Saturday, July 17, 2004
Did Iraq seek/plan to seek/daydream about seeking yellowcake from Niger or some other African source? As accusations ping and counter-accusations pong in the Joe Wilson Table Tennis Invitational, the British government and the IAEA have a not-so-friendly side bet going:
The United Nations nuclear watchdog yesterday challenged the Government to share intelligence which it used to accuse Saddam Hussein of trying to buy uranium from two African countries for a nuclear bomb.
Lord Butler of Brockwell said the Government's claims were "well-founded," after admitting "significant controversy" surrounded the reliability of government statements about Iraqi attempts to buy uranium ore.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) determined in March 2003 that documents which allegedly "proved" an Iraqi attempt to buy uranium from Niger were forgeries. But the British government, the first to put the claims into the public domain in the September 2002 dossier, continued to insist it had separate sources which confirmed its statement.
Lord Butler's report revealed the accusations against Iraq concerned not only Niger, but the war-ravaged, mineral-rich country of the Democratic Republic of Congo. An IAEA spokesman said that the Vienna-based body responsible for monitoring Iraqi compliance with UN resolutions on nuclear issues, had not been informed of the specific intelligence on the two countries. A spokesman, Mark Gwozdecky, said: "We did not see any indication of any violation, but we remain open to reopening the investigation if the information is made available to us."
Governments are bound by UN resolutions to submit to the IAEA any information concerning illegal Iraqi weapons. Lord Butler said Britain had "further intelligence from additional sources" in 2002 that Iraqi officials visited Niger in early 1999 to buy uranium ore.