US withheld uranium intelligence from UN
By Edward Alden, Guy Dinmore and James Harding in Washington
Published: July 9 2003 1:23 | Last Updated: July 9 2003 1:23

The US government withheld from United Nations weapons inspectors evidence to back its claim that the Iraqi government had attempted to obtain uranium from Africa, despite repeated pledges to co-operate fully with the inspectors.

In a letter released on Tuesday, the International Atomic Energy Agency said it was forced to wait six weeks for the evidence - from December 2002 to early February 2003 - at a critical time, when it was investigating US charges that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear programme.

During that period, the US several times repeated the allegations, most notably in President George W. Bush's January State of the Union address.

The letter, which was released by Democratic congressman Henry Waxman, came as political pressure grew on the administration over charges that it distorted intelligence to build its case for war on Iraq.

The Democratic National Committee called for a full investigation of Mr Bush's statements.

Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the DNC, said: "Either President Bush knowingly used false information in his State of the Union address or senior administration officials allowed the use of that information. This was not a mistake. It was no oversight and it was no error."

The administration admitted on Monday that the president's assertion that Iraq sought to buy uranium from Niger waUS withheld uranium intelligenc.ems s based on "bogus" information.

Further questions are also being asked about repeated claims by the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency that Iraq was importing aluminium tubes for use in a nuclear weapons programme.

The State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research was not convinced that the tubes' specifications made them fit for use in the uranium enrichment process, according to a US administration official privy to their findings. The Department of Energy backed up the State Department in its effort to counter the conclusions, the official said, but they were overriden by the CIA.

The White House on Tuesday sought to explain how a statement based on false information could have been included in the most important speech of the presidential calendar.

The documents alleging a transaction between Niger and Iraq had been forged, a White House official confirmed, and said that further intelligence reports suggesting other Iraqi attempts to source uranium in Africa were "not detailed or specific enough to be certain that such attempts were in fact made".

Officials also tried to explain how a special envoy's investigation showing that there was no truth in the Iraq-Niger reports was overlooked by the Bush administration.

Joseph Wilson, a former ambassador, went last year to Niger at the request of the CIA to assess the reports of an attempt made by Iraq to buy uranium .

He reported back to the CIA that the reports appeared to be false.

His findings, US officials say, were fed into the "intel stream" - the flow of classified information that goes to all parts of the intelligence community in the US government.

But, they say, Mr Wilson's visit was not flagged up and his findings were not drawn to the attention of senior officials.

People in the Bush administration say that George Tenet, CIA director, had been unaware that Mr Wilson was sent to Niger and senior figures at the National Security Council, such as Condoleezza Rice, the US withheld uranium intelligenc.ems national security adviser and her deputy, Stephen Hadley, did not see the reports containing his conclusions.

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