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February 17, 1999

H.E. Mr. Peter Burleigh
Acting Ambassador
United States Mission to the United Nations
799 United Nations Plaza
New York, NY 10017-3505

Responding to Iraq’s Continuing Nuclear Weapons Program

Your Excellency:

With regard to the Security Council’s January 30 decision to establish three panels to review United Nations policy toward Iraq, including one on disarmament issues, we enclose for your review a videotape and transcript of a report from a recent CBS news program, "60 Minutes II," which concludes that Iraq’s nuclear bomb program is still active.

In this report, which aired on January 27, Dr. Khidir Hamza, the former head of the Iraqi nuclear-bomb design program until his defection in 1994, provides compelling testimony that, if Iraq were to acquire plutonium or highly enriched uranium, it could have nuclear bombs in short order. Dr. Hamza said that Iraq was two to six months from completing a bomb when the Gulf War interrupted the program and that Iraq has added five thousand more employees into the nuclear weapons program since the war.

Dr. Hamza’s revelations support the Nuclear Control Institute’s own analysis of the advanced state of Iraq’s nuclear weapons program and of the severe limitations of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) nuclear inspections in Iraq. An NCI study released last year (the main points of which are discussed in the enclosed Washington Post "Outlook" article) highlights several unanswered questions about Iraq’s nuclear bomb program, most of which remain unresolved today. For example, despite the IAEA’s October 13, 1998 report to the Security Council that "Iraq’s known nuclear weapons assets have been destroyed, removed or rendered harmless," Iraq has refused to surrender or provide evidence of the destruction of nuclear-weapons components it had previously manufactured, including the high-explosive "lenses" needed to compress a uranium or plutonium core to trigger a nuclear explosion. Nor has Iraq provided IAEA inspectors with its bomb design or a scale model, despite repeated requests. Iraq also has refused IAEA requests for full details of its foreign nuclear-procurement activities and for an official government order terminating work on its nuclear weapons program.

Meanwhile, Saddam's nuclear brain trust of more than 200 Ph.Ds remains on hand. Even before the U.N. inspectors departed Iraq late last year, the IAEA acknowledged that these scientists were not closely monitored and were becoming increasingly difficult to track. Now, of course, there is no monitoring of their activities at all. These questions are not merely of historical interest, but directly affect Iraq's current ability to produce nuclear weapons if it were able to acquire (or has already acquired) fissile material from an outside source.

We are concerned that the IAEA has failed to get Iraq to resolve all outstanding issues and yet continues to encourage those in the U.N. Security Council seeking to close the nuclear file. The IAEA apparently believes that the burden of proof is on the inspectors, not on Iraq, and demonstrates an almost naive confidence in an absence of evidence to contradict unsubstantiated Iraqi claims. Dr. Hamza’s revelations clearly demonstrate the peril in such an approach.

Now, the IAEA acknowledges (in its February 8 report to the Security Council) that it is "unable to provide any assurance that Iraq is in compliance with its obligations under (Security Council) resolutions" since all inspections in Iraq ended on December 16. Yet, the agency continues to see itself "in a position to proceed with full implementation" of its plan to shift to ongoing monitoring and verification (OMV)---a less politically intrusive program---and thereby "investigate further the remaining questions and concerns" if it gains "full and free access in Iraq." However, the Security Council’s May 14 presidential statement makes clear that the IAEA can switch to OMV only after reporting to the Security Council "…that the necessary technical and substantive clarifications have been made, including provision by Iraq of the necessary responses to all IAEA questions and concerns…"

Under these circumstances, the Security Council’s disarmament review panel should direct the IAEA to provide such a definitive report, including a complete inventory of all nuclear-bomb components, designs and models for which there is documentation or intelligence but which the agency cannot account for. The Security Council should insist that all elements listed in this inventory be produced by Iraq or otherwise accounted for prior to any consideration of closing the nuclear file and switching to OMV. This has been the U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM) approach with regard missiles and chemical and biological weapons.

We hope you find the "60 Minutes II" report, in which the Nuclear Control Institute participated, to be informative. Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We are prepared to respond to any questions you may have on the continuing nuclear danger in Iraq.


Paul Leventhal

Steven Dolley
Research Director

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