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Wednesday, April 15, 1998

CONTACT: Steven Dolley


Washington---The latest report of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Iraq, finding no current evidence of a nuclear-weapons program, is flawed and incomplete and should be received at the United Nations with skepticism and disbelief, the Nuclear Control Institute warned today.

"The absence of evidence of Iraqi efforts to build the bomb is not evidence of the absence of a bomb program," said NCI President Paul Leventhal. "The fact Iraq makes unsubstantiated claims and the IAEA cannot find any evidence to dispute these claims should be cause for concern, not an excuse to cease intrusive nuclear inspections as the IAEA proposes. When doubts persist, the presumption should be that active investigation and inspections must continue."

Leventhal's statement came in response to the IAEA's fifth consolidated report on nuclear inspections in Iraq (S/1998/312), issued on April 9. The IAEA reported that in its latest round of inspections from October through March, including recent visits to previously off-limits presidential sites, "no indication of prohibited materials, equipment or activities was detected during these inspections."

The IAEA also found that Iraq had "successfully completed" a "full, final and complete" declaration of its secret nuclear program, as well as a summary of the technical achievements of the program. The IAEA said it regards Iraq's technical report as "consistent" with the IAEA's own "technically coherent picture" of the Iraqi program.

Yet, Leventhal noted, Saddam's nuclear scientists remain in place. "Neither they nor their research are under close surveillance, and the IAEA admits that keeping track of them is becoming even more difficult as they are reassigned to the 'private sector,'" Leventhal said.

NCI has found that many important questions about Iraq's nuclear weapons program remain unanswered. In a detailed report issued in February, NCI noted:

• Though Iraq is known to have manufactured and tested a number of critical nuclear-weapon components, none have been surrendered to United Nations inspectors.

• Iraq has never provided IAEA with its bomb design and related research, despite repeated requests.

• IAEA never followed up on an intelligence report that Iraq fabricated a full-scale bomb model from metallic parts. In fact, IAEA did not even bother to share this information with the U.N. Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM).

• Iraq continued to receive outside assistance, and to procure technology for its nuclear program, after the Gulf War. The extent to which those activities continue today remains unclear.

• Iraq has failed to confirm to the IAEA that orders were issued to terminate its nuclear-weapons program.

The NCI report concluded: "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."

Regarding the IAEA's latest report, Leventhal said: "Unfortunately, it will give new impetus to efforts by Russia and France, Iraq's original nuclear benefactors, to 'close the book' on the Iraqi nuclear file as a step toward lifting economic sanctions. The IAEA may be satisfied that Iraq's most recent accounting of its nuclear weapons program is 'full, final and complete,' but this would not be the first time the IAEA has been wrong about Iraq. The Agency should be directed to redouble its inspection effort and not to retreat to a more passive monitoring system that would, in the IAEA's words, 'minimize the disturbance of Iraq's industrial and technical activities.'"

NCI's report, "Iraq and the Bomb: The Nuclear Threat Continues," is available on the web at http://www.nci.org/sadb.htm

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