HOLD FOR RELEASE: 11 AM (EST)
CONTACT: Steven Dolley, 202-822-8444
Thursday, February 19, 1998
WASHINGTON-- The Nuclear Control Institute (NCI) warned today that contrary to the widespread belief that Iraq's nuclear weapons program no longer poses an immediate threat, evidence collected by United Nations inspectors in fact points to an active, advanced program that poses a clear and present danger.
NCI WARNS THAT SADDAM MAY HAVE
ACTIVE NUCLEAR WEAPONS PROGRAM
"Any diplomatic solution to avert another war in Iraq should not bargain away nuclear inspections as the price of winning Saddam's cooperation with UN inspections of suspected ballistic missile, chemical and biological weapons sites," said NCI President Paul Leventhal. France, Russia and China have pressed such a proposal.
"Nor should UN inspectors from the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) be permitted to curtail their investigations because of 'diminishing returns' and switch to less aggressive monitoring efforts," Leventhal said. "Instead of cutting back, the IAEA should be re-doubling its efforts."
In 1990, just prior to the Gulf War, NCI had warned that Iraq might be only weeks away from having a bomb because it could divert bomb-grade uranium fuel from its civilian research reactors between visits by IAEA inspectors. NCI's warning went unheeded at the time, only to be proven correct when Saddam's son-in-law defected in 1995 and disclosed he had ordered a "crash program" to produce a bomb by this means until allied bombing halted the effort.
"It should be remembered," Leventhal said, "that in 1990 Saddam successfully engaged in a grand deception to draw the world's attention away from his nuclear program by drawing attention to his chemical and biological weapons. After the Gulf War, a vast Iraqi Manhattan Project was unearthed, and most of it has been destroyed. Today, we must be concerned that Saddam is again trying to divert attention from a small but deadly remnant of his nuclear program---the actual weapons components that never have been found and his scientists who remain in place."
In support of NCI's current concerns about Iraq's nuclear threat, the Institute held a press conference to release a report, "Iraq and the Bomb: The Nuclear Threat Continues," prepared by NCI Research Director Steven Dolley. The NCI report finds that the IAEA's own detailed reporting to the UN Security Council should raise concerns that Iraqi nuclear scientists have continued to advance their earlier work on nuclear weapons and to lie about their activities to UN inspectors.
The NCI report cites IAEA documents to show that Iraq's nuclear scientists are still in place, that key nuclear-weapon components remain unaccounted for, that major gaps still exist in the information Iraq has provided about its post-war nuclear weapon design work, and that the clandestine procurement program for nuclear equipment and materials has continued.
According to the report, "After examining the evidence, it is prudent to assume that there is a small, well-concealed nuclear weapons program in Iraq, possibly with fully developed components suitable for rapid assembly into one or more workable weapons if the requisite fissile material (highly enriched uranium or plutonium) were acquired. If Iraq has been able to smuggle in the needed material from, say, Russia or another former Soviet Republic without being detected, the nuclear threat could be quite real and even eclipse the CBW threat."
The report also noted major gaps in information available to UN inspectors about Iraq's program to enrich uranium to weapons grade with centrifuges, and concluded it was possible, albeit less likely, that Iraq has succeeded in concealing a small plant for producing its own bomb material.
"The danger of Iraq having nuclear weapons or being very close to having them is still quite real," Leventhal said. "Nuclear weapons remains Saddam's number one prize. Whether war or diplomacy is used to solve the crisis over inspections, the United States and its allies must make elimination Saddam's nuclear capability our number one strategic objective."
The NCI report, and the most recent IAEA documents, can be downloaded from NCI's website: http://www.nci.org/sadb.htm
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