msnbc.com news services
updated 4/7/2004 7:38:36 PM ET 2004-04-07T23:38:36

National security adviser Condoleezza Rice has no plans to apologize for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in her public testimony before the commission investigating the terrorist hijackings in which 3,000 people died, White House officials said Wednesday.

A dramatic apology by former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke two weeks ago in his appearance before the commission led to speculation that Rice might do the same. “Your government failed you, and I failed you,” Clarke said.

In her appearance before the commission Thursday, Rice will make a 20-minute opening statement that will essentially reject Clarke’s view that President Bush did not view fighting terrorism as an urgent priority.

She will say that “we took the threat seriously before Sept. 11, and we were taking a number of steps to confront threats prior to Sept. 11. It was a high priority in this administration," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.

White House officials indicated that Rice had no intention of apologizing for the tragedy as Clarke did, because the administration felt it did all that could be done to prevent the attacks based on the information available at the time.

A senior official noted that President Franklin Roosevelt did not apologize for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in December 1941.

“The people that ought to apologize for that are the people who attacked us,” the senior administration official told Reuters on condition of anonymity. “Everybody feels responsible for it, and we are exercising our responsibility to defend our country.”

No direct rebuttal
Another senior official said Rice would offer a broad picture in her opening statement of what the government was doing to act against terrorism before Sept. 11 and afterward but would not offer a point-by-point rebuttal of Clarke.

“This is not an effort to respond to him as much as it is an opportunity for her to tell her story and tell what they were doing,” the official said.

Rice has been practicing in Washington for her televised appearance Thursday morning before the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, trying to capture the right tone for the high-profile appearance.

She will likely face close questioning over differences with Clarke’s version of events and whether her story now is differing from what she said in four hours of private testimony before the commission in February. After initially refusing to let Rice testify before the panel under oath, the White House reversed course last week.

Panel won’t see Rice speech
She is also likely to be questioned about a speech she was to have delivered on the night of the attacks touting missile defense as a priority rather than al-Qaida. The White House has refused to provide the commission with a copy of the speech, the outlines of which were reported by The Washington Post.

The commission submitted a last-minute request for Rice’s aborted Sept. 11 address, U.S. sources told Reuters on condition of anonymity. But the White House has refused on the grounds that draft documents are confidential, the sources said.

A spokesman for the commission would neither confirm nor deny the request, or the administration’s response.

The Post, citing former U.S. officials who have seen the Rice speech, reported last week that the speech was designed to promote missile defense as the cornerstone of a new national security strategy. It said the speech included no mention of al-Qaida, Osama bin Laden or Islamic extremist groups.

Challenge for Bush
Bush’s leadership has been thrown into doubt by Clarke, who said the president was slow to grasp the threat from al-Qaida before the attacks and became fixated on Iraq in the aftermath.

White House officials see Rice’s testimony as a chance to set the record straight that Bush and his top advisers were actively working on the terrorism threat.

“Had we had the information that was necessary to stop an attack, I’d have stopped the attack,” Bush, who is spending a week at his ranch in Crawford, told reporters Monday in Charlotte, N.C. “If we’d had known that the enemy was going to fly airplanes into our buildings, we’d have done everything in our power to stop it.”

Bush said he was looking forward to his own meeting with the commission, a joint session with Vice President Dick Cheney that will be private.

The commission is due to complete its report July 26. Security specialists from the CIA, the FBI and other agencies first must review it, under White House supervision, for possible security leaks.

Members of the commission are not expecting the White House to order major changes.

Democratic commission member Tim Roemer, a former U.S. representative from Indiana, said Rice’s testimony should help clear up discrepancies in her public positions and those in public testimony before the commission by Clarke.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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