Skip to comments.Niger uranium claim came from third country: Britain; cannot tell the United States how it knew
Posted on 07/14/2003 7:49:02 AM PDT by Brian S
LONDON, July 14 (AFP) - Britain cannot tell the United States how it knew that Iraq tried to get uranium from Niger because the information originated from a third country, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Monday, without identifying the country.
His statement seemed likely to add to an embarrassing rift between London and Washington -- allies in the war to overthrow Saddam Hussein -- over the way intelligence was used in the run-up to the conflict.
The issue is liable to cloud talks in Washington on Thursday when British Prime Minister Tony Blair -- en route to East Asia -- sees US President George W. Bush and makes a special address to Congress.
Straw, speaking on BBC radio, stood by Britain's claim, which was contained in a controversial 50-page dossier on Saddam's pursuit of chemical, biological and chemical issued last September.
"We believe in the intelligence which was behind the claims made in the September 24 dossier, yes," he said on the Today current affairs program when asked if the intelligence on Niger was still valid in British eyes.
He added, however, that Britain was not at liberty to tell the United States where it got the information, because it had come from "foreign intelligence sources".
"It just happens to be the rules of liaison with foreign intelligence sources that they own the intelligence. The second intelligence service does not and therefore is not able to pass it on to the third party."
Bush included the British reference to Niger, with attribution to British intelligence, in his State of the Union address last January in which he made his case for war on Iraq.
But last Saturday, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director George Tenet cast doubt on the accuracy of the claim, saying it should never have been included in Bush's speech.
Blair has been under fire for weeks in Britain over another claim in the September dossier -- that Iraq could deploy chemical or biological weapons in as little as 45 minutes.
Downing Street has vigorously denied a report on BBC radio in late May that that allegation was inserted into the dossier by Blair aides despite reservations among British intelligence chiefs.
Blair was Bush's staunchest ally on Iraq, but since combat was declared over on May 1 US and British forces have yet to unearth hard proof of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction -- let alone the man himself.
Britain and the United States are also at odds over US plans to put two British citizens -- now held at the US base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- on trial for terrorism before a military commission.
"It is not acceptable for them to be tried if they are not given basic principles of human rights and fair trial," Straw said. "So we are in a process of discussions with the US authorities about a range of options."
Those options range from trial in Britain through to trial by the US military commission so long as it is consistent with the "rules of justice and human rights", he said.
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