Iraq's Nuclear File: Still Open

By Mohammed ElBaradei

Monday, June 1, 1998; Page A17

News stories have been circulating that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is about to issue Iraq a clean bill of health and to close the nuclear file. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Following the gulf war, the U.N. Security Council entrusted the agency with the task of neutralizing Iraq's nuclear weapons program, while entrusting a Special Commission established under the aegis of the Security Council (UNSCOM) to do the same with regard to Iraq's chemical and biological weapons and long-range missile systems. With this mandate the council also provided both bodies with broad rights of investigation and inspection, rights vastly more far-reaching than those available to the IAEA prior to the gulf war, when inspections did not detect Iraq's clandestine nuclear program.

With respect to the "nuclear file," a number of issues are being raised and debated. Does Iraq still possess nuclear weapons or weapon-usable nuclear material? Does Iraq retain the practical capability -- i.e., the scientific and engineering hardware -- to produce dangerous amounts of weapon-usable nuclear material? My agency's answer to these questions after seven years of investigation and inspection is that there are "no indications" that Iraq retains the material or practical capability to produce nuclear weapons, but it must be understood that "no indication" is not the same as "no existence." This is because no matter how comprehensive the inspection, any country-wide verification process, in Iraq or anywhere else, has a degree of uncertainty that aims to verify the absence of readily concealable objects such as small amounts of nuclear material or weapons components.

In saying that there are at present no indications that Iraq has nuclear weapons, weapon-usable nuclear material or the practical capabilities to produce them, the agency has relied on its intensive and wide-searching investigation and inspection, which over time enabled the agency to develop a coherent picture of Iraq's clandestine nuclear program and to neutralize it through the destruction, removal or rendering harmless of all weapon-related items that came to its knowledge.

Because we need continuing reaffirmation that we have in fact neutralized the past program and that it will not be reconstituted, we have introduced, with the approval of the Security Council, an equally comprehensive and vigorous monitoring and verification regime that aims to detect any indication of Iraq continuing or rebuilding its nuclear-weapons program. The regime has the twin objectives of checking that Iraq's known technical and industrial assets are not used for prohibited purposes and, perhaps more important, searching country-wide for indications of any prohibited activities. Monitoring inspections are intrusive and involve access to any and all facilities, including industrial sites, scientific establishments and universities, and the use of sensitive environmental sampling and analysis techniques anywhere in Iraq.

The monitoring regime employs all the technical tools used in the mapping out of the clandestine program and retains the right to investigate and neutralize any aspect of the past program that might be discovered. It is predicated on the assumption that Iraq has the technical ability to design and construct a nuclear weapon and takes into account the large intellectual resource in Iraq in the corps of scientists and engineers who worked in Iraq's clandestine nuclear program. The agency is cognizant of the technical challenge to the monitoring regime that would result if Iraq were to directly acquire weapon-usable nuclear material from abroad.

The discussion about the agency issuing to Iraq a clean bill of health in preparation for the closure of the nuclear file runs counter to the nature of our verification and generates misunderstanding about its continuing character. Progress in neutralizing the clandestine program does not mean an end to inspection. It simply means shifting gears to ensure not only that the past program has been neutralized but also that it is not being revived.

In the same vein, a future determination by the Security Council that Iraq has satisfied the requirements for lifting the oil embargo would not bring the regime to an end. The monitoring and verification regime would continue to operate unabated until, acting in accordance with its responsibility for the maintenance of international security, the Security Council determines otherwise.

The writer is director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

[What's New] What's New[Saddam & the Bomb] Saddam & the Bomb[Home Page]Home Page