WASHINGTON - The White House is resisting pressure to push the deadline of the main inquiry into the September 11 attacks closer to the November presidential election in a move which could embarrass President George W. Bush.
The US Congress originally gave the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon The United States 18 months to finish its investigation into the 2001 hijacked plane strikes. That would take it to May 27.
But the commission this week asked for at least two months more to complete its work.
"We are telling the Congress and the president what we need to do the best possible job," said commission chairman Thomas Kean. "Much work remains."
Investigators looking into the attacks on the World Trade Center towers in New York and the Defense Department headquarters in Washington -- which left about 3,000 dead -- have reported several bureaucratic obstacles.
Kean, a former governor of New Jersey state, has highlighted how the Bush administration has refused to give access to some secret documents and for some top officials to give evidence.
The commission has said it still wants national security advisor Condoleezza Rice to testify.
Evidence given this week by former officials of the Federal Aviation Administration about security failures reinforced Kean's calls for a deadline extension.
The White House, which opposed the creation of the commission -- made up of five Democrats and five Republicans -- is clearly embarrassed, experts said.
"It's just the closer that it gets to the election the more sensitive the issue becomes, especially for a president who's strong point is national security," said Stephen Hess, a politics specialist at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
Bush, who will seek a second four year term in the November 2 election, is already under pressure over the Iraq war he ordered last year because of the failure to find weapons of mass destruction.
And Hess said that the president cannot afford to be seen as hindering the September 11 inquiry, which forced a complete rethink of US policies and unleashed the global war on terror. Such an impression would fuel suspicions that the administration is trying to hide something, he added.
Statements from the White House highlight the dilemma.
"This White House is committed to making sure that the commission has all the information they need to do their job," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said this week. "We believe it's important that they move forward as quickly as they can to complete their work."
In Congress, some influential Republicans, such as House of Representatives leader Dennis Hastert are already insisting that the commission should meet its May 27 deadline.
Democratic senators, Joseph Lieberman and John Edwards, both candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination, are saying the inquiry should be given more time.
The Washington Post on Friday joined calls for the extension.
"The administration and congressional Republicans are keen to avoid an extension, apparently because they want whatever damaging facts the commission's report contains to be old news by election day," said an editorial.
"There is simply no good reason to prevent such work from continuing to completion."
Copyright 2004 AFP