Putin: Russia warned U.S. of Iraq terror
Leader says intelligence did not change Moscow's opposition to war
Russian President Vladimir Putin says Russia warned the U.S. of planned attacks.
Vice President Dick Cheney criticized some media reports for missing the point about an Iraq-al Qaeda link.
Radio transmissions of hijackers and controllers
(CNN) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country warned the United States several times that Saddam Hussein's regime was planning terror attacks on the United States and its overseas interests.
Putin's comments in Kazakhstan came amid a new debate in the United States about the extent of ties between Saddam and the al Qaeda terrorist network triggered by a preliminary report from the commission investigating the September 11 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.
The Russian leader did not elaborate on any details of the warnings of terror plots or mention whether they were tied to the al Qaeda terror network.
Putin, one of the strongest critics of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, also said Russia had no information that Saddam's regime had actually committed any terrorist acts.
The United States never cited Russian intelligence when it was making its case for the war and Putin said the information did not change his country's opposition to the war. (Full story)
On Wednesday, the September 11 commission released a staff report that said it found "no credible evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States."
The commission also said that al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden did "explore possible cooperation with Iraq," but said the contacts did not appear to have led to a "collaborative relationship"
Both the Bush administration and members of the 9/11 commission have dismissed the suggestion that the report contradicts the White House's position that Saddam's regime had ties with al Qaeda.
Hours after Putin spoke, Bush addressed troops in a lengthy speech at Fort Lewis in Washington state but didn't react to the Russian leader's remarks.
He repeated his position that Saddam's regime was a threat to the world and the 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 terror bombings in Iraq, as an "al Qaeda associate." Zarqawi is a key suspect in the Baghdad car bombing Thursday that killed 35 people.
Bush told reporters Thursday that the administration never said that "the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated" between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. "We did say there were numerous contacts between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda," he said.
"The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and al Qaeda, because there was a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda," Bush said. (Full story)
Vice President Dick Cheney said Thursday the evidence of that relationship was "overwhelming."
"There clearly was a relationship. It's been testified to. The evidence is overwhelming," Cheney said in an interview with CNBC's Capitol Report. "It goes back to the early 90s. It involves a whole series of contacts, high-level contacts with Osama bin Laden and Iraqi intelligence officials."
Cheney told CNBC that cooperation included a brigadier general in the Iraqi intelligence service going to Sudan, where bin Laden was based prior to moving his operations to Afghanistan, to train al Qaeda members in bomb-making and document forgery. (Full story)
Commission chairman Thomas Kean, the former Republican governor of New Jersey, downplayed any conflict at a news conference following Thursday's hearings.
"What we have found is, Were there contacts between al Qaeda and Iraq? Yes. Some of them were shadowy but they were there," Kean said.
Vice-chairman Lee Hamilton, a Democrat, said that the reported differences "are not that apparent to me."
Commission member James Thompson told CNN on Friday that the controversy was "a little mystifying."
"We said that there is no evidence to support the notion that al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein collaborated to produce 9/11," the former Illinois governor said. "President Bush said that weeks ago, he said it again yesterday. Vice President Cheney said it again yesterday."
He said that the report agreed with the administration's position that there were contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda.
"They may be in possession of information about contacts beyond those that we found." Thompson said. "I don't know, that wasn't any of our business. Our business was 9/11."