Russia 'warned U.S. about Saddam'
MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- Russian intelligence services warned Washington several times that Saddam Hussein's regime planned terrorist attacks against the United States, President Vladimir Putin has said.
The warnings were provided after September 11, 2001 and before the start of the Iraqi war, Putin said Friday.
The planned attacks were targeted both inside and outside the United States, said Putin, who made the remarks during a visit to Kazakhstan.
However, Putin said there was no evidence that Saddam's regime was involved in any terrorist attacks.
"I can confirm that after the events of September 11, 2001, and up to the military operation in Iraq, Russian special services and Russian intelligence several times received ... information that official organs of Saddam's regime were preparing terrorist acts on the territory of the United States and beyond its borders, at U.S. military and civilian locations," Putin said.
He said the information was given to U.S. intelligence officers and that U.S. President George W. Bush expressed his gratitude to a top Russian intelligence official.
"This information was indeed passed on through our partner channels to our American colleagues and, moreover, President Bush had an opportunity and used this opportunity to personally thank the leader of one of the Russian special services for this information, which he considered to be very important," Putin said.
Putin made his comments in response to a question from reporters seeking clarification on similar statements leaked by an unnamed intelligence officer in a dispatch by the Interfax news agency.
Russia opposed the invasion of Iraq and Putin said Friday the information did not effect its stance on the war.
He said there were international norms and procedures that weren't observed regarding "the use of force in international actions."
Regarding how the information might have been related to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Putin said, "Whether or not this was sufficient basis to state the United States was acting within the boundaries of self-defense, well, I don't know. This is a separate issue."
The United States, meanwhile, never mentioned the Russian intelligence in its arguments for going to war.
Hours after Putin spoke, Bush addressed troops at Fort Lewis in the U.S. state of Washington, but he didn't react to the Russian leader's remarks.
He repeated his position that Saddam's regime was a threat to the world and that dangers it posed were the grounds for the invasion last year.
"This is a regime which gave cash rewards to families of suicide bombers. This is a regime that sheltered terrorist groups," Bush said.
He also cited Musab Abu al-Zarqawi, the wanted insurgent in Iraq suspected of many terrorist bombings in Iraq, as an "al Qaeda associate."
Asked about Putin's remarks, U.S. National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack said, "We don't typically comment on intelligence matters. We do have an excellent record of cooperation in the war on terror with the Russian government. And a big part of the cooperation is information and intelligence sharing."
Putin's comments come two days after members of a U.S. commission looking into the September 11 attacks found there was "no collaborative" relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
The panel also found "no credible evidence" that Iraq was involved in the September 11 terrorist attacks carried out by al Qaeda hijackers.
Bush and his vice president, Dick Cheney, have strongly disputed suggestions that the commission's conclusions contradict statements they made in the run-up to the Iraq war about links between Iraq and al Qaeda.
Cheney said Thursday the evidence is "overwhelming" that al Qaeda had a relationship with Saddam's regime. He said media reports suggesting that the 9/11 commission has reached a contradictory conclusion were "irresponsible." (Full story)
Bush, who has said himself that there is no evidence Iraq was involved in 9/11, sought to explain the distinction Thursday.
The president said that while the administration never "said that the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated" with Iraqi help, "we did say there were numerous contacts between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda."
"The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and al Qaeda [is] because there was a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda," Bush said. (Full story)
In the lead-up to the Iraq war, Bush made stronger statements alleging cooperation between Iraq and al Qaeda.
In a October 2002 speech he said, "Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases."
The 9/11 commission's report said bin Laden "explored possible cooperation with Iraq during his time in Sudan, despite his opposition to (Saddam) Hussein's secular regime."
It says the contact was pushed by the Sudanese, "to protect their own ties with Iraq," but after bin Laden asked for space in Iraq for training camps, "Iraq apparently never responded."
The report also said, "There have been reports that contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda also occurred after bin Laden had returned to Afghanistan, but they do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship."
CNN Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty contributed to this report.