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IAEA Investigates Iraqi Attempts to Buy Uranium


The International Atomic Energy Agency has confirmed it is actively investigating allegations that Iraq, in recent years, attempted to import uranium from Niger.

An IAEA spokesman describes the investigation as ongoing and confirms the probe of Iraq's efforts to obtain uranium in Africa does focus on Niger.

But the spokesman will not provide any details and will not tell VOA, for example, whether the government of Niger is cooperating or whether the U.N. nuclear agency has sent any investigators to the African country.

However Iraq's Foreign Ministry has said IAEA officials in Baghdad have questioned Iraqi officials about the Niger connection.

On February 12, IAEA investigators interviewed a retired Iraqi ambassador. The official was not identified but the Iraqi Foreign Ministry says the interview concerned allegations that Iraq imported uranium from Niger after 1998.

The Voice of America last month reported that Niger supplied Iraq with a key ingredient for its nuclear program two decades ago and more recently agreed to resume those shipments.

U.S. officials said that Niger signed an agreement in 2000 to sell Iraq 500 metric tons of a concentrated form of uranium known as yellowcake.

However, Niger's former minister of Mining and Energy later responded by telling VOA the charges were "lies."

The official said in an interview that it is the Niger government's practice to check any potential buyers of uranium against the so-called "red list" of the International Atomic Energy Agency, adding if any nation is on the list, there would be no deal. In addition, he said any such deal could not be made without the knowledge of the French-owned company Cogema, which operates uranium mining in Niger.

U.N. officials have confirmed Niger made two separate shipments of the concentrated uranium to Iraq, one in 1981 and a second the following year. U.S. officials say there is no evidence of new uranium shipments despite the more recent agreement.

Niger denied the earlier shipments as well. It is the world's third largest uranium producer, after Canada and Australia.

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