State Department Declared Niger Uranium Sale to Iraq “Unlikely” in March 2002
Document Notes Possible Iraq Efforts to Obtain Uranium, but Loss of International Aid and Difficulty Moving Uranium Secretly Cited as Major Disincentives for Niger
(Washington, DC) Judicial Watch, the public interest group that fights government corruption, today released a declassified “Secret/NOFORN” State Department intelligence analysis cable, dated March 4, 2002, from the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Office of Analysis for Africa. The analysis, entitled, “Niger-Iraq: Sale of Niger Uranium to Iraq Unlikely,” was part of a larger analysis document for the week of February 25 – March 3, 2002, approximately ten months prior to President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address, where he claimed Iraqi leadership attempted to obtain uranium from Niger, and one year before the war in Iraq was initiated.
The possibility that a corrupt, former President of Niger – Bare Mainassara – may have negotiated with Iraq is discussed in the analysis, but discounted since his presidential guard killed him in April 1999 during a coup. The analysis also points out that President Tandja – the current president – is very aware that the financing of Niger’s day-to-day government operations and its development aid are entirely dependent of foreign assistance. The analysis states that an Iraqi pay-off of $50 to $100 million would not make up for what would be lost if foreign aid donations stopped.
The analysis states: “Niger probably is not planning to sell uranium to Iraq, in part because France controls the uranium industry in Niger and would take action to block the sale . . . ,” and, “. . . there are French managers and engineers at every point in the mining, milling and transportation process.”
Finally, the analysis describes the extreme difficulty of “secretly” transporting 500 tons of “off-the-books” uranium on 25 “hard-to-conceal” 10-ton tractor trailers across 1,000 miles from land-locked Niger to the sea, crossing at least one foreign border.
“These documents provide grist for both sides of the debate over President Bush’s claim in his January 2003 State of the Union address,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “On the one hand, they seem to confirm the president’s assertion that Iraq was attempting to buy uranium. On the other hand, they suggest that such a deal would have been difficult to consummate.”
Judicial Watch obtained the document under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, having successfully appealed an earlier State Department decision to withhold the document from disclosure. Portions of the document contain redactions of classified material made by both the State Department and the CIA.
Those interested in viewing these declassified documents, click here (PDF).