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Prime Minister defends use of US intelligence to justify war on Iraq; Shadow Foreign Minister wants Prime Minister to apologise for misleading people.

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Wednesday 9 July 2003

Prime Minister defends use of US intelligence to justify war on Iraq; Shadow Foreign Minister wants Prime Minister to apologise for misleading people


MARK COLVIN: But first, the questions that continue to dog the governments of the coalition of the willing, including Australia, about key judgements and intelligence used to wage war on Iraq. 


The US, Britain and Australia all say the evidence that's eme
rged of Saddam's atrocities has more than justified the war. But the critics of all three governments insist on reminding them that their stated reasons at the time were different and that they all said that weapons of mass destruction were the chief justification. 


Today, faced with admissions from the White House that it shouldn't have included the doubtful intelligence about Iraq trying to buy uranium in Africa, Mr Howard says the overall case for the war has not been damaged. 


The Opposition though, is demanding an apology, because Mr Howard included the African uranium claim in his case for going to war. 


Matt Brown reports from Canberra. 


MATT BROWN: This afternoon the Prime Minister told an audience at Mount Macedon in regional Victoria, that Australia has won international respect because of the Government's determination to take a stand for what's right. 


JOHN HOWARD: Not everybody agreed with the stand we took on Iraq. I suspect there are people in this room who disagreed with that. That's the part of democracy. But we took a stand. We were prepared to argue our case. And we're prepared to assert before the world the belief in that case and the belief in that cause. 


MATT BROWN: John Howard is also moving beyond the details of the case for going to war in Iraq, eliminating weapons of mass destruction and concentrating on a much grander aspiration. 


JOHN HOWARD: And if one of the real dividends out of the events in Iraq a few months ago can be that we now have a greater opportunity than ever before of seeing peace between the state of Israel and the Palestinians, that will indeed be a wonderful dividend. 


MATT BROWN: But one of the most alarming claims made in the build-up of the war has been shown to be far more doubtful than the leaders of the coalition of the wiling let on. 


George W. Bush said it in his state of the union address. 


GEORGE BUSH: The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. 


MATT BROWN: And John Howard repeated it in parliament in early February. 


JOHN HOWARD: Iraq continues to work on developing nuclear weapons. Uranium has been sought from Africa, but has no civil nuclear application in Iraq. 


MATT BROWN: But it's now emerged that a former US diplomat had checked on those claims and told the Government he didn't believe they were true. And the White House now says that those claims should not have been included in George Bush's case for going to war. 


So the Shadow Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd wants the Prime Minister to eat humble pie. 


KEVIN RUDD: Well, truth overboard volume two gathers pace every day. We've had now, overnight, a statement from the White House indicating that the President's State of the Union address should not have contained the reference that it did on Iraq's nuclear program.  


The White House has said that they got it wrong, we've yet to have a statement from John Howard to the Australian people telling Australia that he got it wrong. It's time for Mr Howard to apologise for misleading the Australian people. 


MATT BROWN: There'll be no apology from the Prime Minister, who maintains that he said what he said about Iraq's attempts to buy uranium in Africa in good faith. 


JOHN HOWARD: Now, in relation to the uranium issue from Africa, subsequent to my statement of the 4th of February, there was a statement made by the IAEA casting doubt on a document, and that was acknowledged by Mr Downer on behalf of the Government. 


MATT BROWN: However, the revelations of the last two days are about information available to the US Government at least, well before the International Atomic Energy agency said the African Uranium claims were based on forged documents. 


But in contrast to the concessions from the White House, British Prime Minister Tony Blair maintains there were other sources for the accusation, and he's standing his ground, giving John Howard some comfort. 


JOHN HOWARD: Even the British Prime Minister as recently, I understand, as last night, has not backed away from the joint intelligence committee assessment, which was the basis of the reference in my statement of the 4th of February. But the statements I made then were based on the information I then had in my possession, otherwise I wouldn't have made them. 


MATT BROWN: This controversy is one example of how national leaders can take drastic action on the world stage, in large part, because of the intelligence they receive and the way they use it. 


But it's a fraught process which weighs sketchy and often dubious information to inform policy-makers. And it will be a key process in any effort to intercept North Korean vessels suspected of shipping weapons of mass destruction and the chemicals used to make them - chemicals that sometimes have civilian uses too. 


It'll be a sensitive project, and John Howard will discuss bringing China in on the effort when he travels into North Asia next week. 


JOHN HOWARD: We believe very strongly that China has an even bigger role to play, because China is a country more than any other that has a big influence on North Korea, and I believe that this will be an issue that will feature very prominently in my discussions with the Japanese Prime Minister and the North Korean, and the South Korean President, when I go to both of those countries next week. It will be very high on the list. 


MARK COLVIN: That's John Howard, the Prime Minister, ending Matt Brown's report.