associated Press reported. Howard has defended his decision to support the war. ‘‘Everybody thought Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction a year ago,’’ he told ABC radio. The prime minister said Australian intelligence agencies had done ‘‘a professional job,’’ while noting that ‘‘most of the evidence they distilled and assessed was, of course, American and British intelligence.’’ In Madrid, the leader of the Socialist opposition, José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, asked the government to explain why it had supported U.S. claims about Iraqi weapons. While the Bush administration was planning an inquiry and Blair was considering one, he said, the Spanish government was ‘‘looking the other way.’’