Nuclear watchdog denies Blair's claim of 'separate intelligence'

By Kim Sengupta and Ben Russell

09 July 2003

Fresh doubts were raised yesterday about Britain's "separate intelligence" which, Tony Blair claimed, proved Iraq was seeking to acquire uranium from Africa.

Senior British officials told the Foreign Affairs Select Committee a fortnight ago that the intelligence had been passed to the International Atomic Energy Agency investigating Saddam Hussein's alleged plans to acquire nuclear weapons.

But yesterday it was revealed that the IAEA has no record of receiving "separate information". The only intelligence it had received came from the United States and contained documents that proved to be forged.

The Bush administration admitted for the first time yesterday that claims about Iraq trying to buy uranium from Niger, in Africa, might have been wrong, and the President should not have included this in his State of the Union speech.

Mr Blair and members of his Cabinet have insisted that Britain has extra material, separate and independent from that of the US, and the Prime minister did so again yesterday.

British officials have said that it originated from an unspecified "foreign service", and officials have privately intimated that it did not come from either the US or Israel.

However, senior diplomatic sources close to the IAEA were adamant yesterday that the only intelligence on Iraq allegedly acquiring uranium from Africa was received from the US.

Investigation of this information proved that much of it was untrue, some of it little more than crude forgeries, as the IAEA director-general, Mohamed ElBaradei announced at a press conference in March.

When giving evidence before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, was questioned repeatedly about Britain's "separate" Iraq-Africa intelligence.

Sir John Stanley, the Conservative MP for Tonbridge and Malling, said: "We are talking about fresh intelligence which came to your Government and which underpinned putting into the September 2002 dossier the detailed statements that were made in emphatic terms about uranium supplies to [sic] Africa. That intelligence was under the obligation of your Government to pass on to the IAEA. When was it done?"

William Ehrman, the Foreign Office's director general of Defence and Intelligence, accompanying Mr Straw, replied: "The intelligence came from a foreign service, and it was briefed to the IAEA in 2003." Sir John asked: "What date in 2003?" Mr Ehrman responded: "I would have to check."

Mr Straw was also asked when Britain first learned that the US-supplied documents to the IAEA were forgeries. He replied: "We will find out." However, there has been no further information to the committee.

A senior diplomatic source close to the IAEA said yesterday: "The only information we received was from the US, and this included documents which turned out to be forgeries.This was sent to us in February.

"We certainly have not received anything from Britain, and we have not received anything from a third country.

"It did not take long to uncover the forged documentation. We did a Google search and discovered that someone named as a minister in the Niger government has stopped being so years ago. A lot of it was pretty crude - a cut and paste job."

IMPOVERISHED EX-COLONY

Niger is one of the world's poorest countries. Less than a third of children receive an education and infant mortality rates are among the worst in the world.

Two-thirds of the West African country are desert with most people living in the more fertile south.

Niger's government came to power in 1999, ending over 40 years of successive coups and military rule since the country's independence from France in 1960.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a $73m (45m) grant to reduce poverty for Niger in 2000, and $115m was granted in debt relief under a scheme organised by the IMF and the World Bank. But Niger remains impoverished, due in large part to a declining international demand for uranium.

Hugh Macleod


Original URL: http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/politics/story.jsp?story=422941

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