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 Thursday, 26 December, 2002, 14:38 GMT
Niger denies selling uranium to Iraq
Nomads in the Niger desert
Uranium is Niger's main export
The prime minister of Niger, Hama Hamadou, has confirmed that Iraq tried to buy uranium from it in the 1980s, but he said the offer had been rejected.

The US State Department last week accused Baghdad of seeking to procure uranium from Niger for the creation of nuclear weapons, and omitting this from its arms declaration to the United Nations.

The BBC's Souleymane Habouba in Niamey says that Mr Hamadou's denial surprised many in Niger who believe their impoverished country would not have missed the chance to improve its finances through uranium sales.

Niger, one of the world's poorest nations, is the third largest producer of uranium, along with Russia.

'Bilateral cooperation'

Mr Hamadou issued the denial during a live debate on national radio and television.

"In the 1980s, when Iraq was not a country banished by the great powers, it tried to buy uranium in the framework of bilateral cooperation," he said.

Mr Hamadou said that the then President Seyni Kountche turned down Iraq's request.

He said that his government, which has been in place since January 2000, had never been approached by Iraq for uranium.

"Iraq has never bought uranium from Niger, and the Niger Government has never discussed selling uranium to Iraq," he said.

Niger President Mamadou Tandja
Niger says it cannot produce enriched uranium

He said that Niger had always respected international conventions on the proliferation of nuclear material.

"Niger cannot sell its uranium to whoever it likes: it has neither the technological means, nor the military capability, nor the ability to do so," he said.

Three countries in Africa are officially listed by the World Nuclear Association as uranium producing countries.

They are Niger, Namibia and South Africa.

Niger produces 2,900 tons of uranium per year, which it sells mainly to France, Japan and Spain.

Three months ago, the South African Government said categorically it had not been approached to sell uranium to Iraq.

Britain's dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, which was released in September, says that Saddam Hussein tried to get "significant quantities of uranium from Africa".


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20 Dec 02 | Americas
19 Dec 02 | Americas
19 Dec 02 | Middle East
26 Sep 02 | Africa
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