CNN BREAKING NEWS
U.S. Believes Tubes Were for Iraqi Uranium Reprocessing
Aired January 30, 2003 - 12:41 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We interrupted our national security correspondent, David Ensor, to go to the White House. David is still with me. David, you were telling our viewers what we might expect to hear from Secretary of State Powell next Wednesday when he delivers that previously classified information to the U.N. Security Council.
DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you remember the aluminum tube story? I don't know how many of our viewers recall, but sometime back, there were stories about how Bush administration officials said they have evidence that Iraq tried to buy aluminum tubes which could be used for reprocessing uranium.
Subsequently, and this is kind of the conventional wisdom that's out there now, Mr. ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said publicly that they did not accept that that's what those tubes were for, that it looked to them as if they were for conventional rocket tubes, and they didn't believe that they had a nuclear purpose.
What I've learned now from senior intelligence officials is that they have a fair amount of evidence that they regard as convincing, and you may hear this evidence listed by Colin Powell next week, starting off with the fact that there was high level Iraqi senior -- senior Iraqi interest in this purchase.
Secondly, that it was clandestine in nature. This was done with the utmost secrecy, the purchase -- the attempted purchase of these tubes.
Thirdly, the price paid. The Iraqis were willing to pay -- apparently, a huge black market price to get tubes they could have bought on the open market, if they were just for conventional rockets, which the Iraqis are allowed to have.
And finally, and perhaps most importantly, officials say, the Iraqis insisted on a specificity, in millimeters, precision about the kinds of tubes they wanted to buy. That would not be necessary if you were using them simply as tubes for conventional rockets, but would be needed if you wish to use those tubes, those pipes, as part of a uranium reprocessing plant.
So, again, a majority of U.S. intelligence officials believe, I'm told, that these tubes were purchased for reprocessing uranium, and not for conventional rockets. And finally, the argument by IAEA officials that the tubes were the wrong length, that they were the wrong size, that they would have had to be changed, one official said to me, all you need to do is take a saw and cut them to the right length, and they're perfect for reprocessing uranium.
BLITZER: I assume they have pretty good intelligence on that. The president repeated that allegation in his State of the Union address. I doubt the intelligence community would have recommended that he do so if he didn't have that kind of hard intelligence that you're talking about. We will hear more about that, of course, in the coming days. David Ensor, thanks very much for your reporting.
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