In a reversal, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will testify in public under oath before the commission investigating the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. In addition, President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have agreed to speak with the panel privately.
To reach the compromise, the administration said it had won agreement from the commission that it would seek no further public testimony from White House officials and that Rice's appearance would not be viewed as a precedent.
The commission welcomed the decision in a statement which said, ``We will work with the White House to schedule both sessions promptly.''
Bush and Cheney have agreed to a single joint private session with all 10 commissioners, with one commission staff member present to take notes of the session, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales said in a letter to the panel.
Commissioner Slade Gorton, a former Republican senator from Washington, said the Sept. 11 panel accepted the proposal in a meeting Tuesday morning, including the stipulation that it not call other White House officials because ``we hadn't planned to.''
``I think the White House would have been better off if it had made the agreements sooner, but I'm delighted,'' said Gorton. ``I have felt all along that her public testimony would be good for the country.''
Gonzales' letter conditioned the White House's decision on written assurances from the commission that such a step does not set a precedent and that the commission does not request ``additional public testimony from any White House official, including Dr. Rice.''
Subject to the conditions, the president will agree ``to the commission's request for Dr. Rice to testify publicly regarding matters within the commission's statutory mandate,'' Gonzales' letter said.
``The president recognizes the truly unique and extraordinary circumstances underlying the commission's responsibility to prepare a detailed report on the facts,'' Gonzales added.
A leading Democrat in Congress praised the panel for insisting on Rice's public testimony under oath.
``The administration's reversal shows that it was using executive privilege as an excuse to keep Dr. Rice from testifying,'' said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. ``But the dedication and bull's eye integrity of the commission has succeeded and now hopefully we will be a lot closer to the truth.''
Republican leaders focused their praise on Bush. ``We applaud the decision of the President to allow the National Security Adviser, Dr. Condoleezza Rice, to testify before the 9/11 Commission,'' House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, both Republicans, said in a joint statement. ``This is a unique event given the extraordinary nature of September 11, 2001.''
Hastert and Frist added, ``We do not believe Dr. Rice's testimony ... should be seen as setting any precedent, and it should not be cited as setting precedent for future requests for a National Security Adviser or any other White House official to testify before a legislative body.''
The decision to have Rice testify follows the publication of former White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke's book, in which he charges that the Bush administration was slow to act against the threat of al-Qaida.
Rice offered a rebuttal on Sunday to criticism by Clarke that President Clinton ``did something, and President Bush did nothing'' before Sept. 11 and that both ``deserve a failing grade.''
Rice responded in televised news interviews. ``I don't know what a sense of urgency--any greater than the one that we had--would have caused us to do differently,'' she said.
Clarke testified before the commission last week.