US admits Iraq-African uranium link 'bogus'
By James Harding and Guy Dinmore in Washington and James Blitz in London
Published: July 7 2003 20:55 | Last Updated: July 7 2003 20:55

The White House on Monday admitted that an assertion by President George W. Bush (pictured) this year that Iraq was seeking to buy uranium from Africa was based on "bogus" information.

As the US and UK face pressure on whether they exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein before the war on Iraq, Ari Fleischer, Mr Bush's press secretary, made the admission at a White House press conference. Mr Fleischer said Mr Bush did not know the reports were wrong when he made the allegation - one of the central elements of his case against Iraq - in the State of the Union address in January.

In London, Tony Blair's government faced its first formal criticism for the way it had made the case for war on Iraq. A parliamentary committee said that parts of a dossier on Mr Hussein's weapons of mass destruction had been "more assertive" than would normally have been the case and warned there will be "disquiet" for the government until WMD are found in Iraq.

The committee absolved Alastair Campbell, Mr Blair's head of communications, from the charge that he had added information to the September dossier against the wishes of intelligence chiefs. But the committee split on party political lines over this issuUS admits Iraq-African uranium .ems e, which was raised in a BBC report and has triggered a disagreement between the government and Britain's public service broadcaster.

The White House confirmed on Monday that Joseph Wilson, a former ambassador, investigated the attempted purchase of uranium in Niger for the CIA and, nearly a year before Mr Bush's State of the Union address, delivered his findings to the administration that there was no truth to the allegations.

Mr Wilson wrote in the New York Times on Sunday that "some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons programme was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat".

Mr Fleischer insisted that Mr Bush - and vice-president Dick Cheney - were not aware that the Niger report had been found to be inaccurate when the president made his case at the State of the Union on January 28. Mr Fleischer promised to publish a more detailed explanation of Mr Bush's comment about the Iraq link with Africa.

But the other element of Mr Bush's State of the Union allegation that Iraq had "much to hide" by way of a nuclear weapons programme - namely Baghdad had "attempted to purchase high-strength aluminium tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production" - is also under scrutiny.

Even before the war, there was a debate within the CIA over whether the centrifuges might be used for a centrifuge enrichment programme or nuclear weapons. Nearly four months since US-led coalition forces moved into Iraq and still no discovery of weapons of mass destruction, intelligence officials are suggesting the significance of the aluminium tubes was overblown.

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