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Inside Politics

9/11 panel: Information on Iraq, al Qaeda welcome

Cheney has suggested he has details the panel does not


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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The 9/11 commission wants to see whether Vice President Dick Cheney can provide any additional information about possible ties between al Qaeda and Iraq, the panel's chairman said Sunday.

Commission Chairman Tom Kean said he doesn't see "any serious conflicts" between the commission's staff reports and the White House over whether Iraq played a role in the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.

Both have said there is no evidence to suggest that then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's government was involved in those attacks.

"We believe in the commission that there were a lot more active contacts, frankly, with Iran and with Pakistan than there were with Iraq," Kean told ABC's "This Week."

"Our investigation is continuing. We're not finished yet. If the administration has materials that we still need to see, I'm sure we'll see them."

The panel -- known formally as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States -- interviewed Cheney and President Bush for their report on April 29 at the White House. (Full story)

In an interview Thursday on CNBC, Cheney said "we don't know" whether Iraq was involved in the 9/11 attacks. Asked whether he had information the panel did not, Cheney said, "Probably."

Cheney spokesman Kevin Kellems said the vice president's office has not yet received any request for additional information.

"The administration has cooperated fully with the commission and given them unprecedented access to highly classified information," Kellems said.

The 9/11 commission issued a staff report last week stating that preliminary contacts between al Qaeda and Iraq in the 1990s went nowhere. Commissioners urged the administration Sunday to share any other information they might have, and they emphasized that the staff statements were not the commission's final conclusions.

"The chairman and the vice chairman invited the vice president to produce that information for our review," commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste told reporters Sunday. "It remains to be seen if he will take us up on that. We're in the mode of finishing up on loose ends and any information will be considered if it warrants it."

And commissioner John Lehman said the commission's report would be updated with new intelligence "right up until we go to press."

"As you know, there are continuing sources of intelligence, like the interrogations and the captured documents and so forth," he said. "And the White House has promised to see that we receive them as soon as they do."

Lehman also decried the fact that "everything we come out with, one side or the other seizes on to make a political point."

Critics have accused the administration of exaggerating contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda in order to support the U.S.-led invasion that deposed Saddam in 2003.

Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton said the commission was unable to find evidence supporting comments by President Bush that Iraq provided al Qaeda with chemical and biological weapons training or that an al Qaeda operative "was sent to Iraq several times in the late 1990s for help in acquiring poisons and gases."

Bush's comments were part of a radio address in February 2003, the month before the invasion.

"I know there was a request by Osama bin Laden for training," Hamilton told ABC. "I'm not sure about the poisonous gases. And our information, at this point in time, is that Iraq did not respond," Hamilton said.

Bush said Thursday that the administration never claimed the 9/11 attacks were "orchestrated" between Iraq and al Qaeda, but that "there were numerous contacts" between the two under Saddam.

He noted that Iraq also supported Palestinian militant groups and paid bounties to the families of suicide bombers, and he accused Saddam of harboring fugitive Islamic militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, now blamed for numerous bloody attacks on U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians.

Bush has tried to portray the war in Iraq as the "central front" in the war on terrorism that began with the 9/11 attacks.

But in September -- after Cheney asserted in a televised interview that Iraq had been "the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11" -- Bush said there was no evidence that Saddam's government was connected to those attacks.

Cheney also said last week that the United States has never been able to "knock down" an uncorroborated Czech report that 9/11 plot leader Mohammed Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague before the attacks.

The 9/11 commission found no evidence to support that allegation, Hamilton said, but "We're open to evidence on it."

Hamilton said there was no evidence that Iraq had responded to any of al Qaeda's requests for assistance from Iraq in the 1990s, but they had "a very difficult, complex relationship."

"At one point, Osama bin Laden was actually supporting anti-Saddam Islamists in Iraq, and then he evolved in a different direction. So it's not easy to sort out," he said.


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