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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Condoleezza Rice: CIA Cleared President Bush's Statement on Uranium

Aired July 11, 2003 - 07:02   ET

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

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice today says the CIA cleared remarks that the president made in his State of the Union address. David Ensor has been reporting that the White House substituted a reference in the speech from American intelligence to British intelligence. The CIA had little confidence in a report that Iraq was trying to buy nuclear weapons materials from Africa.
Today there are reports again that the British government went ahead with that report even though the CIA warned them about problems with some of that. That was months before the president used the British report as he tried to build a case for going to war with Iraq.

Last night on CNN "LARRY KING LIVE," the secretary of state, Colin Powell, defended the president's intentions during that speech.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: To single out this one statement having to do with an intelligence picture that wasn't entirely clear with respect to what he might have been trying to do with respect to acquiring uranium in Africa I think is quite an overstatement and quite an overreaction to this one line. So, the president wasn't in any way trying to mislead. It was information that got into the speech. Whether it should or should not have been in the speech is something we can certainly discuss and debate, but it wasn't a deliberate attempt on the part of the president to either mislead or exaggerate. That's just ridiculous.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HEMMER: Again, Colin Powell from last night here on CNN with Larry King.

Meanwhile, the words continue. Live to Uganda Entebbe, where Suzanne Malveaux is listening to the words of Condoleezza Rice and others.

What's happening now, Suzanne? Good afternoon there.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon, Bill.

And the questions keep dogging the president, as well as his top advisors, on his Africa trip about that one line. The reason it's so important is because it's a test of credibility. Many say, well, look, this one line saying that Iraq was trying to obtain uranium from Africa really was building a case, of course, that Saddam Hussein was trying to acquire a nuclear weapons program. And at the same time it was a case for war, and that this was brought before the American people in the State of the Union address.

Now, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice made it very clear this morning in about a 50-minute briefing on the record but off-camera, said -- and I'm quoting here: "That the CIA, including the director of the CIA, cleared the State of the Union speech in its entirety;" that there were no reservations about all of the elements in the speech, including that one sentence.

She went on to say as well that there were some changes, however, that were made in that speech that had to do with the amount of uranium, that that was something that was uncertain, and also about the place, that he said Africa. He did not say Niger, and that is one thing that White House officials have admitted. They said that was not accurate information that they were trying -- that he was trying to acquire uranium from Niger.

There was another thing that she also mentioned as well. Secretary of State Colin Powell, it was just seven days after the State of the Union address that he did not use that specific line. The State Department was not confident in that line. They did not use it because Secretary Powell saying they did not think that that was really strong enough information.

Again, Condoleezza Rice addressing that, saying there was no new intelligence that came about in those seven days between the State of the Union address as well as Secretary's Powell's presentation to the United Nations.

So clearly, Bill, top advisors, the administration on the defensive about this, hoping that it will go away, saying, yes, they stand by the general claim, which is Saddam Hussein was trying to build up a nuclear weapons program.

HEMMER: Suzanne Malveaux, breaking news in Entebbe in Uganda, and clearly a number of departments in the White House right now are taking their positions right now about what was said and when it was said, and Condoleezza Rice, the latest word from Uganda. Much more on this as we go throughout the morning here.

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