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Ex-envoy: Uranium claim unfounded

Joseph Wilson
Joseph Wilson

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(CNN) -- In January, President Bush cited a British report accusing Iraq of trying to obtain uranium from an African country. Now, former ambassador Joseph Wilson claims he was asked by the CIA to investigate that report almost a year before the president's statement, and found it inaccurate.

Wilson spoke Monday to CNN anchor Bill Hemmer about the implications of his findings.

HEMMER: You went to Niger several years ago. You concluded essentially that Iraq could not buy this uranium from that country. Why not?

WILSON: February of 2002 was my most recent trip there, at the request I was told of the office of the vice president, which had seen a report in intelligence channels about this purported memorandum of agreement on uranium sales from Niger to Iraq. I traveled out there, spent eight days out there, and concluded that it was impossible that this sort of transaction could be done clandestinely.

First of all, any official government transaction would have required the signatures of the minister of mines and the prime minister. Secondly, the consortium that ran the two mines up there was made up of highly respected consumers of uranium products in the world -- the French, the Spanish, the Germans and the Japanese. And thirdly, the managing partner of the consortium -- that is to say the organization that actually handled the product -- was the French uranium company. And fourthly, frankly, Niger had been an ally of the United States, a close ally and a beneficiary of American largesse for 25 years, and Niger had actually sent troops to fight alongside American troops in the Gulf War.

So, for all of those reasons, it seemed that this information was inaccurate. That view was shared by the ambassador out there and largely shared in Washington even before I went out there.

HEMMER: We'll take that answer as a bit of a foundation for this interview. Listen to what Condoleezza Rice said about a month ago, early June on "Meet the Press." I'm quoting right now. She says, "We did not know at the time -- no one knew at the time in our circles -- maybe someone knew down in the bowels in the agency, but no one in our circles knew that there were doubts and suspicions that this might be a forgery" -- Condoleezza Rice back on June 8.

You say that is not possible. Why not?

WILSON: Well, when I was at the National Security Council, and before I wrote my piece for "The New York Times," I actually checked with very senior officials of the National Security Council from the time I was there, as well as very senior officials in the vice president's office just to refresh my memory.

HEMMER: And what did they tell you?

WILSON: And the standard operating procedure when we were there, of course, was that if you tasked at my level and above an executive branch agency with a specific question, you received a specific response. Now, clearly somebody in the vice president's office is within that circle that Dr. Rice is speaking of. That person or that office asked the question and that office received a very specific response.

HEMMER: The White House is saying that's just a small part of the entire argument. Nuclear programs is one thing, but the chemical and biological issues were still out there. Your response to the White House when they go that way is what?

WILSON: Well, the question has always been for me whether or not the threat of weapons of mass destruction was the grave and gathering danger or the imminent threat to our national security that it was said to be. Vice President Cheney flatly asserted in a "Meet the Press" interview that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear arms program. We had any number of officials talk about the mushroom cloud that was on its way from Iraq. Now, we've got 200 Americans dead in Iraq, 150,000 Americans occupying the country, $70 or $80 billion already spent. And the question really is whether or not the threat merited that sort of response.


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