Sun, Jul 20, 2003 - Page 6 News List

White House declassifies Iraq intelligence

CASUS BELLI The White House hopes releasing portions of an intelligence report will shield the US president from criticism that he mislead the public over his case for war

AP , WASHINGTON

The White House declassified portions of an intelligence report from last October to demonstrate that President George W. Bush had ample reason to believe Iraq was reconstituting a nuclear weapons program.

But the material also reflects divisions and uncertainties among intelligence agencies as to former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's activities.

The State Department, for instance, expressed deep skepticism over claims that Saddam was shopping for uranium ore in Africa to use in making atomic bombs -- an allegation that wound up in Bush's Jan. 28 State of the Union address but which administration officials have since repudiated.

"Claims of Iraqi pursuit of natural uranium in Africa are ... highly dubious," said a State Department addendum included among the declassified material.

The administration released the documents -- a sanitized version of the top-secret National Intelligence Estimate prepared for the president -- on Friday as it sought to shield Bush from rising criticism that he misled the public in making his case for war with Iraq.

Administration aides suggested that the eight pages of excerpts, out of 90 in the document, demonstrate the notion that Saddam was trying to reconstitute a nuclear weapons program permeated the US intelligence community -- and was not just based on a suspect British report that relied in part on forged documents.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the documents show "the clear and compelling case we had for confronting the threat that Saddam posed."

McClellan and other administration officials emphasized the report's assertion of "compelling evidence" that Iraq was seeking to rebuild its nuclear-weapons program.

But Daryl Kimball, executive director of the anti-nuclear Arms Control Association, suggested the release of the declassified documents showed the exact opposite.

"It further undermines the White House case that the Iraqi nuclear program was active and that it posed an immediate threat," he said.

Kimball said the State Department's reservations were particularly damaging to the administration's case. "Those are fighting words," he said.

In the declassified documents, the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research concluded: "The activities we have detected do not ... add up to a compelling case that Iraq is currently pursuing ... an integrated and comprehensive approach to acquire nuclear weapons."

In his State of the Union address, Bush asserted, "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

Secretary of State Colin Powell had voiced skepticism about such allegations. For that reason, he told reporters recently, he did not include the material in his lengthy presentation to the UN Security Council in early February.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair stood by the Africa claim during a visit to Washington on Thursday, although US officials, including CIA Director George Tenet, have recently challenged it.

Tenet has said he should have insisted the offending sentence be removed from a draft of Bush's speech sent to his agency for review.

Bush has only said that the speech was cleared by intelligence agencies. White House officials vowed to do a better job to prevent questionable material from winding up in his speeches.

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