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Clinton warned Bush of bin Laden threat
Wed October 15, 2003 10:27 PM ET
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Former President Bill Clinton says he warned President George W. Bush before he left office in 2001 that Osama bin Laden was the biggest security threat the United States faced.
Speaking at a luncheon sponsored by the History Channel on Wednesday, Clinton said he discussed security issues with Bush in his "exit interview," a formal and often candid meeting between a sitting president and the president-elect.
"In his campaign, Bush had said he thought the biggest security issue was Iraq and a national missile defence," Clinton said. "I
told him that in my opinion, the biggest security problem was Osama bin Laden."
The U.S. government has blamed bin Laden's Al Qaeda network for the September 11 attacks.
Time magazine reported last year that a plan for the United States to launch attacks against the al-Qaeda network languished for eight months because of the change in presidents and was approved only a week before the September 11 attacks.
But the White House disputed parts of that story, which was published by the magazine in August 2002.
"The Clinton administration did not present an aggressive
newplan to topple al-Qaeda during the transition," a White House spokesman, Sean McCormack, said at the time.
The White House was clearly irritated by the report, which appeared to suggest that the Bush administration might not have done all it could to prevent the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.
At Wednesday's luncheon, Clinton said his inability to convince Bush of the danger from al Qaeda was "one of the two or three of the biggest disappointments that I had."
Clinton said that after bin Laden, the next security priority would have been the absence of a Middle East peace agreement, followed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
"I would have started with India and Pakistan, then North Korea, and then Iraq after that," he said. "I thought Iraq was a lower order problem than al Qaeda."
Clinton's vice president Al Gore, who ran against Bush in the 2000 election, did not make the threat from al Qaeda a major focus of the presidential campaign, which both candidates kept focused mainly on domestic topics.
-- Ben (email@example.com), October 16, 2003