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Monday, May 3, 1999

CONTACT: Steven Dolley


In an exchange of correspondence released today by the Nuclear Control Institute (NCI), the U.S. State Department disclosed that it was "engaged" with United Nations inspection agencies in investigating intelligence reports that Iraq possesses complete sets of nuclear-bomb components, minus the fissile material. In its response, NCI criticized the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for minimizing Iraq’s weaponization progress based upon highly questionable Iraqi documents that may well be forgeries.

In a letter to NCI, John Barker, deputy assistant secretary for nonproliferation controls at the State Department, stated that "the IAEA has highlighted the lack of information about weaponization as one of the areas where it has continuing uncertainties and where there is a lack of complete and verifiable information." The U.S. Government, Barker emphasized, maintains its "firm position that there can be no consideration of lifting UN sanctions on Iraq until Iraq fully complies with its obligations." Barker also characterized intelligence reports that Iraq possesses three complete sets of nuclear-bomb components, lacking only fissile material, as "unconfirmed" but "serious allegations, and we have engaged UNSCOM and the IAEA to follow up on them."

In NCI’s reply, Paul Leventhal and Steven Dolley, NCI’s president and research director, praised State’s commitment to investigate weaponization, but criticized the IAEA’s failure to follow up. "We cannot agree with your suggestion that the IAEA currently shares the U.S. Government’s concern about unresolved weaponization issues," they wrote. "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."

Of particular concern to NCI is the IAEA’s failure to refute intelligence reports about Iraq’s efforts to conceal complete sets of bomb components, first made public last September by former UNSCOM chief inspector Scott Ritter. IAEA Director-General ElBaradei reported to the Security Council on October 13, 1998 that "all available, credible information…provides no indication that Iraq has assembled nuclear weapons with or without fissile cores." That same report offered a sweeping assurance that "Iraq’s known nuclear weapons related assets have been destroyed, removed or rendered harmless."

In their letter, Leventhal and Dolley pointed out that IAEA attempts to dismiss this intelligence rely on dubious evidence. They recounted a meeting this winter at which an IAEA official responsible for inspections in Iraq "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 ‘uncertain.’ 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."

Leventhal and Dolley proposed that the Security Council direct the IAEA to account for the destruction of "all nuclear-bomb components, designs and models" before revising sanctions or moving to an ongoing monitoring and verification (OMV) posture. They warned in their letter that although the Department’s objective for future monitoring activities 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."

The text of the two letters and other information on Iraq’s nuclear weapons program are available on NCI’s web site, "Saddam and the Bomb," at

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