White House disputes Italy role in Iraq claim


(Gold9472: Ok White House... if it wasn't Italy that forged the documents, than who was it?)

By Adam Entous 23 minutes ago

WASHINGTON - The White House on Tuesday disputed accusations that Italian intelligence in a 2002 meeting passed off fake documents, showing Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger, that formed part of U.S. President George W. Bush President George W. Bush‘s case for war against Saddam Hussein .

U.S. officials who attended a September 9, 2002, meeting with Italy‘s spy chief do not recall the issue coming up, said a spokesman for the White House National Security Council. The meeting is central to the accusations.

"No one who was present at the meeting remembers yellow cake (uranium) being discussed nor any documents being passed," spokesman Frederick Jones said.

Bush, in making a case for war in his 2003 State of the Union address, said there was evidence that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Africa to further apparent nuclear-weapons ambitions.

Bush cited British intelligence as the source of the information. But U.S. officials have said in the past that the information was partly traced back to Italian sources.

The White House acknowledged after the war that the intelligence was faulty.

The Niger issue has attracted renewed attention as U.S. special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald wraps up his investigation into the leak of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame‘s identity. As part of his investigation, Fitzgerald has asked witnesses about the Niger report.

At issue in the documents charges is the September 2002 meeting, between Italy‘s spy chief, Nicolo Pollari, and Stephen Hadley , then the deputy White House national security adviser. Hadley is now Bush‘s national security adviser.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has rejected accusations at home that the intelligence agency, known as Sismi, gave fake documents to Washington about the Niger deal.

On Friday, Berlusconi‘s office said that there was no mention of the Iraq-Niger affair at Pollari‘s September 2002 meeting, at which it said Hadley was a just silent guest.

During his visit to the White House on Monday, Berlusconi followed up with Bush, briefly raising the issue, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

Jones played down the Pollari meeting as an 11-minute "courtesy call."

The White House had previously refused to discuss any details of Hadley‘s meeting with Pollari.

Berlusconi is one of Washington‘s strongest allies. Although he did not send troops to join the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, he did send forces after the fall of Baghdad.

"Prime Minister Berlusconi brought it up, and as they indicated, that there wasn‘t any documents that were provided to us on Niger and uranium," McClellan said.

He said the reference in Bush‘s State of the Union speech was based on a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate and British intelligence. However, Italy‘s La Repubblica newspaper said that an Italian middleman provided Britain with forged Niger documents.

Bush‘s 2003 uranium claim fueled criticism from Plame‘s husband, former diplomat Joseph Wilson, that the administration twisted intelligence to bolster its case for war.

Wilson based his criticism in part on a CIA-sponsored mission he made to Africa in 2002 to check out reports that Iraq sought uranium from Niger.

Wilson said the report was unsubstantiated, and later accused the White House of leaking his wife‘s identity in retaliation.