Ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was not behind the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, senior US officials said Tuesday.
"I've not seen any indication that would lead me to believe that I could say that," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said at a Pentagon news briefing.
He was responding to a question about a poll which showed that nearly 70 percent of respondents believed that Saddam probably was personally involved in the terrorist attacks against the United States.
"We know he (Saddam) was giving 25,000 US dollars a family for anyone who would go out and kill innocent men, women and children. And we know of various other activities. But on that specific one, no, not to my knowledge," Rumsfeld said.
Speaking in an interview recorded for broadcast on ABC's "Nightline" program, US presidential national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said: "We have never claimed that Saddam Hussein ... had either direction or control of Sept. 11."
"What we have said is that this is someone who supported terrorists, helped to train them (and) was a threat in this region that we were not prepared to tolerate," reports quoted Rice as saying in the interview.
The remarks made by Rumsfeld and Rice marked a tactical retreat of the Bush administration which, in the run-up to the Iraq war, had tried to establish a close link between Saddam's government and al-Qaida, the terrorist network behind the Sept. 11 attacks.
In an interview with NBC on Sunday, Vice President Dick Cheney still claimed that the United States "learned more and more that there was a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaida."
Cheney said such connection stretched back through most of the decade of 1990s. He accused Baghdad of providing al-Qaida with training on biological and chemical warfare and bomb-making experts.
The rebuilding of Iraq, he said, will be a major blow to "the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault for many years, but most especially on Sept. 11."