Seizing on the CIA director George Tenet’s admission that only he was to be blamed for letting the US President make the erroneous claim of Iraq trying to procure nuclear material from Africa, Bush-aides said the President considered the controversy over.
“The President has moved on and I think frankly that much of the country has moved on as well,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters on Saturday.
Fleischer also added that “the president has confidence in director Tenet and has confidence in the CIA”.
Bush had made the bogus claim in his State of the Union address in the run-up to the war, in an attempt to drum up domestic support for the war against Iraq.
But with the controversy threatening to undermine the president’s credibility, the CIA director took responsibility on Friday.
“I am responsible for the approval process in my agency,” Tenet said.
The CIA director’s admission came close in the heels of assertions by Bush and his National Security advisor, Condoleezza Rice that the Central Intelligence Agency had vetted every line of the President’s controversial speech.
CIA Chief Tenet diverts blame
Tenet said the sentence claiming that “the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa” should have been deleted from the President’s address.
With no Iraqi weapons of mass destruction found yet, the US president has found himself increasingly mired in a growing controversy over the real motives behind the war.
Tenet’s admission is seen as a much-needed reprieve for Bush.
American media early reports suggested that the White House had ignored CIA advice to remove the claim from the speech.
Meanwhile, the controversy over the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction continued to haunt coalition leaders on the other side of the Atlantic as well.
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair faced fresh accusations of misleading the public after a newspaper reported the government’s first weapons dossier had lifted old information from the internet.
The London-based Independent newspaper said the dossier published last September contained at least six separate items that were lifted from old material available on the internet.
Another London-based newspaper, The Guardian, reported that Alistar Campbell, a close aide of UK Prime Minister Tony Blair is close to resigning as Downing Street’s Communication Director.
Campbell has been tainted by repeated allegations of exaggerating the threat from Iraqi weapons to rally support of the British people for the war. He, however, denies any wrongdoing.
Meanwhile, a former chief UN arms inspector in Iraq demanded the resignation of Australian Defence and Foreign Ministers for making false claims about Iraqi weapons.
Former Australian diplomat and a one-time UN chief weapons inspector, Richard Butler, accused the two ministers, Robert Hill and Alexander Downer, of misleading both the country’s parliament and public.
Butler said the two ministers’ inability to pass on doubts about claims of Iraq buying uranium from Africa was a grave error. “A minister who misleads parliament must accept responsibility for it and resign,” Butler insisted.