***image1***JOHANNESBURG (IPS)—The government of President Thabo Mbeki has raised strong objections to a British intelligence dossier that suggests that an African country may have discussed selling uranium to Iraq for use in its efforts to develop nuclear weapons.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair recently released an intelligence dossier on Iraq’s alleged attempts to develop nuclear weapons.

The report says: “There is intelligence that Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”

But South African Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, Aziz Pahad, dismissed the dossier’s claims, calling the British allegations regarding African countries vague and lacking in substance. Gabon, Niger, Namibia and South Africa produce uranium although only South Africa produces weapons-grade uranium.

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According to the British prime minister, if Iraq gets its hands on the necessary components, it could produce a nuclear weapon in one to two years.

A Financial Times of London report suggested the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was the most likely African source of smuggled uranium. The Congo has been embroiled in conflict for the past three years and control of the country’s mineral reserves has been in the hands of rebel groups and warlords.

A number of other African countries also have deposits of the ore, but the British report does not mention from which African countries Iraq may have tried to secure the uranium.

Mr. Pahad was adamant South Africa had never contemplated selling uranium to Iraq. “Our information is that we have not been requested to sell uranium to Iraq. I can state categorically we have not,” he said.

He added that South Africa has strict legislation controlling the sale of nuclear material and it would be difficult for anyone from South Africa—even private companies—to sell uranium.

Mr. Pahad pointed out that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has already indicated that the British report has no substance. The IAEA insists that it is keeping an eye on stores of uranium that could be used for nuclear weapons in Africa–and they would know if any went missing.

Mr. Pahad has called on the British government to come forward with any information they may have on alleged Iraqi efforts to secure uranium in Africa.

In early September, South Africa signed the “Protocol Additional to the Safeguard Agreement” with the IAEA. South Africa is a member state of the IAEA, the international governmental forum for scientific and technical cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear technology.

As part of the global effort to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the IAEA verifies that nuclear materials are not diverted away from legitimate peaceful use for military purposes. Once a member state becomes a party to a Safeguard Agreement, the agency’s inspectors monitor all declared nuclear material through on-site inspections, remote surveillance and record verification.

The predominant focus of the Additional Protocol is to strengthen the IAEA’s capability to detect undeclared nuclear material and activities.

In June, the South African Department of Minerals and Energy co-hosted a seminar for African States on International Safeguard Agreements and the Additional Protocol.

The purpose of the seminar was to encourage all African states party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to sign the protocols with the IAEA. The treaty makes it mandatory for all non-nuclear weapon states parties to conclude comprehensive safeguard agreements with the IAEA and put all of their nuclear material under safeguards.

South Africa is also the only country to have developed nuclear weapons and then destroyed them before signing up for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Since then, the country insists it has not been involved in the manufacture of nuclear weapons or the production of the necessary components.