For the last several days, proponents of the Holy Grail of Niger-Iraqi uranium have been pressing a series of articles which have appeared in the Financial Times that they says confirms the uranium story by reference to alleged evidence in the hands of the British.
That evidence, as detailed by the FT, involved smugglers mining uranium from abandoned mines, ones which would lack the industrial equipment required to turn the rock into yellowcake -- a key point that makes non-proliferation experts discount the signficance of the whole story. That's a point we'll return to.
However, for the moment, look at this section, the last two paragraphs at the end of today's follow-up in the FT.
The UK government has stood by its claim that Iraq had sought to buy uranium, and its assertion is expected to be supported by an official inquiry headed by Lord Butler whose report is published tomorrow. The UK has made clear that its claim was not based on the evidence provided in the fake documents, and that it had other evidence that Iraq had tried to buy uranium.
The Senate report adds weight to these claims by detailing the extent to which French intelligence information supported that being gathered by other intelligence agencies. The French information was given particular weight because French companies control Niger's uranium output.
In other words, the British claim that there was other evidence beside the documents is given further weight by the fact that French intelligence also had suspicions about a Niger-Iraq deal. And France's suspicions were uniquely relevant since French consortia actually control the mines.
This is at best a very sloppy reading of the report.
Page 59 of the report states that on November 22nd 2002 French officials told their American counterparts that they had "information on an Iraqi attempt to buy uranium from Niger." They went on to say that they were confident that the transaction did not in fact occur -- a confidence presumably based on their own physical custody of the uranium.
However, in the context of the WMD debate, Iraqi intent
was and is quite important, even if attempts to acquire the yellowcake failed. So the French suspicions were important -- particularly because of their role running the mines.
However, the FT
ignores what appears in the report ten pages later. There on page 69 the report says ..."March 4, 2003, the U.S. Government learned that the French had based their initial assessment that Iraq had attempted to procure uranium from Niger on the same documents that the U.S. had provided to the [IAEA]."
In other words, the French suspicions, at least as detailed in the report, add no weight to the claims that there was other evidence beside the documents since the French suspicions, by their own account, were based on the documents.