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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Interview With Jay Carney

Aired July 10, 2003 - 20:31   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Sources have told CNN that early drafts of the president's speech cited American intelligence about Iraq's alleged attempts to buy uranium from Africa, but that intelligence was eventually attributed to the British. And now the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog wants the British government to back up those claims. So did the U.S. just pass the buck? I'm joined now by Jay Carney of "Time" magazine. He joins us from Washington tonight. Welcome, Jay.
JAY CARNEY, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Thanks.

ZAHN: So bring us up to date on the trail of the documents here.

CARNEY: What's interesting about what Colin Powell has said today on several occasions is that we shouldn't be making a big deal about this one line in the speech, that the president wasn't trying to mislead the public. And yet just a week later, when he, Colin Powell, gave his presentation to the U.N., that elaborate casus belli for going to war against Iraq, he deliberately did not include that allegation about uranium sales from the country of Niger to Iraq, because he felt it was not substantiated by the intelligence.

So -- and then he said today that he didn't do that because he felt like it wasn't quality enough intelligence to present to the world. Well, if the president of the United States is not speaking to the world when he delivers his State of the Union address, I don't know whom he's speaking to, because it's one of the largest audiences any president ever has.

So I think that they're trying to play down this incident, but the fact is that it is dogging them. It is undermining their credibility. And the more we learn about how that information got in the speech, the more suspicious it becomes.

ZAHN: Jay, is it any clearer who allowed for that information to be inserted into the speech?

CARNEY: Well, there is a collection of people at the White House that participates in the writing and vetting of the speech. Initially, the White House claimed that every sentence of the speech was vetted through a long process by the CIA and that everything was hunky-dory. Now we've been finding out that, as CNN has reported and others have picked up on, that that particular sentence was not approved by the CIA, that the CIA did not feel that the U.S. intelligence agencies could support that allegation on their own. And there was a decision within the White House, by whom we do not know, to say, OK, let's go ahead and make this allegation, but we'll hang it on the British, since the British published it in a dossier. Therefore, the president said, we've learned that the British have discovered that the Iraqis have been trying to buy uranium.

And yet it's part of the president's presentation. And it was a crucial part of the case that the administration made against Iraq. Because nuclear weapons are the weapon of mass destruction. They are much more devastating and terrifying than biological or chemical weapons.

ZAHN: So Jay, where does this leave our strongest ally? The British say they stand by the intelligence. And now you see the Americans basically saying, laying it on the British, dumping on the British.

CARNEY: Well, what's interesting here is, that yes, the Brits -- Tony Blair's government is standing by the overall assertion about the alleged attempts to buy uranium. And the White House is even broadly suggesting that there is other intelligence supporting the broader claim that Iraq was trying to buy uranium from somewhere in Africa. But we haven't seen any documentation of that evidence. And when the International Atomic Energy Association asked for evidence to support this claim, the only thing the United States supplied were those documents that turned out to be forged.

So both the British and the United States are claiming that there is some intelligence out there that somehow backs up the broader claim, but nobody's seen it yet. And certainly our own intelligence analysts at the CIA and the State Department and elsewhere are very dubious about the allegation.

ZAHN: Jay Carney, thanks for keeping us on top of the story.

CARNEY: Thank you.

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