Atta never met in prague
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Bush: No evidence of Saddam role in 9/11
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Bush said Wednesday there was no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 -- disputing an impression that critics say the administration tried to foster to justify the war against Iraq.
"There's no question that Saddam Hussein had al-Qaida ties," the president said. But he also said, "We've had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with September the 11th."
The president's comment was the administration's firmest assertion that there is no proven link between Saddam and Sept. 11. It came after Vice President Dick Cheney on Sunday clouded the issue by saying, "It's not surprising people make that connection" between Saddam and the attacks.
Cheney, on NBC's "Meet the Press," also repeated an allegation -- doubted by many in the intelligence community -- that Mohamed Atta, the lead Sept. 11 attacker, met with a senior Iraqi intelligence official in Prague five months before Sept. 11.
"We've never been able to develop any more of that yet, either in terms of confirming it or discrediting it," Cheney said Sunday. However, other U.S. authorities have said information gathered on Atta's movement show he was on the U.S. East Coast when that meeting supposedly took place.
Critics of the Bush administration have pointed to statements like Cheney's as evidence that the administration was exaggerating al-Qaida's prewar links with Saddam to help justify the U.S.-led war against Iraq.
A recent poll indicated that nearly 70 percent of Americans believed the Iraqi leader probably was personally involved. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Tuesday, "I've not seen any indication that would lead me to believe that I could say that."
The administration has argued that Saddam's government had close links to al-Qaida, the terrorist network led by Osama bin Laden that masterminded the Sept. 11 attacks.
On Sunday, for example, Cheney said that success in stabilizing and democratizing Iraq would strike a major blow at the "the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault for many years, but most especially on 9-11."
Bush himself has taken to referring to Iraq as the central front in the war against terror.
And Tuesday, in an interview on ABC's "Nightline," White House national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said that one of the reasons Bush went to war against Saddam was because he posed a threat in "a region from which the 9-11 threat emerged."
Cheney on Sunday was asked whether he was surprised that more than two-thirds of Americans in a Washington Post poll would express a belief that Iraq was behind the attacks.
"No, I think it's not surprising that people make that connection," he replied.
Rice, asked about the same poll numbers, said, "We have never claimed that Saddam Hussein had either direction or control of 9-11."
Bush said there was no attempt by the administration to try to confuse people about any link between Saddam and Sept. 11.
"No, we've had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with September the 11th," Bush said. "What the vice president said was is that he (Saddam) has been involved with al-Qaida.
"And al-Zarqawi, al-Qaida operative, was in Baghdad. He's the guy that ordered the killing of a U.S. diplomat. ... There's no question that Saddam Hussein had al-Qaida ties."
Most of the administration's public assertions have focused on the man Bush mentioned, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a senior bin Laden associate who officials have accused of trying to train terrorists in the use of poison for possible attacks in Europe, running a terrorist haven in northern Iraq -- an area outside Saddam's control before the war -- and organizing an attack that killed an American aid executive in Jordan last year