Iraqi Nuclear File Kept Open, New VX Concerns

Howard Diamond

ON JULY 29, the UN Security Council rejected a Russian proposal to conclude investigations into Iraq's past nuclear weapons program following a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) citing unresolved concerns about Baghdad's residual capabilities. Previously, on June 24, the Security Council extended sanctions on Iraq for an additional 60 days following UN weapons inspectors' discovery of new evidence of weaponized VX and Baghdad's continued non-cooperation with the UN Special commission (UNSCOM). Iraq responded to the July extension of nuclear investigations by claiming "Iraq has met all the basic and practical requirements for disarmament" and demanding the Security Council lift the "unjust embargo."

In mid-May, the Security Council announced that it would direct the IAEA to reorient its work in Iraq from investigation to monitoring and verification activities, if the agency could address the outstanding issues detailed in its last two reports to the council. But on July 25, IAEA Director General Mohammed ElBaradei reported that questions still remain about Iraq's past nuclear activities.

In his report ElBaradei said, "While no indications of the current existence of proscribed equipment or materials in Iraq have been found…[the IAEA cannot] provide absolute assurance of the absence of readily concealable items, such as components of centrifuge machines or copies of weapon-related documentation." He recommended that the IAEA continue its investigations in the context of its ongoing monitoring and verification plan. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson told reporters July 29 that the IAEA report "makes it absolutely clear that Iraq has made no progress; that it has failed to provide information on weapons design, on uranium enrichment, on nuclear experts. Accordingly, there is no reason to close the nuclear file."

In early June, Richard Butler, the executive chairman of UNSCOM, briefed the Security Council on a "road map" of the outstanding issues blocking the commission's effort to eliminate Iraq's chemical and biological weapons and proscribed ballistic missile programs. Utilizing photos from American U-2 reconnaissance aircraft, Butler and his aides provided the council with new intelligence-based information outlining how Baghdad has attempted to obstruct and mislead UNSCOM's investigations, and has tried to conceal the remnants of its proscribed weapons and production capabilities. The briefings were requested by Security Council members—chiefly France and Russia—which have accused UNSCOM of dragging out the disarmament process in Iraq and failing to provide adequate information to the council to justify its work.

Butler traveled to Baghdad June 11 to 15 to work with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz on developing a "schedule of work" designed to close the gaps in Iraq's disarmament spelled out in UNSCOM's "road map." Although a plan for inspections was agreed upon, Aziz informed Butler that Baghdad would not cooperate with UNSCOM's investigations into Iraq's production and weaponization of the chemical agent VX, illicit holdings of missile propellants, and proscribed weapons-related concealment activities by Iraq's security services. Aziz also repeated Baghdad's position that all available information on Iraq's biological weapons program had been made available to UNSCOM, and that no further cooperation on retrieving documents would be given.

The day before the Security Council's June 24 sanctions vote, The Washington Post reported that UNSCOM had discovered VX (along with a stabilizing agent needed for weapons purposes) on missile warhead fragments unearthed in May at a warhead destruction site. Iraq continues to insist that it never successfully stabilized VX for use in weapons. According to UNSCOM officials, in addition to disproving Iraq's claims about the limited success of its VX program, the discovery also calls into question the veracity of Baghdad's declarations on the number and contents of its "special" (chemical or biological) missile warheads.

During his June visit to Baghdad, Butler advised Iraq of the VX discovery and agreed, at Iraq's request, to have additional samples analyzed in French and Swiss labs. The original samples were analyzed at the U.S. Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. Butler insists that the first set of results will stand regardless of the outcome of the new tests. According to one UNSCOM official, the discovery proves that the so-called "first class documents" on special warheads Iraq gave to UNSCOM are either fakes or proof that Baghdad is unaware of its own holdings of special weapons, the official said.

Adding further to UNSCOM's case against Iraq was the July 18 discovery of a document at Iraqi air force headquarters listing expended weapons that included four types of special munitions. Although a copy of the list was made for UNSCOM, the senior Iraqi official present prevented its removal by the inspection team. In a July 22 letter to the Security Council, Butler said the document was placed in a safe in Iraq's National Monitoring Directorate in Baghdad, under both UN and Iraqi seal. Butler is scheduled to return to Baghdad in early August in an effort to resolve the latest round in the confrontation between UN inspectors and Iraq and will review the disputed document during the trip.