- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 12, 2003

LONDON — Britain snapped back at the Bush administration yesterday after it cited London as the source of questionable information that President Bush used to bolster the case for war against Iraq in his State of the Union speech.

Prime Minister Tony Blair’s office insisted that he still believes the disputed charge that Iraq sought uranium in Africa was true, saying Britain has reliable information it cannot share with Washington because it comes from foreign intelligence sources.

For the past week, the White House has faced a storm of criticism after it disavowed the accusation that Saddam Hussein’s regime sought to buy uranium from Niger for a nuclear weapons program. The CIA said it had had doubts about the British claim.

In a letter to the House of Commons made public yesterday, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the CIA had expressed doubts to Britain about the uranium charge but did not specify what they were. Britain did not know until recently that the agency had sent an envoy to Niger who investigated the claims and discounted them, he added.

Mr. Straw defended Britain’s publication of the claim in September in a dossier on reputed Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

Despite the CIA reservations, British officials “were confident that the dossier’s statement was based on reliable intelligence, which we had not shared with the U.S.,” Mr. Straw wrote. “A judgment was therefore made to retain it.”

One of the documents suggesting Iraq sought uranium in Niger for its reputed nuclear weapons program was exposed as a forgery. CIA Director George Tenet took responsibility Friday for including the claim in the president’s speech.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair are scheduled to meet Thursday in Washington, where the British leader plans to address a joint session of Congress, according to his office.

Mr. Straw wrote in his letter to the House of Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs that the CIA reservations over the claim were “unsupported by explanation,” and that Britain had based its charge in part on intelligence it did not share with the United States.

The letter did not say why Britain declined to share the information with its ally, but Mr. Straw wrote that he had explained the reasons privately to the parliamentary committee.

A Blair spokesman said the information had come from foreign intelligence services and was “not ours to share.” He declined to say what country or countries had been the source.

The International Atomic Energy Agency asked for information on the uranium assertions after London’s dossier was published, but Britain did not provide any, U.N. officials said.

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