WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld conceded Monday that U.S. intelligence was wrong in its conclusions that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and appeared to back off earlier statements suggesting former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had links to al Qaeda.
"Why the intelligence proved wrong (on WMDs), I'm not in a position to say," Rumsfeld said in remarks to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. "I simply don't know."
When asked about any connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, Rumsfeld said, "To my knowledge, I have not seen any strong, hard evidence that links the two."
But a short time later, Rumsfeld released a statement: "A question I answered today at an appearance before the Council on Foreign Relations regarding ties between Al Qaeda and Iraq regrettably was misunderstood.
"I have acknowledged since September 2002 that there were ties between Al Qaeda and Iraq." (Rumsfeld statement)
The 9/11 commission report, issued in July, concluded there may have been meetings between Iraqi officials and Osama bin Laden or his aides in 1999 but there was "no evidence that these or the earlier contacts ever developed into a collaborative operational relationship."
Nor did the commission find any evidence indicating that Iraq cooperated with al Qaeda in developing or carrying out any attacks against the United States," the commission report said.
In June, President Bush repeated his administration's claim that Iraq was in league with al Qaeda under Saddam Hussein's rule, saying that fugitive Islamic militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi ties Saddam to the terrorist network.
"Zarqawi's the best evidence of a connection to al Qaeda affiliates and al Qaeda," Bush told reporters at the White House. "He's the person who's still killing
But Rumsfeld Monday in his address to the CFR questioned whether al-Zarqawi is working with al Qaeda even as he seemed to have a similar agenda.
"In the case of al Qaeda, my impression is most of the senior people have actually sworn an oath to Osama bin Laden, and to my knowledge, even as of this late date, I don't believe Zarqawi, the principal leader of the network in Iraq, has sworn an oath, even though what they're doing -- I mean, they're just two peas in a pod in terms of what they're doing," Rumsfeld said.
Bit of flip-floping going on here..