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Pre-War Iraq Intelligence Expected to be Major Focus of Blair US Visit - 2003-07-17


British Prime Minister Tony Blair is making a brief visit to Washington amid controversy in Washington and London over pre-war intelligence about Iraq's weapons program.

Pre-war intelligence on Iraq's weapons is expected to be high on Mr. Blair's agenda when he addresses a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress.

At issue is a statement in President Bush's State of the Union address last January in which he said Iraq had sought uranium from Africa, a statement he used, in part, to make the case for war in Iraq.

The Central Intelligence Agency has discredited the statement. CIA Director George Tenet has accepted blame for the mistake, saying it never should have been included in the speech. But he has said the CIA concluded the statement was factually correct because it was attributed to a British report.

A political firestorm has erupted in Washington and London, with opposition politicians suggesting that the U.S. and British governments manipulated intelligence to exaggerate the threat posed by Iraq in order to garner support for war.

Senator Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, attended a closed door hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee Wednesday, when CIA Director Tenet testified about the matter.

"Those same people in the White House, bound and determined to put that language in the president's State of the Union address, put in misleading language, which attributed this information, not to our intelligence, because our intelligence had disavowed it, discredited it, said we cannot believe it. No, they attributed it to British intelligence," he said.

At the White House, spokesman Scott McClellan acknowledged the allegation about the uranium should not have been included in he president's speech, but he called Senator Durbin's account 'nonsense'.

Congressional Republicans agree and say Democrats are playing politics. Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska says the debate over the matter could have a negative impact on the work of U.S. intelligence agencies.

"The extended debate on this floor about intelligence activities because of that 16-word statement, the small phrase in the president's State of the Union message, is starting to really have an impact on the intelligence collecting activities of this country," he said.

Prime Minister Blair is expected to defend the quality of British intelligence in his speech to Congress.

Later, Mr. Blair meets with President Bush at the White House before traveling on to Asia, making stops in Japan, South Korea, and China.

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