Unanswered Questions in Iraq

Washington Post,
Monday, June 22, 1998; Page A20

It is reassuring to hear from Mohammed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA], that his agency doesn't want to "close the nuclear file" on Iraq ["Iraq's Nuclear File: Still Open," op-ed, June 1]. Nonetheless, Mr. ElBaradei wants to change the IAEA's posture in Iraq from investigative inspections to primarily passive environmental monitoring, thereby making it easier for Iraqi scientists to conceal what the IAEA is looking for. Any such move is premature until a number of outstanding questions about the Iraqi "Manhattan Project," raised by the IAEA itself in a report last October, are resolved.

For example, Iraq never surrendered its bomb-design documents. Iraq has admitted fabrication of nuclear-bomb components for testing but never turned them over (contrary to Mr. ElBaradei's claim that the IAEA has neutralized "all weapon-related items that came to knowledge"). The equipment used to make these components has not been accounted for fully. Iraq has imported such equipment since the gulf war, but continues to withhold details about its postwar procurement network. How can we accept Mr. ElBaradei's statement that the IAEA has "neutralized" Iraq's bomb program if the IAEA still does not know all of Iraq's foreign suppliers?

Mr. ElBaradei refers to scientists and engineers who "worked" in Iraq's clandestine nuclear program even though they all remain in Iraq and, by the IAEA's admission, are difficult to monitor as they are transferred to the "private sector" (whatever that means in Iraq). He acknowledges the "technical challenge" to IAEA monitoring if Iraq were to acquire weapons-usable nuclear material from abroad -- politesse for admitting that these scientists could construct a workable nuclear bomb undetected if they acquired plutonium or bomb-grade uranium on the black market. This warning was contained in the IAEA's report to the Security Council last October, but was oddly absent from the most recent report, which reinforced the call by China, France and Russia to close the Iraqi nuclear file.

At U.S. insistence, the Security Council in May made the right decision that all unanswered questions about Iraq's nuclear program must be resolved before any shift from inspections to monitoring takes place. Mr. ElBaradei should ask the IAEA board of governors to support the Security Council's position and to direct the leader of the IAEA Action Team in Iraq, Gary Dillon, to make finding answers to the unresolved questions his top priority.




The writers are, respectively, research director and president of the Nuclear Control Institute.