- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 8, 2003

From combined dispatches

The White House this week said President Bush’s State of the Union address contained erroneous British intelligence that said Iraq recently had sought significant quantities of uranium in Africa.

The president’s statement in the address was incorrect because it was based on forged documents from the African nation of Niger, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Monday.

After Mr. Bush cited the British claim in his January address, the United Nations found the letters between Iraq and Niger to be forgeries. In March, the International Atomic Energy Agency told the United Nations the documents were false.

A British parliamentary committee has concluded that Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government mishandled intelligence material on Iraqi weapons.

John Stanley, a Conservative member of the parliamentary committee, said no evidence has been found in Iraq to substantiate key claims, including that Iraq was seeking uranium in Africa as part of an effort to restart a nuclear weapons program.

Claims about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction were a primary justification for the war, but U.S. forces have yet to find any such weapons. House and Senate intelligence panels are looking into prewar intelligence on Iraq and how it was used by the Bush administration.

Democrats yesterday said the Bush administration had been too slow to admit the information was false, and questioned how the administration used U.S. intelligence on Iraq’s weapons programs.

“The quality of that intelligence has been known … from the very beginning,” said Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. “It was all discredited, early and often.”

Senate Minority Leader Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, said the quality of U.S. intelligence has been called into question by the White House revision of its stance.

“There were many of us that voted for use of force based on what we learned in intelligence and other areas,” she said. “The fact that the yellow-cake uranium from Niger was a forgery demonstrates a real problem with bogus intelligence.”

Republican leaders accused Democrats of exploiting a relatively minor issue.

“It’s very easy to pick one little flaw here, one little flaw there. The overall reason we went into Iraq is … morally sound,” said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican.

Mr. Bush said in his address to Congress in January that the British government had learned Saddam recently sought significant quantities of uranium in Africa.

“The president’s statement was based on the predicate of the yellow-cake uranium from Niger,” Mr. Fleischer told reporters. “So given the fact that the report on the yellow cake did not turn out to be accurate, that is reflective of the president’s broader statement.”

Mr. Fleischer’s remarks follow assertions by an envoy sent by the CIA to Africa to investigate accusations about Iraq’s nuclear weapons program. The envoy, Joseph Wilson, said Sunday the Bush administration manipulated his findings, possibly to strengthen the rationale for war.

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