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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 July, 2004, 00:28 GMT 01:28 UK
Bush hits back over Iraqi weapons
US President George W Bush speaks during a visit to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tennessee
Bush described Saddam as a "madman"
US President George W Bush has made his first major defence of last week's scathing criticism of US intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war.

"Although we have not found stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, we were right to go into Iraq," Mr Bush said.

The comments came as Mr Bush inspected a display of nuclear weapons parts handed over by Libya in Tennessee.

The Senate Intelligence Committee's report said US intelligence overstated the case of Iraq building up WMDs.

Because America has acted and because America has led, the forces of terror and tyranny have suffered defeat after defeat and America and the world are safer
US President George W Bush

"I had a choice to make: either take the word of a madman [Saddam Hussein] or defend America. Given that choice, I will defend America every time," Mr Bush said to loud cheers of his supporters in Oak Ridge.

Although the president admitted that no weapons were found, he made no apologies for going to war.

"We removed a declared enemy of America, who had the capability of producing weapons of mass destruction and could have passed that capability to terrorists bent on acquiring them," he said.

"In the world after 11 September, that was a risk we could not afford to take. We must confront serious dangers before they fully materialise," the president added.

He also said that the Senate Intelligence Committee would help to reform the way America's intelligence agencies work.

The war on Iraq is an important issue in November's presidential election, with Democrats accusing President Bush of misleading the American public and misusing his authority.

But the speech will go down well among Republicans, the BBC's Barnie Choudhury in Washington reports.

Mr Bush's Democratic challenger in this November's elections, Senator John Kerry, says the president's actions have left Americans less safe.

"It's not enough just to give speeches, America will only be safe when we get results. The facts speak for themselves; North Korea is more dangerous today than it was before this administration came into power," said Mr Kerry.

Mr Kerry has to tread a fine line between bashing the president and sounding unpatriotic, our correspondent says.

The BBC's Barnie Choudhury
"The war on Iraq is an important election issue"

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