Rice signals reluctance to testify on Iraq claim

OSLO (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Thursday all but said she will not testify to Congress about a discredited justification for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq but agreed to answer questions in writing.

Norway's Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speak at a news conference at the Government Guest House in Oslo, April 26, 2007. REUTERS/Heiko Junge/Scanpix

Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday approved a subpoena, a form of legal demand, for Rice to appear before Congress to discuss the White House’s claim that Iraq had sought uranium from Niger for nuclear arms. The claim was later proven false.

The decision pits the Democrats, who seized control of Congress last year largely because of popular discontent with the war in Iraq, against the Republican White House, which is trying to fend off demands that it withdraw U.S. troops.

The subpoena for Rice, approved by a congressional committee led by California Democrat Rep. Henry Waxman, was part of a flurry of action in the stepped-up congressional oversight of how the Bush administration operates.

Rice said she had answered questions about the matter in three letters over the last month and cited a legal doctrine that can shield a president and his aides from having to answer questions from Congress.

“This is an issue that has been answered and answered and answered ... but if there are further questions that Congressman Waxman has then I am more than happy to answer them again in a letter because I think that that is the way to continue this dialogue,” she told reporters in Oslo, where she is attending a NATO foreign ministers meeting.

“But there is a constitutional principle. This all took place in my role as national security adviser and there is a separation of powers and advisers to the president are -- under that constitutional principle -- not generally required to go and testify in Congress,” she added. “So I think we have to observe and uphold constitutional principle.”

Rice, who served as White House national security adviser when the administration made the claim, ignored a specific question about whether she would comply with the subpoena.

U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack later said no decision had been made on the matter.

The claim about Iraq seeking to acquire uranium in Niger was part of the Bush administration’s case for war, and critics later accused the White House of having twisted intelligence to build support. The administration denies that.