Saturday, October 4, 2003

Saddam Hussein’s government paid North Korea $10 million for medium-range Nodong missile technology in the months before the Iraq war, but never received any goods because of U.S. pressure, the chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq said yesterday.

David Kay, who is leading the Iraq Survey Group, said there is “a lot of evidence” Iraq was rebuilding its banned missile program, which it actively hid from U.N. weapons inspectors.

Mr. Kay, in a telephone interview with reporters, also said the discovery that Iraq’s intelligence service had built at least a dozen clandestine weapons laboratories was one of the surprises of the three-month search for weapons of mass destruction and missile programs that he led.

“The other surprise is the extent to which the Iraqis had moved ahead in the missile area,” Mr. Kay said, noting that Iraq had three missile programs that violated U.N. sanctions against building missiles with ranges greater than 93 miles.

He said European countries were involved in Iraq’s three covert missile programs, which included a copy of the 620-mile-range Nodong missile.

“I can’t name them right now,” he said.

Mr. Kay also admitted that he was surprised not to have found stocks of hidden chemical, biological and nuclear-related weapons of mass destruction.

“I think all of us who entered Iraq expected the job of actually discovering deployed weapons to be easier than it has turned out to be,” he said.

On North Korea, Mr. Kay said the Iraqis launched negotiations for North Korean missile assistance in 1999 and the cooperation continued through 2002. It was the first time U.S. officials had disclosed a link between Iraq’s missile program and North Korea.

Both Iraq under Saddam and North Korea, along with Iran, were labeled as an international “axis of evil” by President Bush.

Mr. Bush yesterday said the evidence in the interim report Mr. Kay delivered to Congress this week on the first three months of the search for weapons showed Saddam was “a threat, a serious danger.”

“The report states that Saddam Hussein’s regime had a clandestine network of biological laboratories, a live strain of deadly agent botulinum, sophisticated concealment efforts, and advanced design work on prohibited longer-range missiles,” Mr. Bush said on the South Lawn of the White House.

Mr. Bush said the preliminary findings “already make clear that Saddam Hussein actively deceived the international community, that Saddam Hussein was in clear violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441 and that Saddam Hussein was a danger to the world.”

Critics, including Democrats on Capitol Hill who have heard the classified briefings Mr. Kay gave this week, said the fact no weapons of mass destruction have been found should cause the administration to change its rhetoric.

“I would hope that at a minimum, that the administration would hold off continuing to make the kind of statements that it is making, even recently, about Saddam Hussein’s capabilities in this area,” said Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee.

Mr. Kay gave a classified briefing to the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday.

“This isn’t an issue about intentions or what the hopes were or what the plans were or what the programs were,” Mr. Levin said. “What took us to war were statements about weapons of mass destruction in the possession of Saddam Hussein and the threat of their imminent use.”

After meeting with senators yesterday, Mr. Kay, a CIA adviser to the Defense Department, told reporters that Iraq’s extensive missile program was “all hidden.”

“They were much more than paper studies; there was actual physical work taking place on several of these. [They were] not discovered by the inspectors because the Iraqis prevented them,” Mr. Kay said.

As for the assistance Iraq was receiving from the unnamed countries, he said: “Our fear is that that same assistance may be made available to other countries, and we would like to close off that avenue of proliferation.”

Under the terms of the North Korean deal, Iraq was to receive “missile technology for the Nodong, a 1,300-kilometer missile, as well as other nonmissile related but prohibited technologies.”

“The Iraqis actually advanced the North Koreans $10 million,” he said. “In late 2002, the North Koreans came to the Iraqis as a result of the Iraqis inquiring ‘Where is the stuff we paid for?’ and the North Koreans said, ‘Sorry, there’s so much U.S. attention on us that we cannot deliver it.’”

Baghdad then demanded that North Korea return the $10 million. “And when Operation Iraqi Freedom commenced, the North Koreans were still refusing to give the $10 million back,” he said.

The information was disclosed in documents obtained by the U.S. survey group that showed “the Iraqis attempting more vigorously every time to recover that $10 million.”

Mr. Kay said the bad deal was “a lesson in negotiating with the North Koreans that the Iraqis found out the hard way.”

“Money in advance may not come your way if there is nondelivery on a contract,” he said.

Iraq also was working to convert some of the 300 Chinese-made HY-2 Silkworm antiship missiles into land-attack cruise missiles, Mr. Kay said. The most ambitious program involved replacing the liquid-fueled rocket motor on the Silkworm with turbine engines taken from Russian-made Mi-8 and Mi-17 transport helicopters.

Mr. Kay said the conversion program was “intriguing and, I guess, frightening if it had been carried out.”

“This was designed to be a 1,000-kilometer cruise missile that would have carried a warhead of about 500 kilograms, a significant warhead with a large range,” Mr. Kay said.

Other Silkworms had been modified into 93-mile-range land-attack cruise missiles and about 12 had been built at the time the Iraqi war started March 19.

“One of these was the one that slammed into the Kuwaiti shopping center during the war,” Mr. Kay said.

Other covert missile programs involved two liquid-fueled rockets that were “in the design stage” and would have ranges of up to 620 miles, including the Nodong derivative.

These missiles “were far enough advanced for us to have the diagrams that we managed to recover, thanks to Iraqi scientists and engineering assistance,” Mr. Kay said.

Mr. Kay said inspectors have theories about what may have happened to Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, including that the arms were smuggled out of the country or hidden immediately before or during the outbreak of the war.

“Multiple reports” from Iraqis indicate that weapons of mass destruction or related goods were shipped out to Iran, Syria and Jordan, Mr. Kay said. “It’s very difficult to confirm that from inside Iraq. We [are] trying to do that.”

Mr. Kay said many scientists are still afraid to work with the Americans because of security concerns, noting that two scientists working with U.S. officials had been shot — one fatally — since the war. Officials don’t know who attacked the scientists, but believe it is possible they were retribution attacks for working with the Americans.

“It’s true, two who have collaborated with us, one has been assassinated, literally hours after meeting with one of the ISG [Iraq Survey Group] officers,” Mr. Kay said. “Another took six bullet wounds and it’s amazing to me that he is still alive.”

Joseph Curl contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports

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