Report: US to Niger - Keep out of Iraq uranium row
Washington has warned Niger to keep out of a row over disputed claims that Baghdad sought to buy uranium from Niger, according to The Sunday Telegraph.
Quoting high-ranking Niger government officials, the British paper said Herman Cohen, a former US assistant secretary of state for Africa, called on Mamadou Tandja, Niger's president, in the capital Niamey last week to relay the message from Washington.
One official told the Telegraph, "Let's say Mr. Cohen put a friendly arm around the president ... but then squeezed his shoulder hard enough to convey the message, 'Let's hear no more about this affair from your government'. Basically he was telling Niger to shut up."
The US intervention reflects mounting concern about the ongoing row over claims that the US and UK distorted evidence to justify the war on Iraq, according to the Telegraph.
Moreover, the paper recalled that Hama Hamadou, Niger's prime minister, last week told it that his country's government had never had discussions with Baghdad about uranium, and called on British Prime Minister Tony Blair to produce the "evidence" he claims to have to confirm that Iraq sought uranium from Niger.
For their part, US officials denied that there had been any attempt to "gag" the Niger government, the Telegraph said. However, the Niger official said that Washington's warning was likely to be heeded.
"Mr. Cohen did not spell it out but everybody in Niger knows what the consequences of upsetting America or Britain would be. We are the world's second-poorest country and we depend on international aid to survive." (Albawaba.com)
© 2003 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)