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White House Agrees to Let Rice Testify Publicly

US President George W. Bush said Tuesday that he has agreed to let his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, to appear in public and under oath before the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.


Bush also said he and Vice President Dick Cheney would jointly meet with all the 10 members of the commission in a private session, instead of just its chairman and vice chairman as previously agreed.


The White House, which has refused to allow Rice to testify publicly for weeks, has faced mounting pressure to let Rice give testimony in public to the commission since last week's public hearings, in which Richard Clarke, a former White House counter-terrorism adviser, accused the Bush administration of not treating seriously enough the threat from al Qaeda. Clarke made similar charges in a book published last week.


Rice met with the panel in private in early February but has refused to appear before the commission in public, citing executive privileges. "There is an important principle involved here: It is a long-standing principle that sitting national security advisers do not testify before the Congress," she said on Sunday.


In his speech on Tuesday, Bush said it was important for the commission to have a "complete picture" of the months and years leading up to the attacks, so as to prevent future attacks.


But Rice's appearance would not set any precedents for future investigations, he said. "The commission and leaders of the US Congress have given written assurances that the appearance of the national security advisor will not be used as precedent in the conduct of future inquiries," he said. 


Analysts said the turnabout on the part of the White House reflects its concern that the president's strongest point with voters -- his leadership in the war on terror -- could be eroded if the dispute over Rice's testimony lingered.


With the prospects of employment remaining gloomy, Bush is campaigning for reelection in November this year much on his performance as president after the 2001 attacks, but recent opinion polls showed support for his handling of the war on terror has declined.


Although the erosion in support has not affected Bush much in one-on-one presumptive matches against his Democratic rival John Kerry, a senator from Massachusetts, the White House has sensed that it has to do something to stop it, the analysts said.


(Xinhua News Agency March 31, 2004)

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