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Tuesday, September 15, 1998

CONTACT: Steven Dolley


If Iraq acquires fissile material from an outside source, it could assemble three nuclear weapons in "days or weeks" using pre-fabricated components it has concealed from UN inspectors, former UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) Inspector Scott Ritter testified today in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Responding to questions from Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-NY), chairman of the House International Relations Committee, Ritter said his "confidence is very low indeed" that UN inspectors could detect the smuggling of weapons-usable nuclear material into Iraq.

In August, Ritter resigned as UNSCOM's chief inspector of Iraqi concealment activities after the U.S. government intervened to block an inspection of facilities that UNSCOM had suspected contained hidden components for weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear- weapon components.

On September 3, Ritter told a Senate hearing that Iraq had manufactured the components for three nuclear weapons and lacked only the fissile material needed to make them operable. He estimated it would take years for Iraq to have operable nuclear weapons if Iraq had to reconstitute the fissile-material production plants destroyed by UN inspectors after the Gulf War.

At today's hearing, Gilman asked how long it would take if Iraq acquired the needed material on the black market or from another outside source. Ritter responded Iraq could assemble three nuclear weapons "in a very short period of time," which he further defined as "days or weeks" when pressed by Gilman. He also said UNSCOM had information indicating the weapons were being re-designed to fit Iraq's Scud missiles.

"This is ominous news and should dispel all the loose talk that Iraq no longer poses a nuclear threat," commented Paul Leventhal, president of the Nuclear Control Institute (NCI). "Ritter has confirmed our estimate that Iraq would be only days or weeks away from having nuclear weapons if it obtains the needed plutonium or bomb-grade uranium from an outside source. Iraq's chances of successfully smuggling in fissile material are increased by the chaotic situation in the former Soviet Union and by growing commerce in plutonium fuel in Europe and Japan."

NCI has issued a series of reports warning that Iraqi nuclear scientists had continued to advance their earlier work on nuclear weapons and to lie about their activities to UN inspectors. These reports can be found on the NCI Website: http://www.nci.org/sadb.htm

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