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Showdown: Iraq: Rumsfeld Contends Iraq, Al Qaeda Linked

Aired September 25, 2002 - 12:01   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Speaking today to his NATO counterparts, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declined to elaborate, at least in public, on his contention Iraq and Al Qaeda are linked.
CNN's Jamie McIntyre is traveling with the secretary. He'll joins us in just a moment from Warsaw.

We also have CNN's John King. He's over at the White House. CNN's Rula Amin in Baghdad.

Let's begin right at the White House with our John King for the very latest.

John, the president only a few moment ago in the Oval Office spoke out, what's his message as far as Iraq is concerned on this day?

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: On this day, Wolf, the president asked a interesting question, asked by a reporter during a Oval Office meeting with the Colombian president, which posed more Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network or Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction as the administration alleged inside Iraq. It was a question that appeared to catch Mr. Bush off guard. In the end, he waited, he thought of it before he answered. In the end, he said it was not a comparison in which he wanted to make a choice.


GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They are both risks, they are both dangerous. The difference of course is that Al Qaeda likes to hijack governments. Saddam Hussein is a dictator of a government. Al Qaeda hides, Saddam doesn't, but the danger is that they work in concert. The danger is, is that Al Qaeda becomes an extension of Saddam's madness, and its hatred and its capacity to extend weapons of mass destruction around the world. Both of them need to be dealt with.


KING: The administration officials tell us that the draft language of the new resolution to the U.N. Security Council will not be ready today, but perhaps as soon as tomorrow. The president also asked Wolf in that Oval Office meeting with reporters about complaints from some Democrats that he is politicizing the war on terrorism. Mr. Bush did not respond directly to some very tough words delivered just a short time ago in the United States Senate by the majority leader Tom Daschle, but he did say that he would continue to talk about the war on terrorism and the Iraqi threat as he sees it in this election campaign season. The president saying, that my job is to protect the American people, regardless of the season -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We will get those comments from Senator Daschle that we saw live here on CNN just a few moments ago, John, but before we do, what's the point, what was the president saying that specifically irritated the Democratic leader of the Senate?

KING: Well the president did say yesterday that the Democrats apparently did not have the national security interests of the United States in mind. The president was specifically referring to the fight, and it is an arcane legislative fight, over this new Department of Homeland Security. It is the president that proposed the new department. It is the president now saying he would veto the legislation if it arrives here at the White House with language now favored in the Senate.

So this is about labor rules, and collective bargaining and the union right of workers that work in this new department. It is a very complicated dispute. But what the president is saying that it is about international security, and he needs some flexibility about firing, and hiring and reassigning.

And the White House is saying it is the Democrats who are politicizing this by listening to unions and trying to write in tough language that gives the president less flexibility in this department, charged with homeland security, than the president would have on worker rights in the Education Department or the Energy Department. So this is surely a political fight over the rules within the new Department of Homeland Security. The president saying in remarks that the Democrats must not have the national security interests of the United States in mind, and the majority leader quite furious about that.

BLITZER: John King at the White House, thanks very much. And fireworks on Capitol Hill as a result of the comments from the president,

Let's bring in our Congressional correspondent Kate Snow. She's standing by to tell us all about it. The majority leader in the Senate pretty animated, pretty upset, Kate.


You saw it here on CNN. Within just the past half hour, Tom Daschle taking to the floor of the Senate to make these comments. He started out by saying that the founding fathers of America would be embarrassed for the way that the Bush administration is acting. He is talking about the Iraq debate coming so close to the midterm Congressional elections.

Mr. Daschle ticked through several examples that are in his opinion of the Bush White House taking advantage of the war and playing it up for political gain for Republicans. He went back to something that happened on Monday.

Mr. Daschle has been very upset by reports that Vice President Cheney was campaigning in Kansas. He was there campaigning for a Republican candidate for the House, in Kansas, and Mr. Cheney gave a speech about Iraq, and at the end of that speech, mentioned that the candidate, Adam Taft, would be a strong -- rather a fine partner in what lies ahead. As some have said, that implies that Mr. Taft would be helping the administration in the war on Iraq. That's what Mr. Daschle picked up on yesterday, saying that that was politicizing the issue of the war.

Today, what he picked up on, Wolf, was an article in "The Washington Post" this morning, quoting President Bush as saying that Democrats do not care about national security. That's what John King just mention, and what brought the fiery response on the Senate floor.


SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D), MAJORITY LEADER: The president is quoted in "The Washington Post" this morning as saying that Democratic -- the Democratic-controlled Senate is not interested in the security of the American people. Not interested in the security of the American people? You tell Senator Inoue he is not interested in the security of the American people. You tell those who fought in Vietnam and in World War II they are not interested in the security of the American people. That is outrageous -- outrageous.

The president ought to apologize


SNOW: And just a few minutes after that, we heard from the minority leader, the Republican leader in the Senate, Senator Trent Lott, responding to what Daschle had just said on the floor.


SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS), MINORITY LEADER: I think that Senator Daschle needs to cool the rhetoric. We have got a lot of work to do. We need to do it in a bipartisan way. Accusations of that type are not helpful.


SNOW: Wolf, all of this coming in the context as Congress now tries to deal with the resolution that has been sent up here to Congress, that the White House obviously wants Congress to pass a resolution, authorizing the president to use force against Iraq. That hangs in the balance right now, Wolf. In fact, meetings happening today among senior staff, trying to figure out the language of that resolution -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Fireworks on Capitol Hill between the White House and the Democratic leadership. Kate Snow in the Congress, thanks so much for that report.

And under the headline, never a dull moment, let's go to Warsaw now. That's where the Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is speaking out as well and making news.

Our Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre is traveling with him, and he joins us now.

Give us the headline, the defense secretary making the suggestion, Jamie, that there is indeed a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, he did make that suggestion today, in response to a question at a press briefing. Asked specifically, is there a linkage and what is it? He said, well that had been covered in the highly classified briefing that the deputy CIA director gave along with Rumsfeld to NATO ministers here, and he said that the short answer is, yes, there is linkage, but he went into no detail.

Now, all along, the administration has indicated that it does not have any strong evidence linking Saddam Hussein with the Al Qaeda terrorist network. If they had that evidence, presumably we would see it by now, but it is also not inconsistent with some of the things Rumsfeld has said in the past, which is essentially that Al Qaeda elements are in Iraq, and he has also said that given Saddam Hussein's control over most of the country, that it's inconceivable that he wouldn't be in some way aware or permitting that activity. So could be less there or more than that meets the eye -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I think We have an excerpt from what the defense secretary specifically said, Jamie. If we have that, it I want to play it, and I want to press you on one specific point.

Let's listen to this.


DONALD RUMSFELD, SECY. OF DEFENSE: The deputy director of central intelligence briefed on that subject. I have no desire to go beyond saying the answer is yes.


BLITZER: Well, you know, it is hard for the American people to simply accept the defense secretary necessarily with that statement, that yes, there is some sort of connection, but he is reluctant to give the American public the answer. I am sure that Pentagon officials are sensitive to that. Is there any effort underway or attempt to release that information, if in fact that assertion can be backed up?

MCINTYRE: Well, first of all, I think that what Secretary Rumsfeld would say other than the fact they don't want to discuss intelligence that would compromise source and methods, is that a lot of intelligence is ambiguous, it's not clear, it is not 100 percent; it is not a smoking gun, as they said, so. But we do not know what, in fact, he is referring to. It is perfectly possible that he will clarify his remarks later.

But presumably, within this classified briefing, there was some evidence offered. But if it was very compelling evidence that really made a link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, you can bet we would have heard more about it by now.

BLITZER: Good point, Jamie McIntyre, traveling with the secretary in Warsaw, our senior Pentagon correspondent.

Let's get the view now from Baghdad. That's where our Rula Amin in standing by to gauge reaction over there.

What's happening in Baghdad today, Rula?

RULA AMIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the only thing we heard was from Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. He was meeting with his cabinet. The statement that came out of the meeting was very confident that Iraq can challenge and can refute all of the allegations made by the British dossier. The cabinet statement said that if the inspectors, the weapons inspectors, come to Iraq, they will be able to dismiss all these allegations in no time.

However, the Iraqis are very aware of all this talk in Washington and by U.S. officials on a possible military showdown with Baghdad. Saddam Hussein told his aides on Tuesday that he is in complete serenity and tranquility...

BLITZER: Unfortunately, we lost Rula Amin's connection, our satellite connection from Baghdad.


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