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ElBaradei Dismisses Allegations Iraq Tried to Import Uranium from Niger - 2003-03-08


The head of the U.N. nuclear agency says allegations that Iraq recently attempted to import uranium from Niger are unfounded.

Mohamed ElBaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency says his organization remains willing to examine fresh evidence relevant to efforts by Iraq to illicitly import nuclear material from Africa.

But speaking before the U.N. Security Council Friday, Mr. ElBaradei dismissed documents provided by what he said were "a number of states" pointing to an agreement between Niger and Iraq for the sale of uranium between 1999 and 2001.

Mr. ElBaradei says his agency reviewed correspondence from the government of Niger to compare the format, contents and signatures with those of the alleged uranium procurement-related documentation.

He says after thorough analysis, the IAEA now believes documents which formed the basis for the claims of recent uranium transactions between Iraq and Niger, are in fact not authentic and the allegations are unfounded.

ElBaradei also told the Council the IAEA discussed the charges with Iraq and Niger, both of which denied any such activity took place. He said Baghdad suggested the visit by an unidentified Iraqi official to a number of African countries, including Niger, in February 1999, might have given rise to the allegations.

U.S. officials have acknowledged seeing documentation purporting the existence of a secret agreement concluded in the summer of 2000 under which Niger was to provide Iraq with 500 metric tons of concentrated uranium ore.

The officials who told VOA of the agreement acknowledged there was no evidence any of the material was ever shipped to Iraq. They also cautioned the transaction may have been a scam conducted without the knowledge of Niger's government by individuals out to make a quick profit.

But these officials noted Niger did sell uranium ore to Iraq in the early 1980s, a fact that was documented by the IAEA.

One intelligence source who spoke to VOA said Friday that given control by a French firm over Niger's uranium mines, perhaps the original allegations about a new deal with Baghdad were an attempt to embarass the government of France. But the source made clear the documents were not fabricated by the United States.

France has been a strong critic of possible U.S. military action against Iraq because of its programs for developing chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

The United States included charges that Iraq attempted to procure uranium from Niger in a fact sheet issued last December questioning the credibility of Baghdad's claims about its disarmament efforts.

A State Department official told VOA Friday the IAEA's assertion that such allegations are unfounded did not undercut the overall credibility of U.S. charges about Iraq's failure to disarm.

Mr. ElBaradei said in his report Friday that his agency's inspectors have found no evidence or plausible indications of the revival of a nuclear progam in Iraq.