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Last Updated: Monday, 29 March, 2004, 02:57 GMT 03:57 UK
Terror commission seeks testimony
Condoleezza Rice
Rice: Rejects claims made in testimony by aide Richard Clarke
The US commission inquiring into the 9/11 terror attacks is to renew demand for public testimony under oath from a senior advisor to President Bush.

National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice has been criticised for failing to grasp the seriousness of the threat from al-Qaeda before 11 September.

Senior US officials have rejected claims that they ignored the threat.

Ms Rice has appeared in private before the commission but has so far refused to agree to a public session.

When former anti-terrorism co-ordinator Richard Clarke gave testimony to the commission last week, he said the Bush administration focused its attention on Saddam Hussein rather than al-Qaeda.

But Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who also testified before the commission, denied this in a television interview.

"If one looks at what was done, we went to Afghanistan, we didn't go to Iraq" in the wake of the attacks, he said.

Secretary of State Colin Powell also dismissed Mr Clarke's allegations.

He denied that the incoming Bush administration paid little attention to terrorism, saying: "This wasn't a lack of interest, certainly on my part, and I think all of my colleagues in the administration."

'Bum rap'

The BBC's Washington correspondent, Justin Webb, says that for the White House the call for Condoleezza Rice to testify publicly is further bad political news.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
Mr Rumsfeld took to the airwaves to defend the administration
She is refusing to make a sworn public statement to the commission.

The White House points out that she has talked to commission members in private but they say the constitution bars her from testifying publicly because she is a privileged presidential advisor.

But the commission chairman observed pointedly over the weekend that in a tragedy of this magnitude those kinds of legal arguments are probably overridden.

On Sunday, Colin Powell said that he thought Mr Clarke had unfairly criticised Condoleezza Rice for the administration's stance on al-Qaeda.

"I think Dr Rice is getting a bit of a bum rap," he said.

"It's being set up as, 'Condi, I told you everything that you needed to do,' and she ignored it all. That's not accurate."

Mr Clarke hit back in an NBC interview, accusing the White House and the Republicans of "character assassination" in an attempt to distract attention from his criticisms of President George W Bush.

Our correspondent says the risk for the White House is that the American people side with the commission and the non-appearance of Condoleezza Rice becomes another presidential embarrassment.

The BBC's Michael Buchanan
"The White House are sticking to their guns"

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