Rice under fire over Niger claims

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The Independent US

As the row over false intelligence used by the White House continues to rage in Washington, questions are being asked about the role of Condoleezza Rice, George Bush's national security adviser.

Just weeks ago, Ms Rice was being mooted aslikely successor to Colin Powell, the Secretary of State. But some say her role in the Niger uranium debacle has damaged her candidature.

Ms Rice has survived largely unscathed during the row about whether the White House knowingly made false accusations about Iraq's attempts to develop weapons of mass destruction as it prepared to go to war. She defended President Bush, claiming that his State of the Union address on 28 January, which included a false claim that Saddam was seeking to obtain uranium from Africa, had been approved by the CIA.

But in a front-page article published yesterday by The Washington Post, questions were raised about how much Ms Rice knew and to what extent she has told the truth.

"If Condi didn't know the exact state of intelligence on Saddam's nuclear programme she wasn't doing her job," Michael O'Hanlon, a public policy analyst said. "This was foreign policy priority number one for the administration last summer, so the claim that someone else should have done her homework for her is unconvincing."

Although the CIA director George Tenet has assumed responsibility for approving the State of the Union address, it emerged last week that the agency had previously sent two memos to the White House warning that the Niger claim could not be substantiated. Officials said Ms Rice had been briefed on these doubts.

Democrats are seeking to seize on Ms Rice's apparent errors. Henry Waxman, a congressman who has led calls for a full investigation, said: "If the national security adviser didn't understand the repeated State Department and CIA warnings about the uranium allegations, that's a frightful level of incompetence.

"It's even more serious if she knew and ignored the intelligence warnings and has deliberately misled our nation. In any case it's hard to see why the President or the public will have any confidence in her." White House officials claimed the President continues to have faith in Ms Rice, but one person close to her told the newspaper: "She knows she did badly by him and he knows that she knows it."