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Prime Minister defends his decision to send troops to Iraq; Opposition Leader questions evidence used to make the decision.



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THE WORLD TODAY

Monday, 7 July 2003

 

 

ELEANOR HALL: The Prime Minister, John Howard, is today defending his use of overseas sourced intelligence material earlier this year when he was making the case for Australia to support US-led military action against Iraq. Two reports today claim that the Bush Administration knew there were serious doubts about the evidence on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction that it was using to back its call for war against Iraq.

 

In the most damning report a former US ambassador says he was asked by the CIA to investigate allegations that Iraq had gained nuclear material from Niger, and found they were false. But, speaking in Canberra this morning, Mr Howard said that what he told Australians about Iraq's nuclear program in February was accurate. However, the Labor Party is this morning saying this whole saga now resembles the children overboard affair. From Canberra, chief political correspondent, Catherine McGrath reports.

 

CATHERINE McGRATH: The original claim that Iraq had been shopping for uranium to restart its nuclear program came from the British government and it was passed on by George W. Bush in the lead-up to the war in Iraq. It's now known that that claim was false. This is what President Bush said when he was making the case for the war.

 

GEORGE W. BUSH: The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

 

CATHERINE McGRATH: And John Howard told parliament on 4 February that:

 

JOHN HOWARD: On the basis of the intelligence available the British Joint Intelligence Committee judged that Iraq has a usable chemical and biological weapons capability which has included recent production of chemical and biological agents. Iraq continues to work on developing nuclear weapons. Uranium has been sought from Africa that has no civil, nuclear application in Iraq.

 

CATHERINE McGRATH: But now from the United States overnight the words of former US Ambassador, Joseph Wilson, who was sent to Africa to examine the claim that Niger sold uranium to Iraq. The claim, he said, was wrong.

 

JOSEPH WILSON: My judgment on this is that if they were referring to Niger when they were referring to uranium sales from Africa to Iraq, that information was erroneous and that they knew about it well ahead of both the publication of the British white paper and the President's State of the Union address.

 

CATHERINE McGRATH: And he went further:

 

JOSEPH WILSON: Either the Administration has some information that it has not shared with the public, or yes, they were using the selective use of facts and intelligence to bolster a decision in a case that had already been made, a decision that had been made to go to war.

 

CATHERINE McGRATH: The Australian Prime Minister this morning was brief when he defended his handling of information about Iraq and Niger.

 

JOHN HOWARD: What I said on that issue was accurate.

 

CATHERINE McGRATH: But he was more expansive when he talked about the benefits of the war in Iraq. He said there'd been a huge humanitarian and moral dividend from the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

 

JOHN HOWARD: Every day that uncovers more mass graves is a demonstration that there's a huge humanitarian and moral dividend out of what took place, and that it was right. In terms of Australia's participation, our case was built on the failure of Iraq to comply with UN resolutions and that still remains the case, and I am still very strong in my belief that Australia did the right thing.

 

CATHERINE McGRATH: But the federal opposition says the Prime Minister has to fully answer the question about the evidence he quoted and the case Australia made for war, particularly the mention of Iraq and Niger. Simon Crean.

 

SIMON CREAN: We've asked him the question as to when he was told that this wasn't correct and he's refused to answer it, so I think he does need to answer it because it's really shades of the kids overboard, isn't it? When did you know that the kids weren't thrown overboard? When did you know there was no nuclear capacity, Prime Minister? I think the Australian people are entitled to know that their Prime Minister is telling them the truth.

 

ELEANOR HALL: Federal Opposition Leader, Simon Crean, ending that report from Catherine McGrath.