SPENCER MICHELS: The top U.S. weapons inspector for Iraq, Charles Duelfer, presented his long-awaited findings yesterday to the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Duelfer, head of the Iraq survey group, concluded that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction were "essentially" destroyed since 1991 Gulf War...
CHARLES DUELFER: I still do not expect that militarily significant WMD stocks are hidden in Iraq.
SPENCER MICHELS: ...But that Saddam Hussein's primary goal was to recreate them when and if United Nations sanctions were lifted.
CHARLES DUELFER: I would point out that after the 1991 war, Saddam established as his prime objective... taking into account survival, of course, his prime objective was the termination of U.N. sanctions on Iraq, and he weighed all policy actions and steps for their impact on this overarching objective.
SPENCER MICHELS: The Duelfer report said that there was no evidence that Saddam was trying to reproduce Iraq's earlier nuclear program, but it appeared he did want to restart the chemical weapons program, and that he could have restarted a biological program, but there was no evidence Saddam intended to do so.
Duelfer said his report concluded that Iraq had plans for missile systems, though none had progressed to production.
CHARLES DUELFER: Iraq continued to work on missile delivery systems in the wake of the Gulf War. While it is clear that Saddam wanted a long-range missile, there was little work done on warheads.
It is apparent that he drew the line at that point, so long as sanctions remained. However, while the development of ballistic missile delivery systems is time consuming, if and when Saddam decided to place a non-conventional warhead on the missile, this could be done quite quickly.
SPENCER MICHELS: Committee members' reactions to the report were split down party lines, with Republicans citing Saddam's strategic intent to develop weapons of mass destruction. Arizona Sen. John McCain:
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Knowing the history of Saddam Hussein, his use of weapons of mass destruction... he had them in 1991, is there any doubt in your mind that if Saddam Hussein were in power today and there were no restrictions or sanctions placed on him, that he would be attempting to acquire weapons of mass destruction, Mr. Duelfer?
CHARLES DUELFER: To me, I think that's quite clear. But more importantly, it was quite clear to many of the senior advisers around Saddam.
He had an exquisite sense of the use of power and influence. To him, it was a continuous spectrum: Oil, military forces...
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: So there's no doubt in your mind: He's in power today, the sanctions are gone; he would be pursuing them because that was his history?
CHARLES DUELFER: He had two life experiences where they saved him, which is, I think, why some of the prewar assessments were colored. I mean, people would kind of look at it and say, "why wouldn't he have these things?"
SPENCER MICHELS: And Democrats condemning the Bush administration for going to war over weapons that didn't exist. Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy had this to say:
SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY: Let me just ask you this. With all respect, Mr. Duelfer, we didn't go to war because Saddam's intent or future capability to produce the weapons of mass destruction; we were told that Saddam already had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, and that he could acquire a nuclear weapon within a year, which he could then give to terrorists.
That's what we were told. I understand from your testimony, that you mentioned out here in response to Sen. Levin, Iraq did not possess a nuclear device nor did it try to reconstitute a capability to produce nuclear weapons after 1991.
Your report talks about Saddam's intent and future capability. That is not what the American people were told.
SPENCER MICHELS: Duelfer's report said his 1,200-member inspection team did not rule out that some weapons may have been smuggled from Iraq to a neighboring country.
JIM LEHRER: President Bush commented today on the Duelfer report on his way to a campaign appearance in Wisconsin.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Chief Weapons Inspector Charles Duelfer has now issued a comprehensive report that confirms the earlier conclusion of David Kay that Iraq did not have the weapons that our intelligence believed were there.
The Duelfer report also raises important new information about Saddam Hussein's defiance of the world and his intent and capability to develop weapons. The Duelfer report showed that Saddam was systematically gaming the system, using the U.N. Oil- for-Food Program to try to influence countries and companies in an effort to undermine sanctions.
He was doing so with the intent of restarting his weapons program once the world looked away. Saddam Hussein was a unique threat, a sworn enemy of our country, a state sponsor of terror operating in the world's most volatile region. In the world after Sept. 11, he was a threat we had to confront, and America and the world are safer for our actions.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. Kerry responded an hour later in Denver, before leaving for St. Louis, site of tomorrow night's debate.
SEN. JOHN KERRY: The report concluded that Iraq had essentially dismantled its weapons of mass destruction and stopped any further military WMD production after the end of the first Gulf War.
In other words, the report concluded that the inspections and the sanctions worked. The report further concluded that the sanctions leveled against Iraq during the 1990s prevented Saddam Hussein from resuming his weapons of mass destruction program. Now, my fellow Americans, remember -- remember the facts, remember the truth.
The facts and the truth are that the primary justification for going to war, the reason the Congress gave the president authority to use force after he had exhausted all the other remedies was to disarm Saddam Hussein of the weapons of mass destruction.
We remember the pieces of evidence, like aluminum tubes, and Niger yellow cake uranium that were laid out before us -- all overblown then.
We said they were and now completely known to be wrong -- all designed, all purposefully used to shift the focus from al-Qaida, Osama bin Laden, to Iraq and Saddam Hussein.