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CIA says it attempted to debunk arms claim

By Times Wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 13, 2003

WASHINGTON - The CIA, facing criticism for its failure to pass on a key piece of information that put in doubt Iraq's purported attempts to buy uranium from Niger, said Thursday that it sent a cable to the White House and other government agencies in March 2002 that said the claim had been denied by officials from the central African country.

But Bush administration officials acknowledged that the document did not include the conclusion of a former U.S. ambassador dispatched by the CIA to Niger the month before that documents outlining a transfer of uranium to Baghdad were not authentic. The CIA cable attributed the Niger officials' denials to an anonymous source, but failed to mention the name of the former ambassador, who was a recognized expert in Africa, or that it had sent him to Niger.

The purported Iraqi effort to buy uranium oxide was used by President Bush and senior administration officials as a central piece of evidence to support their assertion that Iraq had an ongoing nuclear weapons program. The CIA's failure to pass on the details of what it knew helped keep the uranium-purchase story alive until shortly before the war in Iraq began, when the United Nations' chief nuclear inspector told the Security Council that the documents were forgeries.

5,000-year-old vase returned to museum

BAGHDAD, Iraq - The sacred Vase of Warka - one of the most valuable artifacts of the Iraqi National Museum collection, feared lost forever - was returned unceremoniously Thursday in the trunk of a car.

The 5,000-year-old white limestone vase, the world's oldest carved-stone ritual vessel, was handed over with other looted items, U.S.-led coalition forces said in a statement. Three men gave the pieces to security staff at the central Baghdad museum, a gesture that could reassure archaeologists worried about Iraq's ancient treasures.

The coalition's statement said the vase was returned "safely" but did not give details on its condition.

Lawmakers honor former POW

WASHINGTON - After shyly accepting praise from black congressional members, former prisoner of war Shoshana Johnson asked for continued prayers, not for herself but for soldiers who remain in Iraq and other parts of the world.

The Congressional Black Caucus honored Johnson on Thursday in a 11/2-hour ceremony that started late but ended with the Capitol Hill committee room still packed and the audience voicing approval as if at a church service.

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