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From: Bart (129.171.32.13)
Subject:         Berlusconi says warned Bush against Iraq war
Date: October 29, 2005 at 7:24 pm PST

Berlusconi says warned Bush against Iraq war

By Phil Stewart

10/29/05 "Reuters" -- -- Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, on the eve of a trip to Washington, said he repeatedly tried to persuade U.S. President George W. Bush against invading Iraq.

The Italian leader voiced his unease with the military operation to topple Saddam Hussein during a television interview to be broadcast on Monday -- the same day he meets Bush.

Berlusconi is one of Washington's strongest allies but he did not send troops to join the invasion, preferring to dispatch troops only after the fall of Baghdad.

"I tried many times to convince the American president not to go to war," Berlusconi was quoted as saying by La7 television network, which recorded the interview.

"I tried to find other avenues and other solutions, even through an activity with the African leader (Libya's Col. Muammar) Gaddafi. But we didn't succeed and there was the military operation."

One of Berlusconi's staff said he knew Berlusconi had given La7 television an interview, but could not confirm the comments. Berlusconi is scheduled to leave for Washington on Sunday.

Berlusconi pulled about 300 soldiers from Iraq earlier this year as part of a phased withdrawal, leaving about 2,900 troops there. He is trailing in opinion polls ahead of April elections to center-left rival, Romano Prodi, who promises to withdraw all Italian forces from Iraq if he is voted into office.

NIGER URANIUM?

The context of Berlusconi's answers in the interview were unclear since La7 only provided small excerpts.

The Italian leader has been defending himself against accusations in Italy that the country's intelligence agency, possibly after government pressure, passed-off fake documents to Washington used to bolster claims of Iraq's nuclear ambitions.

The documents purported that Iraq was seeking to buy uranium from Niger.

His office has sent out two statements in the past week categorically denying the accusations, made by left-leaning La Repubblica newspaper. Sismi intelligence agency chief Nicolo Pollari is due to address a closed-door parliamentary panel over the matter on November 3.

Bush cited intelligence that Iraq sought uranium from Africa in his State of the Union address in 2003 before the Iraq war.

The claim fueled criticism from the husband of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame, whose identity was later leaked, sparking a scandal that led to the indictment on Friday of Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis Libby.

"I have never been convinced that war was the best system to make a country democratic and help it escape dictatorship, even a bloody one," Berlusconi was quoted as saying by La7.

Copyright © 2005 Reuters Limited

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