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Rice Says Iraq Never Disarmed

Rice Says Iraq Never Disarmed

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush, facing growing doubts about his handling of postwar Iraq, launched a new public relations campaign to convince Americans his course is the correct one. His national security adviser insisted Wednesday that Saddam Hussein harbored ambitions to use unconventional weapons -- even though none has been found.

Condoleezza Rice told a foreign policy forum in Chicago that the team led by chief U.S. weapons hunter David Kay "is finding proof that Iraq never disarmed and never complied with U.N. inspectors."

In fact, she suggested, if the U.N. Security Council knew last winter what Kay's group has uncovered now, it never would have rejected the U.S. call for war.

"Right up until the end, Saddam lied to the Security Council. And let there be no mistake, right up to the end, Saddam Hussein continued to harbor ambitions to threaten the world with weapons of mass destruction and to hide his illegal weapons activity," she told the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations.

Rice's speech was part of the administration's effort to combat suggestions by critics that Kay's group had essentially come up empty-handed despite three months of looking for illegal weapons. Kay's team found no actual weapons, although he reported to Congress last week that there was evidence that Saddam still intended to produce such weapons and had retained the capability to do so.

Rice said the weapons inspectors had found strong evidence of materials and equipment that could have been used to produce weapons of mass destruction, and also that Saddam had continued to use lethal weapons against his own people.

"Today, in Iraq, the killing fields are yielding up their dead," she said.

"We have no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved in the Sept. 11 attacks," Rice said. Still, she added, the possibility that the Iraqi leader could be behind another attack "beyond the scale of 9-11 ... could not be put aside."

Her speech was just part of a White House offensive that officials said will include speeches by Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, as well as high-profile trips to Iraq by Cabinet secretaries to illustrate areas of progress, such as the reopening of schools and the introduction of a new currency.

Bush at times will reach beyond the Washington media to try to drive his point home with regional and local press corps, the officials said. The United States is also beefing up press operations in Baghdad to provide more live video opportunities and greater access to U.S. and Iraqi officials.

The moves come as a skeptical Congress begins work on Bush's $87 billion proposal for Iraq and Afghanistan. While the administration is confident of winning something close to Bush's proposal, the bill has become a target for Democrats hoping to weaken the president's hand and for some Republicans uncomfortable with its cost.

"Progress in a project of this massive scale is not easy to put down in sound bites," White House communications director Dan Bartlett said. "It is a story that is unfolding before our eyes. It's a story that is very complex and is very difficult to tell in a short period of time. What this will be is a sustained effort to show the American people firsthand the benefits of our commitment."

Bush will devote all of his Saturday radio addresses in October to Iraq and will sit down for a series of interviews with regional media Monday to press his case. He will follow up with speeches Thursday in New Hampshire and Cheney will take on critics of Bush's Iraq policy in a speech Friday in Washington, the officials said.

"This is a time when we are accelerating our efforts on a number of fronts and as we do, it's important to keep the American people informed," presidential spokesman Scott McClellan said.

Recent polls show Bush's standing with the public has weakened as Americans have become increasingly concerned about postwar Iraq and the economy at home.

In what officials said would be a new speech, Bush will use appearances in New Hampshire to talk both about the U.S. economy and Iraq six months after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime.

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

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