Bush: We're Hunting Down Saddam Hussein
Wednesday, July 30, 2003
WASHINGTON — President Bush said Wednesday that he doesn't know when Saddam Hussein will be captured, but the deposed Iraqi dictator won't escape the U.S. forces tracking him down.
"I don't know how close we are to getting Saddam Hussein, closer than we were yesterday, I guess, all I can say is we're on the hunt," Bush said in a Rose Garden press conference, his ninth solo news conference since becoming president.
Bush said he expects coalition forces will get more Iraqi cooperation now that Saddam's son, Uday and Qusay, and other regime leaders are dead or in U.S. custody. That cooperation should lead to the "search for the truth" -- a reference to the hunt for alleged weapons of mass destruction.
"Saddam had a weapons program," Bush said. "He actually used his weapons program on his own people at one time. That's pretty tangible evidence."
With the deaths of Uday and Qusay Hussein, Bush said a free Iraq is moving closer to reality but will take time.
"I never expected Thomas Jefferson to emerge in Iraq in 90 days time," the president said.
Bush also said that he takes personal responsibility for a 16-word error in his State of the Union address, which used information that has now been faulted for being based on bad intelligence. In the address, Bush said British intelligence had determined that Iraq had sought uranium from Africa. While that was true in previous decades, the latest intelligence appeared to come from forged documents. The British still stand by the intelligence, but the uproar put Bush's national security advisers in hot water.
Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley acknowledged that he had been warned off the information months before the address, but said that he had forgotten the memos and phone call telling him not to include it. Critics say the credibility of Bush's National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, has come into question.
But Bush said Wednesday that he backs Rice 100 percent.
"Dr. Condoleezza Rice is an honest, fabulous person and America is lucky to have her service. Period," he said.
Bush spoke to issues concerning many nations around the globe -- from North Korea to Israel and Iran -- as well as the terrorist Al Qaeda network, which is said to be plotting new attacks using commercial airlines.
Bush said many key operatives of Al Qaeda have been captured or killed, and the United States is learning more and more information from the growing list of detainees.
"I am confident we will thwart the attempts," Bush said, adding again, "We've got better intelligence-gathering, better intelligence-sharing and we're on the hunt."
The president also restated why he refused to declassify 28 pages of the Joint Intelligence Committee report on Sept. 11, 2001, released last week.
The Saudi Foreign Minister met with Bush Tuesday to protest keeping the 28 pages blacked-out. saying it allows some corners in Washington to cast unfair aspersions on the Saudi record on terrorism.
Bush explained his decision.
"The foreign minister did come and speak to me and I told him this: I said, 'We have an ongoing investigation about what may or may not have taken place prior to Sept. 11 and therefore it is important for us to hold this information close so that those who are being investigated aren't alerted," he said.
"If we were to reveal the contents of the document ... it would reveal sources and methods, it would show people how we're collecting information and about whom we're collecting information, which in my judgment and the judgment of senior law enforcement officials in my administration would be harmful on the war against terror."
Bush also explained that he won't engage in bilateral talks with North Korea because the Communist nation has lied before about its plans. North Korea agreed in 1994 to a treaty with the United States to dismantle its weapons program in exchange for food and fuel. But North Korea secretly continued to pursue its nuclear weapons program, and is now believed to have two to three weapons ready and possibly is able to make another half dozen by the end of the year.
"I think that one of the things that is important to understanding North Korea is that the past policy of trying to engage bilaterally didn't work. In other words, the North Koreans were ready to engage, but they didn't keep their word on their engagement. And that ought to be a clear signal to policy-makers of what to expect with North Korea," the president said.
Bush said that he spoke with China's President Hu Jintao on Wednesday morning to see what progress was being made in talks between the two nations, which are much closer to one another than the United States is to North Korea.
"I told President Hu that I think it's very important for us to get Japan and South Korea and Russia involved as well," Bush said.