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U.S. Says Iraq Hid Banned Weapons Well

U.S. Says Iraq Hid Banned Weapons Well

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Because Iraq concealed its banned weapons so well, it will take time to interview scientists and pore over seized documents to find the hiding places, say Bush administration officials who reject charges the White House overplayed prewar intelligence to justify the invasion.

Answering claims that the administration exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, Secretary of State Colin Powell and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice expressed confidence Sunday that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction will be found.

"I'm sure more evidence and more proof will come forward as we go down this road," he told "Fox News Sunday."

Powell said his prewar statement to the United Nations -- that there was no doubt Saddam had the capability to produce and use such weapons -- had been vetted for days by U.S. intelligence analysts.

"We spent four days and nights out at the CIA, making sure that whatever I said was supported by our intelligence holdings," Powell said.

But weeks of searches in Iraq by military experts have not validated the administration's portrayal of Iraq's weapons capabilities.

Alleged stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons have not turned up, nor has significant evidence of nuclear weapons program.

The discovery of two Iraqi truck trailers, equipped with fermenters, is the strongest evidence yet that Saddam had a biological weapons program. Still, no actual biological weapons have been found.

The lack of evidence has raised questions about whether the intelligence, which led to the war, was inaccurate or inflated.

The head of the Defense Intelligence Agency acknowledged last week that he had no hard evidence of Iraqi chemical weapons last fall, but believed Iraq had a program to produce them. Powell said parts of the DIA report have been taken out of context.

"The sentence that has gotten all of the attention, in this two-page, unclassified summary, talked about not having the evidence of current facilities and current stockpiling," Powell said. "The very next sentence says that it had information that weapons had been dispersed to units. Chemical weapons had been dispersed to units."

Rice said the justification for war was grounded in information from CIA directors, intelligence reports from abroad, information from U.N. weapons inspectors and efforts by Saddam's government to conceal what it was doing.

Rice also pointed to former President Clinton's statement in Dec. 16, 1998, to explain missile strikes he ordered against military and security targets in Iraq. "I have no doubt today, that left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will use these terrible weapons again," Clinton said then.

"No one ever said that we knew precisely where all of these agents were, where they were stored," Rice told on NBC's "Meet the Press."

But she acknowledged that Bush erred when he talked, in his State of the Union address, about how the British government had learned that Iraq had sought uranium from Africa to build weapons.

"We did not know at the time -- maybe someone knew down in the bowels of the agency -- but no one in our circles knew that there were doubts and suspicions that this might be a forgery. Of course, it was information that was mistaken," Rice said.

Rice expressed confidence that the weapons will be found.

"We have thousands and thousands and thousands of documents that we've not yet gone through," she said on CBS' "Face the Nation." "We have many, many people; we've interviewed just a fraction of them. There are sites to visit.

"We will put together this whole picture, but the preponderance of evidence is that this was a regime that had the capability, that had unaccounted-for stockpiles and unaccounted-for weapons."

Rice dismissed allegations that Vice President Dick Cheney, during several visits to the Central Intelligence Agency, applied political pressure to get intelligence officials to exaggerate their reports of the Iraqi threat.

"Simply not true," Rice said.

One Democrat running for president, Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri, said Sunday he thought the weapons would be found. But, he added, if Bush, the United Nations and international leaders were "all duped, or if they didn't have the right information, then this is the most colossal hype that ever was."

Sen. Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said a congressional investigation of how intelligence was used in the run-up to the war is premature. "There's a little tad bit of politics being played here," Roberts, R-Kan., told CNN's "Late Edition." "I think it's very, very counterproductive."

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he wants a full-blown congressional investigation.

"I think that the nation's credibility is on the line, as well as his," Levin said, referring to Bush. "This nation has got to lead in this world. If we're going to really lead in a war against terrorism, we must have people who believe in us, who, when we say that something is true, believe that it is true.

"And there is real doubt now that that is the case, because there's too much evidence that intelligence was shaded."

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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