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Bush, Blair try to discredit the Downing Street Memo
Two leaders deny that intelligence was manipulated to justify war on Iraq
By JULIE MASON, Houston Chronicle Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - President Bush denied on Tuesday the substance of a 2002 memo in which a top British intelligence official claimed the administration manipulated facts and intelligence to justify the war in Iraq.
In a brief appearance with British Prime Minister Tony Blair at the White House, Bush said "there's nothing farther from the truth."
"We worked hard to see if we could figure out how to do this peacefully," Bush said. "Nobody wants to commit military into combat. It's the last option."
Blair, Bush's closest ally in the war, said that "the facts were not being fixed in any shape or form at all."
The two leaders met to discuss aid for Africa, including debt relief and famine relief. Blair also is seeking Bush's cooperation on global warming.
Their appearance marked the first time Bush has responded directly to the so-called Downing Street Memo, which details observations by British intelligence chief Richard Dearlove after a meeting with administration officials eight months before the war.
The formerly secret memo, which appeared in the Times of London in May, said that military action appeared inevitable and that Bush wanted to remove Saddam through military action, which would be justified by linking terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.
Backing for war policy
The memo claimed intelligence and facts were being fixed to support the policy of war and that there was little discussion of what to do with Iraq in the aftermath of the conflict.
In the buildup to the war, Bush said that Saddam "continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised." He warned the Iraqi dictator to disarm peacefully or be disarmed by force.
Allied forces invaded Iraq in March 2003. Saddam's regime was toppled, but no weapons of mass destruction were found. Last fall, Bush blamed flawed intelligence for the erroneous weapons claims but said deposing Saddam was necessary.
The Downing Street Memo proved a sensation in England, where Blair recently won re-election despite growing public discontent over the war. In dismissing the memo's contents, Bush noted it surfaced during the British election campaign.
Some in Congress have called for an inquiry into the matter, but so far the issue hasn't caught fire with lawmakers, most of whom supported Bush's call for war.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., an outspoken critic of the administration's handling of the war and its aftermath, said on his campaign Web site that the memo confirms the war was linked to the 2002 midterm elections and that the administration "twisted" the facts to justify the invasion.
"The administration distorted and misrepresented the intelligence in its attempt to link Saddam Hussein with the terrorists of 9/11 and Osama bin Laden, and with weapons of mass destruction that Iraq did not have," Kennedy said.
Bush and Blair noted the memo was written before the United States and Britain went to the United Nations in November 2002 to call on Saddam to disarm.
"All the way through that period of time, we were trying to look for a way of managing to resolve this without conflict," Blair said. "As it happened, we weren't able to do that because, as I think was very clear, there was no way that Saddam Hussein was ever going to change the way that he worked or the way that he acted."
David Swanson, a Washington Democratic activist working to persuade Congress to pursue an inquiry into the memo, said the document's timing and the U.N. resolution calling for Saddam to disarm do not disprove the memo's contents.
"I am not sure what point they thought they were making," said Swanson, the co-founder of www.afterdowningstreet.org. "These minutes mesh perfectly with a building pile of evidence, including testimony from former administration officials, and if that's going to be a matter of sheer coincidence, we need an explanation of why."