One said: 'Let's say Mr Cohen put a friendly arm around the president to say sorry about the forged documents, but then squeezed his shoulder hard enough to convey the message, 'Let's hear no more about this affair from your government'. Basically he was telling Niger to shut up.'
The dramatic American intervention reflects growing concern about the continuing row over claims that America and Britain distorted evidence to justify the war against Iraq.
It follows The Telegraph's exclusive interview with Hama Hamadou, Niger's prime minister, last week. Mr Hamadou said that the Niger government had never had discussions with Iraq about uranium and called on Tony Blair to produce the 'evidence' he claims to have to confirm that Iraq sought uranium from Niger in the 1990s.
American officials denied that there had been any attempt to 'gag' the Niger government. The Niamey official, however, said that there was 'a clear attempt to stop any more embarrassing stories coming out of Niger'.
He said that Washington's warning was likely to be heeded. 'Mr Cohen did not spell it out but everybody in Niger knows what the consequences of upsetting America or Britain would be. We are the world's second-poorest country and we depend on international aid to survive.'
Really, this whole WMD allegation is just becoming an exercise in spin control. If you go out to a party and don't check the news for 24 hours you discover a new justification for the invasion of Iraq has emerged. The latest, remaking the Middle East, has been around since the PNAC was founded and is precisely what the Bush administration denied was their agenda before the war. By adopting it at this late stage, it seems to me, the Bush people are actually admitting that previous justifications were a fabrication. Heavying the Nigerien government to shut up about any embarrassing factual errors is not going to help shore up that justification very much.
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