White House Lied about Iraqi WMDs
BRUSSELS, Belgium (May 30) - As President Bush
begins a European tour to patch up trans-Atlantic relations, comments from senior defense officials about Iraq's weapons have
revived controversy in Europe over whether the war was justified.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz cited
bureaucratic reasons for focusing on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, and said a ``huge'' result of the war was
to enable Washington to withdraw its troops from Saudi Arabia.
``The truth is that for reasons that have a lot
to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy, we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on which was weapons of
mass destruction as the core reason,'' Wolfowitz was quoted as saying in a Pentagon transcript of an interview with Vanity
The magazine's reporter did not tape the telephone
interview and provided a slightly different version of the quote in the article: ``For bureaucratic reasons we settled on
one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on.''
Earlier this week, Defense Secretary Donald H.
Rumsfeld said Iraq's weapons of mass destruction might have been destroyed before the war.
``It is also possible that they (Saddam Hussein's
government) decided that they would destroy them prior to a conflict,'' he told the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
Neither Rumsfeld nor Wolfowitz suggested Washington
fabricated weapons claims, and an aide to the defense secretary, speaking on condition of anonymity, insisted their remarks
had been misinterpreted.
However, the remarks were widely published in
Europe and were seen by skeptical Europeans as a tacit admission that the United States overstated Iraq's weapons threat.
The Daily Express of London ran a report Friday
on the statements by the two U.S. officials with the headline ``Just Complete and Utter Lies.''
``Claims that the world was lied to about the
reasons for going to war in Iraq gathered pace yesterday as fresh doubts were cast on Britain and America's account of Saddam
Hussein's weapons of mass destruction,'' the newspaper said.
Bush flew to Europe on Friday with stops in Poland,
Russia and an economic summit with leaders of other industrialized democracies in Evian, France. U.S. officials hope past
bitterness over Iraq won't get in the way of efforts to fight terrorism, AIDS, and famine, and to improve world trade.
However, the weapons comments reopened wounds
from the strident debate ahead of the war.
In Germany, where the war was widely unpopular,
the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeiting newspaper said the comments showed America is losing the battle for credibility.
``The charge of deception is inescapable,'' the
Opposition parties in Denmark, whose government
supported the war, demanded to know if Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen misled the public about Iraq's weapons.
``It was not what the Danish prime minister said
when he advocated support for the war,'' said Jeppe Kofod, foreign affairs spokesman for the Social Democrats. ``Those who
went to war now have a big problem explaining it.''
During his interview with Vanity Fair in early
May, Wolfowitz cited several payoffs from the war, including removing the need for American forces in Saudi Arabia.
Those troops were sent to protect the desert
kingdom against Saddam, whose forces invaded Kuwait in 1990. But their presence in the country that is home to Islam's holiest
sites enraged many Muslims, including al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
Within two weeks of the fall of Baghdad, the
United States announced it was removing most of its 5,000 troops from Saudi Arabia.
``Their presence there over the last 12 years
has been a source of enormous difficulty for a friendly government,'' Wolfowitz said. ``It's been a huge recruiting device
Wolfowitz insisted in the interview, and in Singapore
on Friday, that there had always been three major concerns.
``One was weapons of mass destruction, second
was terrorism, and the third ... was the abuse of Iraqis by their own government,'' Wolfowitz said at the sidelines of the
Asia Security Conference in Singapore.
``And in a sense there was a fourth overriding
one, which was the connection between those first two, the connection between the weapons of mass destruction and terrorism.
All three of those have been there, they've always been part of the rationale and I think it s been very clear.''
Coalition forces' inability to find significant
stocks of banned weapons has only fueled European skepticism over Washington's motives.
Lt. Gen. James Conway, commander of the 1st Marine
Expeditionary Force, said Friday he was convinced before and during the war that at least some Iraqi units had chemical weapons.
A team of about 1,400 experts from the United
States, Britain and Australia will take over the weapons search from a smaller U.S. military team next month.
Maj. Gen. Keith Dayton, who leaves Monday for
Baghdad to head the Iraq Survey Group, said his team will shift its focus away from areas identified as suspicious sites before
the war to areas where documents, interviews with Iraqis and other new clues suggest biological or chemical weapons could
Dayton, a top official in the Defense Intelligence
Agency, said he did not know why no chemical or biological weapons have been found yet, but he remains convinced they will
``These things could have been taken and buried.
They could have been transferred. They could have been destroyed,'' Dayton told reporters at the Pentagon. ``That doesn't
mean they weren't there in the first place.''
The issue of Iraqi weapons is especially problematic
for British Prime Minister Tony Blair, America's closest ally in the Iraq war. Blair insisted Friday that he was certain concrete
evidence of banned weapons will be found.
``Have a little patience,'' he said in Warsaw,
Poland. ``I have absolutely no doubt at all that we will present the full evidence after we have investigated all the sites,
after we've interviewed all the scientists and experts, and this will take place in the coming weeks and months.''
05/30/03 20:50 EDT
Copyright 2003 The Associated Press.