September Dossier - Claims - Uranium From Niger

Uranium From Niger

The claim that Iraq was seeking to buy uranium from Africa was repeated in George W. Bush's January 2003 State of the Union Address. The controversial 16 words used by US President George W. Bush on 28 January 2003 were:

The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

In March the International Atomic Energy Agency, when it finally obtained the documents referred to by Colin Powell to the United Nations Security Council alleging transactions between Niger and Iraq, concluded that they were obvious fakes.

Subsequently, CIA director, George Tenet, stated that the remarks should not have been included in the US President's speech. This followed a remark by American National Security advisor Condoleezza Rice, saying that the presence of the line in the speech showed that it had been authorised by the CIA.

In July, Tony Blair testified to the House of Commons Liaison Committee that the evidence the government had regarding Iraq's dealings with Niger came from a separate source to the fraudulent documents. Ever since Powell's presentation, critics argued that had the US and UK intelligence services fully cooperated with United Nations weapons inspectors, it could have been found out whether the claims were truthful.

The same month, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told the Foreign Affairs Select Committee (which was investigating the veracity of the claims in the dossier) that the statement in the dossier rested on separate evidence which was still under review, and that this specific intelligence had not been shared with the CIA. In written evidence to the same committee, however, Jack Straw further disclosed that the intelligence information upon which the British Government had relied was shared separately with the IAEA by a foreign government shortly before their report of 7 March 2003. This was further confirmed in a Parliamentary answer to Lynne Jones MP. Lynne Jones subsequently contacted the IAEA to question whether a third party had discussed or shared separate intelligence with them and, if so, what assessment they made of it. IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky responded to Jones in May 2004:

I can confirm to you that we have received information from a number of member states regarding the allegation that Iraq sought to acquire uranium from Niger. However, we have learned nothing which would cause us to change the conclusion we reported to the United Nations Security Council on March 7, 2003 with regards to the documents assessed to be forgeries and have not received any information that would appear to be based on anything other than those documents.

The Foreign Affairs Select Committee judged that the British Government had been wrong to state in an unqualified manner something that had not been established beyond doubt:

We conclude that it is very odd indeed that the Government asserts that it was not relying on the evidence which has since been shown to have been forged, but that eight months later it is still reviewing the other evidence. The assertion "…that Iraq sought the supply of significant amounts of uranium from Africa …" should have been qualified to reflect the uncertainty.

The privately Blair-appointed Butler Commission, whose own report was issued after the aforementioned public investigation, concluded that the report Saddam's government was seeking uranium in Africa appeared credible:

a. It is accepted by all parties that Iraqi officials visited Niger in 1999.

b. The British government had intelligence from several different sources indicating that this visit was for the purpose of acquiring uranium. Since uranium constitutes almost three-quarters of Niger's exports, the intelligence was credible.

c. The evidence was not conclusive that Iraq actually purchased, as opposed to having sought, uranium, and the British government did not claim this.

The Butler Review also made a specific conclusion on Bush's 16 words: "By extension, we conclude also that the statement in President Bush's State of the Union Address of 28 January 2003 that 'The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa' was well-founded."

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