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A British professor of theoretical physics suggested Tuesday that the raging controversy over intelligence claims that Saddam Hussein tried to buy uranium ore from Niger is meaningless.
"Uranium ore contains just 0.7 percent of the fissile isotope uranium 235 and to make nuclear weapons this fraction has to be increased to 90 percent in an enrichment plant," Professor Norman Dombey of Sussex University said. "Without enrichment facilities this material is useless for nuclear weapons," he said.
"The US and the UK knew Iraq did not possess any enrichment plants since they were all dismantled by UN inspectors before 1995," he said. Dombey's intervention comes amid a dispute between the UK and the US over intelligence claims that Iraq had sought uranium from Africa, with Washington admitting the allegation was false but London standing by the claim, which it insists comes from other sources.
Prime Minister Tony Blair and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw on Monday both defended the allegation after previously denying divisions with the US over intelligence claims. "So what if Iraq sought the supply of uranium from Africa? Iraq already has hundreds of tons of uranium at its disposal," the professor said in a letter to the Guardian newspaper.
"Uranium ore is not fissile material. If it were, Niger would be a nuclear state," he said in a letter to the Guardian newspaper in response to Blair's claim that Iraq could be only a year of two away from possessing nuclear weapons. Dombey previously expressed doubts about Iraq's nuclear capability, when he disputed claims made in the British government's dossier on Saddam's alleged banned arms, saying that the threat was 'significantly less now than it was in 1991'. At the time he suggested that the Niger claim was very possibly an 'intelligence sting'. Following the dispute with the CIA, he now believed that the sting 'seems to have originated in London'.
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