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Rumsfeld tells Senate panel Iraqi weapons may still be found

WASHINGTON—Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee Wednesday that it was too early to conclude Iraq did not possess chemical and biological weapons before the U.S.-led invasion last March.

Rumsfeld said he believes U.S. weapons inspectors still need more time to assess what happened to the stockpiles, and that weapons may yet be found.

It was Rumsfeld's first public response to comments last week by former chief U.S. weapons inspector David Kay that he no longer believed Iraq possessed the illicit weapons before the invasion.

Rumsfeld defended the Bush administration's decision to go to war. It had been "the consensus" of U.S. intelligence agencies, previous administrations of both parties, Congress and "much of the international community" over the last decade that Iraq did not destroy the weapons after the 1991 Gulf War, he said.

"Saddam Hussein's behavior during that period reinforced that conclusion," Rumsfeld said. "He did not behave like someone who was disarming and wanted to prove he was doing so."

Rumsfeld faced tough questioning, mainly from Senate Democrats, over the fate of Iraq's weapons and the Pentagon's handling of intelligence data used to build the case for war.

Rumsfeld outlined several theories that could explain what happened to Iraq's chemical and biological weapons: that they did not exist before last year's invasion; that they were "transferred in whole or part" to other countries; that the stockpiles were hidden around the country and are still undiscovered; that Iraq destroyed most of its illicit weapons before the war, but kept small quantities for a later buildup; or that Iraq's weapons were a "charade" perpetrated by Saddam himself or by underlings who sought to deceive him.

"As Dr. Kay has testified, what we have learned thus far has not proven Saddam Hussein had what intelligence indicated and we believed he had, but it has also not proven the opposite," Rumsfeld said. The work of weapons inspectors in the Iraq Survey Group remains incomplete, he said. "When that work is complete, we will know more."

The defense secretary pointed out that the intelligence community had assessed correctly that Iraq's missile programs exceeded U.N.-imposed limits and that documents found by the Iraq Survey Group showed "evidence of high-level negotiation" between Iraq and North Korea for longer-range missile technology.

Ranking Democrat Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan quizzed Rumsfeld over discrepancies between his public statements in September 2002 that Iraq had "amassed large clandestine stockpiles of chemical weapons" when an internal Defense Intelligence Agency assessment that month concluded there was "no reliable information" to confirm Iraq had such stockpiles.

"Do you see a difference between saying with certainty that we know something and saying that there is some evidence of something?" Levin said. Rumsfeld said he did. Levin went on to say the administration did not have evidence, but made "statements of great certainty that we know that there are amassed stockpiles of weapons, we know where they are."

Levin is conducting his own investigation of the intelligence on Iraq.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said the Bush administration should not put all the blame on the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies.

"I think the White House agenda is clear, is to blame the failure of the administration's case for war on the intelligence community rather than the administration's manipulations and misrepresentations on the available intelligence," Kennedy said.

"The debacle cannot all be blamed on the intelligence community," Kennedy said. "Key policy-makers made crystal clear the results they wanted from the intelligence community."

Republicans on the committee largely defended the administration's handling of the Iraq intelligence.

Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said a 10-person staff from the committee had conducted a seven-month investigation, but found no wrongdoing. A working draft of 300 pages on its findings would be presented to the committee Thursday, he said.

Roberts said the staff had interviewed more than 200 analysts, including critics of the administration, and none complained of being coerced or pressured by administration officials.

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(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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