Wolfowitz Plays Down Iraq Remarks

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz, at Asia Security conference in Singapore, 060102. He warned delgates that terrorists have Asia "in their sights"
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz downplayed his reported comments that the United States chose to focus on Saddam Hussein's suspected weapons of mass destruction for bureaucratic reasons in the drive for war against Iraq.

In an interview with Vanity Fair magazine, Wolfowitz was quoted as saying a "huge" result of the war was to enable Washington to withdraw its troops from Saudi Arabia.

His comments were seen by some critics as a tacit admission that the United States overstated Iraq's weapons threat to achieve goals which its partners did not share.

When questioned about his remarks in Singapore, Wolfowitz said that weapons of mass destruction were only one concern among many. "What I said very clearly is that we have from the beginning had three concerns. One was weapons of mass destruction, second was terrorism, and the third ... was the abuse of Iraqis by their own government," Wolfowitz told reporters on the sidelines of an Asia Security Conference.

Vanity Fair quoted him as saying, "The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy, we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason."

CBS News correspondent John Roberts reports Europe is "abuzz" over the Vanity Fair interview.

In other developments:

National Security Correspondent David Martin says CBS News may have discovered a "mobile strong box" used by Saddam Hussein's regime. At the Dora Farms palace complex on Baghdad's outskirts, Martin and cameraman Nick Turner spotted a garbage truck lined with concrete, whose floor was strewn with the residue of burnt money. Martin says U.S. intelligence never knew about the truck.

Dora Farms was the facility bombed by the U.S. the first night of the war in the belief Saddam might have been in a bunker beneath it. But Martin reported earlier this week that no one can find any bunker at the site.

  • In northern Iraq, three U.S. soldiers were killed and six more injured in a traffic accident, the military said Saturday. The soldiers were part of a unit attached to the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division. The accident occurred on the road between the cities of Mosul and Tikrit.
  • American forces Saturday arrested 15 Baath Party members during a party meeting at the country's main police college. They included the dean of the college, five brigadier generals and one major general. No shots were fired during the arrests.
  • Britain's special representative on human rights Saturday asked U.S.-led occupying forces to do their utmost to preserve mass-grave sites for possible future use in war crimes trials.
  • The British Ministry of Defense says a British soldier is under investigation over allegations he tortured Iraqi prisoners. Officials say the soldier was arrested by civilian police at his home in Britain but was now in army custody.

    At the same conference in Singapore that Wolfowitz was attending, French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said the fact that the U.S. military has found no nuclear or biological weapons in Iraq affirms France's position that war was not necessary and U.N. inspectors should have been able to complete their work.

    Meanwhile, a new U.S.-led team of international experts is heading to Iraq to intensify the search for weapons of mass destruction, and President Bush was saying some of the banned armaments have already been found. The team of about 1,400 experts from the United States, Britain and Australia will take over the weapons search from a smaller U.S. military team.

    The U.S. Army general heading the new effort, Maj. Gen. Keith Dayton, said Friday that his team would change the focus from sites identified as suspicious before the war and instead concentrate on areas where documents, interviews with Iraqis and other new clues suggest biological or chemical weapons could be hidden.

    Dayton, a top official in the Defense Intelligence Agency, said he remains convinced his team will find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He said he believed the information the United States had before the war indicating Iraq had the banned weapons and continues to believe that.

    "These things could have been taken and buried. They could have
    been transferred. They could have been destroyed," Dayton told
    reporters at the Pentagon. "That doesn't mean they weren't there
    in the first place."

    His group will begin a two-week transition period to take over the weapons hunt in Iraq no later than June 7, Dayton said.

    The shift comes amid growing questions from allies and some members of Congress about why no actual chemical or biological weapons have been unearthed. Mr. Bush said before the war that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons, as well as a nuclear weapons development program, and used their elimination as justification for invading Iraq and overthrowing its government.

    In an interview with Polish television before leaving on a seven-day trip to Europe and the Middle East, Mr. Bush cited two equipment-filled trailers found in northern Iraq that American intelligence agencies say were mobile biological weapons production facilities. Mr. Bush and other administration officials say the finds show Iraq did indeed have clandestine programs to make germ weapons.

    "We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories," Bush told Polish television. "They're illegal. They're against the United Nations resolutions, and we've so far discovered two.

    "And we'll find more weapons as time goes on. But for those who say we haven't found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they're wrong, we found them," Mr. Bush said.

    In response to questions about the credibility of U.S. intelligence, CIA Director George Tenet released a rare statement Friday defending his agency.

    "Our role is to call it like we see it - to tell policy-makers what we know, what we don't know, what we think, and what we base it on," Tenet said. "The integrity of our process was maintained throughout and any suggestion to the contrary is simply wrong."

    The New York Times reports in its Saturday editions that Secretary of State Colin Powell also strongly defended Washington's prewar portrayals of intelligence on Iraqi weapons programs. The newspaper quoted from a session Powellhad with reporters on Air Force One en route to Europe with Mr. Bush.

    Also on Friday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair urged patience and said he has "absolutely no doubt" that concrete evidence will be found of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.