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Rice Refuses To Testify Before 9/11 Panel

   
InternationalU.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice has refused to give her testimony under oath before the independent9 / 11panel on charges that the Bush administration had put the homeland security on the back burner and gave first priority to the Iraq occupation.

Rice’s defiance meanwhile coincided with a Newsweek poll that found U.S. President George W. Bush’s voter approval have fallen since former White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke questioned the president’s commitment to fighting terror before the Sept.11 attacks.

Rice argued that sitting national security advisers do not testify before the Congress, Reuters news agency reported Sunday, March28 .

“I would really like to do that. But ...This is a matter of policy,” she told CBS’s “ 60Minutes” program.

She maintained that she “has nothing to hide” from the independent commission investigating the terrorist attacks.

Asked then about the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the central rational of the invasion, Rice said the war on terrorism was “well served by the victory in Iraq”.

Panel Chairman Tom Kean said that he would press Rice to appear before his panel, but ruled out a court battle.

“We are still going to press and still believe unanimously as a commission that we should hear from her in public,” Reuters quoted him as telling Fox News.

Powell Defends Rice
Secretary of State Colin Powell defended Rice from refusing to give a public testimony, arguing presidential advisers are not required to comply.

“It's a long-standing rule, it is a long-standing tradition and precedent,” Powell told CBS television.

Clarke had said that Bush undermined the war on terror by focusing on the Iraq invasion, which fueled anger at the United States and helped the cause of Al-Qaeda, blamed for carrying out the Sept.11 , 2001 attacks.

The Bush administration has launched a fierce counter offensive against Clarke, whose comments are seen as damaging Bush's claims of making the United States safer thanks to his anti-terror blueprint, the bedrock of his reelection campaign against Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.

Kerry challenged Rice to appear publicly, accusing the White House of stonewalling the commission and of attempting “character assassination” against Clarke, who has served four U.S. presidents.

Clarke struck back, accusing the White House of launching a smear campaign to destroy him.

“Dozens of people on the taxpayers' rolls are engaged in a campaign to destroy me personally and professionally,” The Washington Times quoted him as saying Sunday.

Ratings Slump

The controversy came as a new Newsweek poll showed that voter approval for Bush's handling of national security has slumped since Clarke has dropped his bombshell.

The percentage of voters who say they approve of the way the president has handled terrorism and homeland security has slid to 57 percent, down from a high of 70 percent two months ago, said the survey released in the latest edition of the mass-circulation weekly.

The survey, however, found Bush's overall approval rating was steady at49 percent.

The Newsweek poll, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates, interviewed1 , 002adults, 18 years and older by telephone. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percent.

Press reports had revealed that Bush’s aides pondered a plan to attack Al-Qaeda prepared under former president Bill Clinton, but did not act until after the September 11 attacks.

Meanwhile, Pollsters Rasmussen put Democratic challenger John Kerry three points ahead of Bush by 47 points to44 . The slid was attributed to the fallout from Clarke's firestorm.

Last week’s Newsweek poll showed that if independent candidate Ralph Nader withdrew from the picture, the White House race remains a statistical tie with 48 percent for Kerry, 47 percent for Bush.

Nader said Sunday he would meet with Kerry next month to discuss the effort to defeat Bush in the November 2004 election.

According to the poll, the race focused more on the economy on which 54 percent of Americans now disapprove of Bush’s performance.

On the domestic issues, 60 percent disapprove of Bush’s performance on jobs, 58 percent disapprove of his handling of Medicare and 49 percent disapprove of his tax policies ( 43percent approve).

Last December, New York Senator Hillary Clinton criticized the “extremist agenda” of Bush, charging his administration of “making America less free, fair, strong, [and] smart”.
  
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