Bush Tells Coast Guard Class of Iraq-al-Qaida Link President Bush's speech to the Coast Guard Academy on Wednesday addresses intelligence documents on al-Qaida. The White House says the documents show that Osama Bin Laden sought a greater al-Qaida presence in Iraq.
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Bush Tells Coast Guard Class of Iraq-al-Qaida Link

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Bush Tells Coast Guard Class of Iraq-al-Qaida Link

Bush Tells Coast Guard Class of Iraq-al-Qaida Link

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ALEX COHEN, host:

There is no doubt that the White House is paying attention to Monica Goodling's testimony. But today President Bush is in Connecticut, where he's addressing the graduating class at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: You arrived on this campuses swabs and today you will leave as proud officers of the United States Coast Guard.

(Soundbite of applause)

COHEN: The president wasn't just dispensing traditional commencement advice and words of inspiration. He also used the occasion to talk about intelligence recently declassified by the White House about al-Qaida's determination to strike the U.S.

Joining us now from the White House is NPR's Don Gonyea. Don, this is not the first time the president's used a speech made at an Armed Forces academy to make some news, right?

DON GONYEA: Exactly. At a typical college commencement address, the president will talk about public service and seizing the future and all those typical things. But when he goes to a military academy - he's gone to West Point, he's gone elsewhere, he's been at the Coast Guard Academy several times - he always talks about the war and about fighting terrorism. And he talks about the role these graduates will play in that fight. And he did it today, count on him at doing it again in the future. He recapped all he has done in 9/11 that he says has made America safer.

COHEN: So what did the president have to say today about Iraq and al-Qaida?

GONYEA: Well, he talked about that newly declassified intelligence. Mainly the thrust was that the threat remains real. That intelligence includes some familiar names, some familiar players. I'll talk about that in just a moment.

But mostly it was about al-Qaida and what the president says that terror group is doing still about its ongoing intent to strike the U.S., as evidenced by events of the past couple of years.

Let's listen to the president.

President BUSH: Now in 2007 we're at a pivotal moment in this battle. There are many destructive forces in Iraq trying to stop this strategy from succeeding. The most destructive is al-Qaida.

GONYEA: I didn't count all the times he said al-Qaida. But it came up a lot in this speech. He also mentioned Abu Mushab al-Zarqawi, a familiar name there, who was killed in a U.S. air strike in June of last year. And again, in this declassified information, he talked about how Zargawi was ordered directly by Osama bin Laden to establish terrorist cells outside of Iraq.

Zarqawi, of course, was the head al-Qaida operative in Iraq. How he was ordered to work outside of Iraq to set up terror cells and their main target would be the U.S. He also talked about other terrorists who were captured - al-Qaida operatives on their way into Iraq, some who were killed. So that really was the theme of what he was doing, making this all sound current.

COHEN: But this is information from 2005, right? Why is the White House just declassifying these documents this week?

GONYEA: They say - the official answer is that they have finally gotten all the use out of these documents that they can, so that they are able to declassify it. But again, you know, they are in the middle of an uphill PR battle on the war. You could say that it looks like the president just won this current skirmish with Congress over funding. The supplemental temporary emergency bill will not have timelines in it for withdrawal of U.S. troops.

But the clock is ticking and they are losing public support, and there are going to be more funding battles with the Congress. So the president wants to keep this fight current, and he wants to warn about what it would mean for al-Qaida if the U.S. does pull out.

COHEN: And real briefly, Don, is this speech today going to help at all with this PR battle?

GONYEA: Well, they're doing the best they can. They have not had a great deal of success. But we'll have to see.

COHEN: NPR's White House correspondent Don Gonyea. Don, thanks so much.

GONYEA: All right. Take care.

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