UN critical of ministers' 'unfounded' allegations over Iraq

By Andrew Grice,Ben Russell
Tuesday 11 March 2003 01:00

Ministers were criticised yesterday for failing to withdraw allegations that Iraq secretly attempted to buy uranium for nuclear weapons after the claims were dismissed as "unfounded" by United Nations weapons inspectors.

On Friday, Mohamed el- Baradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), rejected British and American claims that Saddam Hussein had tried to buy uranium from Niger, saying the allegations were based on fake documents.

But yesterday the British Government's dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was still available on the Downing Street and Foreign Office websites, with the claim that President Saddam "sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa, despite having no active civil nuclear power programme that could require it".

The Number 10 website also included Tony Blair's statement on 24 September, when the Prime Minister said "we know Saddam has been trying to buy significant quantities of uranium from Africa, though we do not know whether he has been successful".

Yesterday, Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, said: "Dr El-Baradei's careful analysis of the aluminium tubes, magnets and the alleged efforts to obtain uranium from Niger would appear to have undermined the belief that Iraq was still actively seeking a nuclear capacity.

"Indeed, he went further when he said there was no evidence of a renewal of a nuclear programme in Iraq. In the face of such an unequivocal assertion on the part of the IAEA, one would have thought the British Government would have made some kind of response."

Tam Dalyell, Labour MP for Linlithgow, said: "Dr El-Baradei said that based on thorough analysis, the IAEA had concluded with the concurrence of outside experts that these documents which form the basis of reports of recent uranium transactions between Iraq and Niger are in fact not authentic. What does the Foreign Office know about not authentic documents?"

Mr Straw replied: "The idea of putting in inspectors is to put faith in inspectors. There were perfectly legitimate reasons for there to be the greatest suspicion of the possibility of Iraq having a continuing nuclear programme."

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