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April 30, 1999

John Barker
Deputy Assistant Secretary for
Nonproliferation Controls
U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC

Dear Mr. Barker:

Thank you for your letter of April 6, in response to our November 19, 1998 letter to the President regarding Iraq’s nuclear weapons program.

We were gratified to hear that the United States will insist upon maintaining sanctions "until Iraq fully complies with its obligations." We believe that such compliance must include complete resolution of outstanding questions regarding the nuclear program. However, proposals now being discussed in the Security Council move prematurely to an ongoing monitoring and verification (OMV) posture, and to removal of most sanctions. U.S. leadership is needed to hold the line on inspections as well as sanctions if Iraq is to be prevented from reconstituting its WMD programs. Even if the stated objective of OMV is "to retain all the authorities, privileges and immunities of current disarmament inspections," the Iraqis will regard a shift to OMV differently, and the result will be a weakening, if not evisceration, of the inspection regime.

We were also interested to learn that the State Department has "engaged UNSCOM and the IAEA to follow up on" Scott Ritter’s intelligence information regarding the existence of complete sets of nuclear-bomb components in Iraq. The controversy surrounding Major Ritter’s resignation has overshadowed his valuable contributions to the disarmament of Iraq, and the continued importance of unmasking the concealment mechanisms used by Iraq to retain its WMD and related technologies. We ask that you keep us informed of the progress of your follow-up with UNSCOM and the IAEA.

Your letter stated that "the IAEA has highlighted the lack of information about weaponization as one of several areas where it has continuing uncertainties and where there is a lack of complete and verifiable information." We agree that vital information on Iraq’s progress in weaponization is sorely lacking. An NCI study released last year (a copy of which is enclosed) highlights several unanswered questions about Iraq’s nuclear bomb program, most of which remain unresolved today.

Of particular concern, Iraq failed to provide credible evidence to the IAEA of the destruction of nuclear-weapons components Iraq 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. The IAEA itself raised these issues in its October 1997 consolidated report on inspections in Iraq. [S/1997/779, 8 October 1997]

We cannot agree with your suggestion that the IAEA currently shares the U.S. Government’s concern about unresolved weaponization issues. Since early 1998, the Agency has been largely silent on this matter. On those rare occasions when the weaponization issue is raised in IAEA reports, it is mentioned only briefly, and only in the context of downplaying their significance.

For example, the IAEA’s October 1998 report---its most recent published discussion of the weaponization issue---acknowledged in passing "Iraq’s stated inability to provide relevant engineering design drawings of the nuclear weapon and its principal components, or details of models," but then dismissed these concerns in a sweeping conclusion that "the uncertainties resulting from the above questions and concerns would not, of themselves, prevent the full implementation of the IAEA OMV plan." [S/1998/927, 7 October 1998] Further, these outstanding issues contradict the blanket assurances issued by IAEA Director-General ElBaradei on October 13, 1998, that "Iraq’s known nuclear weapons related assets have been destroyed, removed or rendered harmless."

The IAEA’s apparent lack of concern has also been reflected in discussions NCI has had with an Agency official responsible for inspections in Iraq. In January 1999, we informed him that NCI had compiled a two-page list of unresolved nuclear issues. His reply: "If you use a bigger typeface, you’ll have three pages." He expressed no interest in following up on these issues.

In another meeting early this year, the same official asserted that new documents provided by the Iraqis demonstrated that their progress on the development of explosive lenses had not been as significant as earlier evidence had suggested. However, when questioned, the official admitted that forensic tests to determine the authenticity of these new documents had proven "inconclusive." Thus, the new Iraqi documents may well be forgeries, and the question of the existence of complete sets of weapons components is far from resolved. Nonetheless, the IAEA is ready to move on to a monitoring posture.

In an interview aired April 27 on PBS’ documentary program "Frontline," Dr. Khidir Hamza, head of the Iraqi weaponization program until his defection in 1994, stated that, if Iraq were to acquire plutonium or highly enriched uranium, it could have nuclear bombs in two to six months. This illustrates, contrary to the IAEA’s perspective, that the question of weaponization is much more than a point of historical curiosity.

Resolution of weaponization issues should be a top priority of U.S. Government policy regarding inspections in Iraq. NCI recommends that, prior to any revision of the inspection or sanctions regimes, the Security Council direct the IAEA to provide 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 items listed in this inventory be turned over by Iraq, or their destruction be documented, prior to any consideration of switching to OMV. All documents should be shown by forensic examination to be authentic. This has been the U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM) approach with regard to missiles and chemical and biological weapons.

We thank you for your attention to this important matter, and would welcome the opportunity to discuss these issues with you further.


Paul Leventhal

Steven Dolley
Research Director


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