White House Responds to Carter Criticism as He Prepares For Cuban Address

July 7, 2008 - 8:11 PM

(CNSNews.com) - As former President Jimmy Carter prepared to address the Cuban nation Tuesday night, Washington was abuzz over Carter's criticism of the Bush administration for alleging that Cuba is conducting biological weapons research.

Carter toured a Cuban Aids sanatorium and later visited a government run farm cooperative near Havana Tuesday on the third day of his tour of Cuba. He plans to speak to the Cuban people over state-run radio and television from the University of Havana.

Reports from Havana said that after the nationwide speech, Carter will attend a baseball game of all-star teams from eastern and western Cuba. The ball game was not listed on his official itinerary.

Staff members traveling with Carter told reporters he was not taking questions Tuesday because he would save his comments for a news conference on Friday morning, just before he leaves.

After touring a biotechnology laboratory on Monday with Cuban Leader Fidel Castro, Carter criticized the Bush administration for alleging that Cuba is developing biological warfare research and may be exporting that know-how to enemies of the United States.

His comments continued to reverberate in Washington on Tuesday.

During a news briefing, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer was asked repeatedly if the United States had evidence of a Cuban bioweapons program. "We have concerns," he said.

"The United States has plenty of reasons to be concerned. One of the issues that is always difficult when dealing with bioweaponry is that it is hard to find," said Fleischer.

Undersecretary of State John Bolton made the allegations during a speech to the Washington-based Heritage Foundation last week.

National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice stood with Bolton's comments.

"I will say that you can't show someone a biotech lab and be assured that they're not creating weapons of mass destruction. That's not how biological weapons work. They're actually very easy to conceal," she said during an interview on PBS's "Newshour" program on Monday night.

"You need multiple measures to make sure that biological weapons are not being developed and transferred," Rice added.

Meanwhile, Fleischer was asked why Rice didn't bring up the Cuban bioweapons program issue when she briefed Carter.

"Jimmy Carter is visiting Cuba as a private citizen to talk about human rights, not United States' policy in bioweaponry," he said.

The White House also announced that President Bush plans to give a Cuba policy speech on Monday in Washington and then travel to Miami to speak to the Cuban-American community.

Monday is Cuban Independence Day and is celebrated by Cubans living outside of their homeland. It recognizes Cuba's independence from Spain.

E-mail a news tip to Jim Burns.

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