- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 29, 2003

While most of the public's attention was focused Monday on chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix and his report on Iraqi chemical and biological weapons programs, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released its own report on Saddam Hussein's efforts to develop nuclear weapons.
In stark contrast to Mr. Blix's statement, which detailed Iraq's record of cheating and violations of U.N. disarmament resolutions, the statement made by IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei reflects a troubling complacency. In that statement, and in one interview after another during the past week, Mr. ElBaradei has said that the IAEA has found no evidence that Iraq has revived its nuclear-weapons program since the early 1990s.
Mr. ElBaradei's assertions have received a warm reception in The Washington Post and the New York Times, both of which ran stories suggesting that his analysis debunked President Bush's statements about the dangers posed by Iraq. But it strains credulity to believe, based on just two months of inspections of a police state the size of California (and given the reality that critical research can be carried out in hidden underground facilities and in private homes), that weapons inspectors would be able to determine with any degree of confidence that Saddam isn't trying to build nuclear weapons.
Indeed, a careful reading of Mr. ElBaradei's statement to the Security Council leaves plenty of room for skepticism. Several experts on nuclear proliferation issues, among them former U.N. weapons inspector David Kay, told The Washington Times yesterday that Mr. ElBaradei is exaggerating the IAEA's success in halting Iraq's nuclear program from 1991-98, when the agency was able to conduct inspections in that country. For example, Mr. ElBaradei claimed that by the end of 1992, the IAEA "had largely destroyed, removed or rendered harmless all Iraqi facilities and equipment relevant to nuclear weapons production." Moreover, by December 1998, when Saddam threw all weapons inspectors out of the country, "we were confident that we had not missed any significant component of Iraq's nuclear program." There is no evidence as yet that Iraq has revived the program since that time, he added.
But, as the Nuclear Control Institute (NCI), a Washington-based research group, noted in a recent study, Iraq "continues to withhold important information about its nuclear program weapons design, procurement logs, experiment data, an accounting of nuclear materials and the documentation of foreign assistance. Iraq retains physical infrastructure needed to build a nuclear weapon … Should Iraq acquire fissile material, it would be able to build a nuclear weapon within a year." NCI also noted that much of the evidence of Iraqi nuclear development was not uncovered by IAEA inspections, but was learned from Saddam's son-in-law, who defected in 1995.
Mr. Kay said yesterday that Mr. ElBaradei in effect tried to "whitewash" the fact Saddam has continued to keep his nuclear-weapons scientists together working for Iraq's atomic energy commission.
The grim reality is that, for the past 12 years, Saddam Hussein has skillfully used deception and stalling tactics to avoid nuclear disarmament. President Bush realizes that this intolerable state affairs must not continue.


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