- The Washington Times - Monday, November 17, 2003

The Bush administration is working on a $16 million plan to keep Iraqi scientists occupied with peaceful research at home instead of taking their expertise to countries or terrorist organizations that could threaten the United States, according to a draft proposal obtained by the Associated Press.

The State Department proposal covers costs for the first year of the program that would rely heavily on unpaid assistance from the American scientific community, according to the 11-page draft.

But with a few top Iraqi scientists already believed to have left for countries such as Syria and Iran — both on the U.S. list of terrorism-sponsoring states — some analysts fear the initiative, which could take at least one year to implement, may be coming too late.

“There’s a definite concern that people have already gone astray,” said Michael Roston with the Russian-American Nuclear Security Advisory Council. “So the State Department’s efforts to get this thing rolling are very important.”

Mr. Roston is among a select group of nonproliferation specialists and representatives from the American scientific community who have seen the Nov. 3 draft, which is circulating among outside analysts and within the State Department.

Although the Bush administration said it would count on Iraqi scientists to lead weapons hunters to a suspected cache of chemical and biological weapons, none has helped. No plan was implemented for dealing with those who cooperated, and only now are officials beginning to consider employing Iraqi scientists who have been out of work for eight months.

Modher Sadeq-Saba al-Tamimi, the Iraqi scientist who headed Saddam Hussein’s long-range missile program, fled to neighboring Iran, AP has learned from U.S. officers involved in the weapons hunt. Tehran yesterday denied the report. A few other scientists involved in former weapons programs have gone to Syria and Jordan, U.S. officials said.

The State Department initiative hopes to encourage members of the scientific community to feel safe in coming forward and being productive in directing their country’s future.

The project is titled the Science, Technology and Engineering Mentorship Initiative for Iraq, and nicknamed Stem II. It was developed by the office of George H. Atkinson, the State Department’s special adviser on science and technology, and some of the ideas originated with Rose Gottemoeller, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who was involved in retraining Soviet scientists.

“Right now, the main opportunities are in neighboring states, so we need to try to engage them quickly,” Miss Gottemoeller said. “The best way to do that is through reconstruction of their country.”

The plan envisions a three-stage approach in which scientists would be paid first to submit research proposals. Each submission will be awarded about $450 — a huge sum in Iraq. The U.S. occupation currently is paying scientists there about $50 a month, but they remain unemployed.

Planners imagine that about 750 scientists will submit proposals and estimate that about 75 percent will be viable.

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