Powell rejects WMD debate in US presidential campaign
* Says levelling such accusations is not right
WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Colin Powell made an unexpected foray into the US presidential campaign late Monday, insisting that the issue of whether the Bush administration has misled the nation about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction be excluded from political debate.
In an interview with Fox News Channel, Powell said levelling such accusations “isn’t right.”
“We shouldn’t be having a political debate over issues like that,” said the secretary of state, who in February 2003 told the UN Security Council that Iraq was secretly building massive stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons. “We ought to stick with what we said and not start changing our view a year later because it’s in our political interest,” Powell stressed.
The testy retort came after several leading Democrats, including the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Senator John Kerry, publicly raised the possibility that the administration of President George W Bush had hyped intelligence data on Iraq to lay the groundwork for invading the country and ousting dictator Saddam Hussein. The administration claimed in the run-up to the war that Iraq’s alleged arsenal of weapons of mass destruction presented a threat to US national security.
But no such weapons have been found in the country since the beginning of the war a year ago, despite an intense search by hundreds of federal weapons experts.
A veteran of the Vietnam War, Powell made clear he believed belabouring the issue of unfound Iraqi weapons would have a negative effect on the country.
“We should have a good fight between political candidates, but let’s not misuse an issue for the purpose of political advantage in a way that will undercut the efforts of our brave young men and women out there or affect their morale,” he said. He argued that the United States did the right thing in Iraq and praised the signing of its interim constitution on Monday as an indication that the country was moving toward democracy.
“I think we based everything we did on sound intelligence,” he said. “And that intelligence said you have a regime that has the intent, you have a regime with the capability, we believe they have stocks on hand. Everything’s been proven except we don’t see the stocks on hand. We don’t know how that was missed, and if it was missed. We’re still looking.”
The secretary of state also expressed regret that Bush’s service with the Texas National Guard as well as Kerry’s attitude toward the Vietnam War had become an issue in the campaign. “Vietnam was a painful period in our national life, and both of these men, President Bush and Senator Kerry, served,” he pointed out. “They served their nation; they served their nation honourably. And let’s talk about the issues of today and not go back and drag up old stories for the purpose of diverting us from what we ought to be doing right now, and that is: Who has the better vision of a brighter future for the American people and the world?”
Bush has been accused of not showing up for a period of service with the National Guard, while Kerry has been lambasted for undercutting the morale of US troops by his anti-war activities following his return from Vietnam. —AFP