November 19, 1998
William Jefferson Clinton
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Dear Mr. President:
We are writing with regard to serious, outstanding questions about Iraq's nuclear weapons program. In your November 15 statement, announcing the settlement that secured the return of the U.N Special Commission (UNSCOM) and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors, you declared that "Iraq must resolve all outstanding issues raised by UNSCOM and the IAEA," including giving inspectors "unfettered access" to all sites and "turn[ing] over all relevant documents."
We are concerned that the IAEA has failed to get Iraq to resolve all outstanding issues and yet helps to make the case in the U.N. Security Council for "closing the nuclear file" by declaring that "Iraq's known nuclear weapons assets have been destroyed, removed or rendered harmless," as IAEA Director General Mohammed ElBaradei reported to the Security Council on October 13.
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. ElBaradei acknowledged "a few outstanding questions and concerns" but insisted that these provided no impediment to switching from investigative inspections to less intrusive monitoring because "the Agency has no evidence that Iraq is actually withholding information in these areas."
The unfortunate result of the IAEA's accommodation of Iraq, in sharp contrast to UNSCOM's confrontational approach, is the widespread perception that Iraq's chemical, biological and missile capabilities constitute the only remaining threat. This is a dangerous misperception, especially in light of the recent revelation by U.S. Marine Major (Ret.) Scott Ritter, former head of UNSCOM's Concealment Investigation Unit, that UNSCOM had credible information indicating that "Iraq had the components to assemble three implosion- type (nuclear) devices, minus the fissile material." If Iraq were to procure a small amount of plutonium or highly enriched uranium, Ritter told a Congressional hearing, Iraq could have operable nuclear weapons in a matter of "days or weeks." U.S. government intelligence officials have been quoted as regarding Ritter's information as "plausible but uncorroborated."
Significant issues regarding Saddam's nuclear-weapons program remain unresolved. A number of these issues were raised by the IAEA in its October 1997 consolidated inspection report, but were never resolved in subsequent IAEA reports. A summary of these issues, prepared by the Nuclear Control Institute, is attached. In June, we raised our concerns in a letter IAEA Director-General ElBaradei. In his reply, he assured us in general terms of the IAEA's vigilance, but he explicitly refused to address the specific questions we raised. A copy of our correspondence with ElBaradei is also attached.
It is now clear that Iraq undertook a "crash program" to develop a large, crude bomb and had begun preparations to remove bomb-grade uranium from IAEA-safeguarded, civilian fuel rods for use in weapons when the allied bombing campaign of the Gulf War halted the project. After the Gulf War, Iraq continued work on a smaller, more advanced weapon that could be delivered by Scud missiles and on developing components for it.
Although there is evidence that Iraq manufactured and tested a number of components, including the high-explosive "lenses" needed to compress the uranium core to trigger a nuclear explosion, none of these components or evidence of their destruction have been surrendered to IAEA inspectors. Nor has Iraq provided the IAEA 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 team of more than 200 Ph.Ds remains on hand. The IAEA acknowledges they are not closely monitored and increasingly difficult to track as the scientists are supposedly being transferred back to the "private sector."
Under these circumstances, the IAEA should be directed by the U.N. Security Council to provide 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 United States, as the current President of 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." This has been UNSCOM's approach with regard missiles and chemical and biological weapons, and it should be the IAEA's approach to nuclear weapons, as well. The burden of proof should be on Iraq, not on the inspectors.
We also urge a complete assessment by the U.S. intelligence community of information obtained by Major Ritter on Iraqi concealment of nuclear-weapons components. He has said this intelligence was provided by a "northern European" government from three Iraqi defectors, one of whom was privy to high-level discussions of concealment activities by Saddam's hitherto unknown Special Security Organization, an elite unit assigned to protect him and his weapons of mass destruction. Ritter considered the information solid because it corresponded with details of how this unit was trucking missile and other weapon components from one depot to another, which he had obtained from independent sources. Through the use of U-2 imaging, Ritter was able to pinpoint the locations of five of seven buildings from rough outlines of the structures provided by one of the defectors.
Rolf Ekeus, former head of UNSCOM, suggested in June 1997 that UNSCOM suspected that Iraq was hiding nuclear components.
...Iraq produced components, so to say, elements for the nuclear warhead. Where are the remnants of that? They can't evaporate. And there, Iraq's explanation is that (they) melted away. And we are still very skeptical about that. We feel that Iraq is still trying to protect them....We know that they have existed. But we doubt they have been destroyed. But we are searching. [Remarks at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, June 10, 1997]
These questions are not merely of historical interest, but directly affect Iraq's current ability to produce nuclear weapons. The prudent assumption for the IAEA should be that Iraq's nuclear weaponization program continues, and that Iraq may now lack only the fissile material. Even the possibility that Iraq has already procured this material cannot be ruled out because of the serious nuclear-security lapses in the former Soviet Union and the abundance of such material in inadequately safeguarded civilian nuclear programs worldwide.
We believe that the threat of an Iraqi nuclear breakout remains real. We strongly urge you to commit the United States to oppose the closing of the Iraqi nuclear file and the lifting of economic sanctions until all outstanding questions on Iraq's nuclear-weapons program are resolved. We appreciate your attention to this important matter.
cc: Chairman and Ranking Minority Members:
House Committee on International Relations
Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence
Senate Select Committee on Intelligence
House Committee on National Security
Senate Armed Services Committee
State Department Response to NCI
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