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Bush Declines to Repeat Claim That Iraq Had Illegal Weapons

By David E. Sanger

The New York Times -- WASHINGTON

President Bush declined on Tuesday to repeat his claims that evidence that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction would be found in Iraq, but he insisted that the war was justified because Saddam had posed “a grave and gathering threat to America and the world.”

Asked by reporters on Tuesday if he would repeat his earlier expressions of confidence that the weapons would be found in light of recent statements by the outgoing chief weapons inspector in Iraq, David A. Kay, that Saddam had gotten rid of them well before the war, Bush did not repeat them.

Questioned at an appearance with the visiting president of Poland about Kay’s remarks, Bush said, “I think it’s very important for us to let the Iraq Survey Group do its work, so we can find out the facts and compare the facts to what was thought.”

He praised Kay’s work and came to the defense of the CIA, whose reporting on Iraq’s weapons programs Kay sharply criticized in interviews over the weekend. “These are unbelievably hard-working, dedicated people who are doing a great job for America,” Bush said of the intelligence community.

Bush said he would await the final conclusions of the Iraq Survey Group -- which Kay headed until he resigned last week -- before reaching any conclusions about whether the intelligence he relied upon was flawed.

At the White House and on Capitol Hill, many officials said they doubted Bush would have the luxury of waiting for final reports.

Democrats demanded that an independent panel examine how the National Intelligence Estimate -- the 2002 document that Bush used as the basis of his comments that Iraq posed a direct threat to the United States and its allies -- could have been so flawed. The White House expressed no interest in the creation of such a panel.

“I think it is critical that we follow up and find out what went wrong,” the Senate minority leader, Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said on Tuesday.