Cheney defends Iraq war at GOP gathering

Sunday, February 8, 2004

ST. LOUIS -- Vice President Dick Cheney defended the war in Iraq and touted the U.S. economy Saturday night while helping the Missouri Republican Party raise more than $500,000 for this year's election.

Cheney, the keynote speaker at the Republicans' annual Lincoln Days, said the evidence indicates that Saddam Hussein had the intent to use weapons of mass destruction, even though inspectors have not found any massive stockpiles.

"We know that Saddam had the capacity to produce weapons of mass destruction," Cheney told the crowd of roughly 800 Republicans at the Renaissance Grand Hotel. "He had the science and technology, and we know that he had the necessary infrastructure because we found the labs."

Cheney also said that American forces had found delivery systems for ballistic missiles in Iraq.

"We know that Saddam Hussein had the intent to arm his regime with weapons of mass destruction," Cheney said.

His speech was similar to the message he delivered earlier Saturday at a fund raiser in Illinois. The Missouri crowd rose to its feet with applause when Cheney declared, "There is no question that America did the right thing in Iraq."

So far no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq, and the head of the U.S. search team, David Kay, told Congress last month it appears the administration's prewar claims were erroneous.

In a 25-minute speech, Cheney also touted the positive affects of President Bush's tax cuts, citing the addition of 366,000 jobs since August and an unemployment rate at a two-year low.

"The Bush tax cuts were exactly what the economy needed," Cheney said.

About 150 protesters gathered for about 90 minutes outside the Renaissance Grand Hotel. There were no reports of arrests.

GOP consultant John Hancock said Saturday's banquet was the largest ever for the Lincoln Days event over its 105-year span.

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