CIA kept Niger claims out of Bush speech

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Indy Politics

The CIA kept suspect claims about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction out of a speech by President George Bush last October - more than three months before their appearance in his State of the Union address.

George Tenet, the director of the CIA, is now known to have argued with the White House that Mr Bush should not use the allegations, which were focused on Niger, when he laid out the case against Saddam Hussein on 7 October last year. The intelligence supporting them was dubious, the CIA said.

But, in his weekend statement taking responsibility for the blunder, Mr Tenet indicated the CIA had been pressed by the White House to approve the text of the address on 28 January. The language was watered down to refer only to Africa and quote British, not US, intelligence as the source.

Mr Bush expressed full confidence at the weekend in Mr Tenet, sayingthe matter was closed. But John Kerry, the Senator for Massachusetts and Democratic presidential candidate, said the Tenet statement "doesn't answer the questions ... about the intelligence given to Congress before the war".

More worryingly for Mr Bush, a growing number of Americans believe they were misled on Iraq's weapons, according to polls in The Washington Post and Newsweek.

How the Niger connection unravelled

Sunday 6 July: Joseph Wilson, a retired US ambassador, breaks his silence to reveal that he travelled to Niger on the orders of the CIA in February 2002 to investigate claims that Saddam had tried to acquire uranium from the African state. He is convinced that claims of Iraqi uranium purchases were false.

He tells The New York Times: "I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons programme was twisted."

Monday 7 July: Serious doubts are raised over the Government's claim in its September dossier that Saddam Hussein tried to acquire significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

The Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee declares itself "puzzled" by the Government's claim that it was relying on intelligence from forged documents exposed by the International Atomic Energy Agency in March. MPs declare it is "very odd indeed" that the Govern-ment was still reviewing evidence about the claim eight months after it declared it had intelligence to back it up.

Tuesday 8 July: The White House deals Tony Blair a devastating blow by rejecting the British intelligence linking Iraq and Niger. A Bush administration official says: "Knowing all that we know now, the reference to Iraq's attempt to acquire uranium from Africa should not have been included in the State of the Union speech." Mr Blair insists that the Government stands by its story.

Wednesday 9 July: It emerges that the allegations were disowned by US officials in Vienna as they handed the now disputed evidence to IAEA officials. The IAEA confirms that it has not received any other evidence about Niger, despite British insistence that its foreign source passed the details on.

Thursday 10 July: Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, says he did not mention the alleged uranium deal to the UN Security Council because he "did not think it was strong enough".

Friday 11 July: CIA sources confirm they advised Britain to omit the Niger allegations in its dossier on Iraq's weapons which was published last September. A senior Bush administration official says: "We consulted about the paper and recommended against using that material."

Saturday 12 July: The director of the CIA, George Tenet, admits it was wrong for the agency to allow the Niger allegation to be included in George Bush's State of the Union address in January.

Jack Straw says in a letter to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee that Britain's information on Niger was not shared with the US.

Sunday 13 July: Tony Blair prepares for talks with Mr Bush later this week with a growing transatlantic rift over intelligence and the basis for the war in Iraq clouding the "special relationship" between London and Washington.