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Italy May Have Forwared Uranium Claims

July 16, 2003

ROME (AP) _ Italy may have forwarded to the United States and Britain disputed claims that Saddam Hussein sought uranium in Africa to make nuclear weapons, the head of a parliamentary intelligence committee said Wednesday.

Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s government has denied that Italy’s intelligence services passed on ``documents″ about the matter. But committee chief Enzo Bianco, speaking after a top government official addressed the commission in secret, did not deny that the information may have been passed on informally.

``This is possible,″ he said. ``I don’t rule it out.″

The United States and Britain used the claim that Iraq was trying to buy uranium from Niger to bolster their case for war. But documents supporting this contention were forgeries, putting intense pressure on both President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

News reports have said Italian intelligence was behind the documents that led to the claim. However, Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Tuesday that Italy ``never, never gave documentation relative to this issue to other nations’ intelligence services.″

Cabinet undersecretary and top Berlusconi aide Gianni Letta reiterated the government position during his briefing to the intelligence committee Wednesday. But he would not hand over Italian intelligence documents on the matter, said committee chairman Bianco, a member of an opposition party.

``The Italian intelligence services were involved in the issue with other sources and other documents that they don’t wish to reveal because it would put at risk the security of sources _ this is the position of the government,″ Bianco said.

Committee member Pierfrancesco Gamba, a member of Berlusconi’s governing coalition, confirmed that Italian intelligence looked into the accusations against Saddam.

``Practically all intelligence services were involved in this issue,″ he said. ``But (the Italian secret services) didn’t acquire this unfounded document.″

Letta refused to comment on the hearing. But committee members said he also ruled out a report published Wednesday in Rome newspaper La Repubblica, which included what it said were copies of four documents allegedly used to bolster the claim that Saddam was trying to buy uranium.

La Repubblica, a leftist publication that opposes Berlusconi’s conservative government, said an African diplomat offered Italian intelligence services documents allegedly supporting the uranium claims.

The report quoted a source from Sismi, the Italian military intelligence service, as saying British intelligence obtained the documents in late 2001 or early 2002. The source implied that Italian colleagues provided the information.

The Sismi source, La Repubblica reported, said the Italian Foreign Ministry had raised strong objections about the information provided by Italian intelligence.

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