WASHINGTON (AP)- The United States is safer
now than it was before the Sept. 11 attacks, but must not relent
in fighting terrorism in Iraq and elsewhere, Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice said Sunday.
''I think it's clear that we are safe _ safer _
but not really yet safe,'' Rice said.
''We've done a lot. In terms of homeland, we're
more secure. Our ports are more secure. Our airports are more
secure. We have a much stronger intelligence sharing
operation,'' said Rice, who was President George W. Bush's
national security adviser when al-Qaida masterminded the attacks
of Sept. 11, 2001.
Rice defended the invasion of Iraq and the
ouster of President Saddam Hussein despite persistent questions
about any evidence of a link to the attacks.
She said ''Iraq is going through very difficult
times'' but said the U.S. must help create an environment there
that does not allow extremism to flourish.
''It's hard to imagine that different kind of
environment with Saddam Hussein in power and Iraq at the center
of a nexus between terrorism and conflict,'' Rice said on the
eve of the fifth anniversary of the attacks.
A Senate report released Friday disclosed for
the first time that a CIA assessment in October 2005 said
Saddam's government ''did not have a relationship, harbor or
turn a blind eye toward'' al-Qaida operative Abu Musab al-Zarqawi
or his associates.
Rice said Sunday she does not remember seeing
that particular report.
She maintained ''there were ties between Iraq
and al-Qaida. Are we learning more now that we have access to
people like Saddam Hussein's intelligence services? Of course
we're going to learn more.''
Republican John Lehman, a former member of the
Sept. 11 commission, said the U.S. has taken important steps to
stem terrorism by capturing many of those responsible for
planning the Sept. 11 attacks.
''We have gotten rid of most if not all theater
commanders of al-Qaida, but we have not addressed as a nation
the root cause ... this jihadist ideology that is being preached
around the world, basically funded with Persian Gulf money.''
Democrat Richard Ben-Veniste, also a commission
member, said the war in Iraq ''has been a recruiting poster for
jihadists throughout the Muslim world, and there are far more
terrorists now than there were on 9/11. The Iraq invasion and
occupation had nothing to do with terrorism. It had nothing to
do with 9-11.''
Rice appeared on ''Fox News Sunday.'' Lehman and
Ben-Veniste were on ABC television's ''This Week.''