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Top Bush officials push case against Saddam

National security adviser Condoleezza Rice said President Bush hasn't made a decision yet about whether to attack Iraq.
National security adviser Condoleezza Rice said President Bush hasn't made a decision yet about whether to attack Iraq.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Top officials in the Bush administration took to the Sunday television talk shows to argue the president's case that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is a global threat and must go.

With a former U.N. weapons inspector in Baghdad saying the U.S. position on Iraq is overstated, the vice president, two Cabinet secretaries, the national security adviser and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff pressed the point that a military intervention could be the only way to topple Saddam's regime.

"There simply isn't a case that this is a peace-loving man who wants to be left alone," national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said on CNN's "Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer."

On NBC's "Meet the Press," Vice President Dick Cheney accused Saddam of moving aggressively to develop nuclear weapons over the past 14 months to add to his stockpile of chemical and biological arms.

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"Increasingly, we believe that the United States may well become the target of those activities," Cheney said.

"And what we've seen recently that has raised our level of concern to the current state of unrest ... is that he now is trying, through his illicit procurement network, to acquire the equipment he needs to be able to enrich uranium -- specifically, aluminum tubes," Cheney said, referring to one of the elements for making nuclear weapons.

Citing Bush administration officials, The New York Times reported Sunday that Iraq tried to buy thousands of high-strength aluminum tubes.

The tubes, Rice said, "are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs."

Centrifuges are one way to separate weapons-grade uranium from natural uranium.

White House sources also tell CNN that Saddam has in recent months met several times with Iraq's top nuclear scientists and encouraged them to continue their work.

Sources say Iraqi defectors who used to work for Iraq's nuclear weapons "industry" tell administration officials Iraq's top priority is acquiring nuclear arms.

Rice acknowledged that "there will always be some uncertainty" in determining how close Iraq may be to obtaining a nuclear weapon but said, "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."

A senior administration official involved in Iraq policy tells CNN classified briefings to congressional leaders in recent days included evidence of "procurement issues" relating to Iraq's nuclear programs, including the aluminum tubes.

The official said the evidence is likely to be included in briefings the president promised to the leaders of Russia, China and France as the White House seeks U.N. Security Council support for a tougher posture toward Iraq, and a clear understanding with the United Nations that if weapons inspectors do return to Iraq that the Bush administration would view any interference from Baghdad as grounds for immediate military strikes.

But Bush -- who will address the U.N. General Assembly about Iraq on Thursday -- has not decided whether to use military force, Rice said. "The one thing he has determined is we simply cannot afford to do nothing," she added.

General: 'We have the forces'

Cheney also said the president has made no decision, but he and other officials leaned in that direction as they stressed Saddam's failure to obey U.N. resolutions, Iraq's attacks on its neighbors and the development of weapons of mass destruction they fear could be used against the United States.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers said the U.S. military was ready if called upon to strike Iraq.

Vice President Dick Cheney said he hopes Congress votes before it recesses in October on whatever option Bush chooses.
Vice President Dick Cheney said he hopes Congress votes before it recesses in October on whatever option Bush chooses.  

"U.S. armed forces and our allies will prevail," Myers said on ABC's "This Week." "... We have the forces; we have the readiness."

As for the Iraqis, Myers said military analysts "think their capabilities are much less than they were in Desert Storm. We think [Saddam] is much weakened militarily."

After Iraq's defeat in the Persian Gulf War in 1991, U.N. weapons inspectors entered the country with a mission to certify that it had destroyed its weapons of mass destruction. The United Nations ordered the inspectors out in late 1998 -- just before U.S.-British airstrikes -- with U.N. and U.S. officials contending Iraq was uncooperative.

In the four years since inspectors left, officials said Iraq had been trying to expand its chemical and biological weapons and acquire materials needed to develop nuclear weapons.

But Scott Ritter, a former U.S. Marine intelligence officer and chief weapons inspector in Iraq, said that inspectors had certified the country was 90 percent to 95 percent disarmed when they left.

"So if Iraq has weapons today like President Bush says, clearly they would have had to reconstitute this capability since December 1998," Ritter said. "This is something the Bush administration needs to make a better case for, especially before we talk about going to war." (CNN Access)

Rumsfeld: Inaction not a choice

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld insisted that the United States can't underestimate Iraq's weapons activities.

"After the Iraq war, Desert Storm, after they invaded Kuwait ... we went in and were able to find out that they were within six months to a year away from developing a nuclear weapon," Rumsfeld told CBS' "Face the Nation."

He said intelligence estimates at the time indicated Iraq was at least two, and as many as six, years away from possessing nuclear capabilities.

"Until you're down on the ground, you can't know precisely," Rumsfeld said. "The intelligence we have is clearly sufficient for the president to say that he believes the world has to recognize the Iraqis have repeatedly violated these U.N. resolutions."

If inspections were resumed, they must be "intrusive" enough so at the end, the inspectors can say, "He's disarmed," Rumsfeld said.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, speaking on "Fox News Sunday," said skepticism about the usefulness of weapons inspectors is "well-deserved."

"They did quite a bit of good work, but we also discovered that once defectors came out, they told us more information than the inspectors ever had found," Powell said.

Ultimately, the secretary said, the Bush administration believes that the best way to disarm Iraq "is with a regime change."

Cheney said he hopes Congress votes before it recesses in October on whatever option Bush chooses.

"We're at the point where we think time is not on our side," Cheney said.




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