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Bush ready to face intelligence probe panel

By Sridhar Krishnaswami

WASHINGTON, FEB. 8. The U.S. President, George W Bush, has again defended his decisions on Iraq even if the United States has not found banned weapons stockpiles which was the primary rationale trotted out by this administration for going to war last March.

"Saddam Hussein was dangerous and I am not just going to leave him in power and trust a madman. He is a dangerous man. He had the ability to make weapons at the very minimum," Mr. Bush told NBC's Meet the Press. Excerpts of the interview held in the Oval Office were released by the network and in media outlets.

"For the parents of the soldiers who have fallen who are listening, David Kay, the weapons inspector came back and said, `in many ways Iraq was more dangerous than we thought...'We are in a war against these terrorists who could bring great harm to America and I have asked these young ones to sacrifice for that," Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Bush expressed his full confidence in the CIA Director, George Tenet, who is taking considerable flak for the intelligence on the weapons of mass destruction. Two days ago, Mr. Tenet made a vigorous defence of pre-war CIA intelligence and stressed that no estimate spoke of an `imminent' threat to the U.S.

"I strongly believe the CIA is ably led by George Tenet," said Mr. Bush. And asked if Mr. Tenet's job was in jeopardy, Mr. Bush replied, "No, not at all. Not at all."

Mr. Bush was also asked about the newly created bipartisan commission and specifically if the American people should not have had the benefit of the commission findings prior to the November 2, 2004 elections.

"...the reason why we gave it time is because we did not want it to be hurried. This is a strategic look, kind of a big picture look about the intelligence gathering capacities of the United States of America". According to the present scheme of things, the Commission has until March 2005 to submit its report.

"There is going to be ample time for the American people to assess whether or not I made a good call...and I look forward to that debate," Mr. Bush said; and asked if he would be willing to appear before the Commission that he created on Friday, he pledged cooperation.

"I will be glad to visit them. I will be glad to share with them knowledge. I will be glad to make recommendations, if they ask for some."

On Saturday, the National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, had a

four-hour private session at the White House with members of the 9/11 panel. Various members of the panel have described the meeting as candid and productive.

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