September 27, 2002
Agency disavows report on Iraq arms
By Joseph Curl
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
International Atomic Energy Agency says that a report cited by
President Bush as evidence that Iraq in 1998 was "six months away" from
developing a nuclear weapon does not exist.
"There's never been a report like that issued from this agency,"
Mark Gwozdecky, the IAEA's chief spokesman, said yesterday in a
telephone interview from the agency's headquarters in Vienna, Austria.
"We've never put a time frame on how long it might take Iraq to
construct a nuclear weapon in 1998," said the spokesman of the agency
charged with assessing Iraq's nuclear capability for the United Nations.
In a Sept. 7 news conference with British Prime Minister Tony
Blair, Mr. Bush said: "I would remind you that when the inspectors
first went into Iraq and were denied — finally denied access [in 1998],
a report came out of the Atomic — the IAEA that they were six months
away from developing a weapon.
"I don't know what more evidence we need," said the president,
defending his administration's case that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein
was building weapons of mass destruction.
The White House says Mr. Bush was referring to an earlier IAEA report.
"He's referring to 1991 there," said Deputy Press Secretary Scott
McClellan. "In '91, there was a report saying that after the war they
found out they were about six months away."
Mr. Gwozdecky said no such report was ever issued by the IAEA in 1991.
Many news agencies — including The Washington Times — reported Mr.
Bush's Sept. 7 comments as referring to a 1998 IAEA report. The White
House did not ask for a correction from The Times.
To clear up the confusion, Mr. McClellan cited two news articles
from 1991 — a July 16 story in the London Times by Michael Evans and a
July 18 story in the New York Times by Paul Lewis. But neither article
cites an IAEA report on Iraq's nuclear-weapons program or states that
Saddam was only six months away from "developing a weapon" — as claimed
by Mr. Bush.
The article by Mr. Evans says: "Jay Davis, an American expert
working for the U.N. special commission charged with removing Iraq's
nuclear capability, said Iraq was only six months away from the
large-scale production of enriched uranium at two plants inspected by
The Lewis article said Iraq in 1991 had a uranium "enrichment plant
using electromagnetic technology [that] was about six months from
In October 1998, just before Saddam kicked U.N. weapons inspectors
out of Iraq, the IAEA laid out a case opposite of Mr. Bush's Sept. 7
"There are no indications that there remains in Iraq any physical
capability for the production of weapon-usable nuclear material of any
practical significance," IAEA Director-General Mohammed Elbaradei wrote
in a report to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair on Sept. 7 cited an agency "report"
declaring that satellite photography revealed the Iraqis had undertaken
new construction at several nuclear-related sites. This week, the IAEA
said no such report existed.
The IAEA also took issue with a Sept. 9 report by the International
Institute for Strategic Studies — cited by the Bush administration —
that concludes Saddam "could build a nuclear bomb within months if he
were able to obtain fissile material."
"There is no evidence in our view that can be substantiated on
Iraq's nuclear-weapons program. If anybody tells you they know the
nuclear situation in Iraq right now, in the absence of four years of
inspections, I would say that they're misleading you because there
isn't solid evidence out there," Mr. Gwozdecky said.
"I don't know where they have determined that Iraq has retained
this much weaponization capability because when we left in December '98
we had concluded that we had neutralized their nuclear-weapons program.
We had confiscated their fissile material. We had destroyed all their
key buildings and equipment," he said.
Mr. Gwozdecky said there is no evidence about Saddam's nuclear
capability right now — either through his organization, other agencies
or any government.
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