Most of Saddam's nuclear dossier a rehash, U.N. atomic expert s

Saturday, December 14, 2002

VIENNA, Austria -- Saddam Hussein's 2,400-page nuclear dossier contains scant new information that might help the U.N. atomic agency in its hunt for weaponry, the agency's chief disclosed Friday.

Most important, a skeptical United States contends, is what's missing from the 12,000-page declaration Baghdad gave the United Nations.

U.S. intelligence suggests the document fails to address the whereabouts of chemical and biological agents that disappeared in Iraq four years ago. Nor, they say, does it detail purchases some in Washington believe might be linked to a clandestine nuclear program.

Briefing reporters at the Vienna headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei said only 300 pages -- in Arabic and still being translated -- are of real interest, and even "a good part" of those contain information familiar to the agency.

The other 2,100 pages of nuclear documents amount to a rehash, and cover "material we already had before," he said.

Time-consuming process

"Iraq has said they have not taken part in any nuclear weapons activities. We are far from reaching a conclusion on that matter," ElBaradei said. "Of course we must verify that statement. The process will take time, but you need to bear with us because if successful, this is the best way of ensuring that Iraq disarms -- and could spare innocent lives."

Saddam denies having weapons of mass destruction or the means to produce them, and U.N. inspectors are trying to verify that on the ground in Iraq.

Inspections resumed under a new U.N. Security Council resolution that also required Iraq to file its 12,000-page report last weekend on nuclear, biological, chemical and missile research and production. While the nuclear agency analyzes its part, the rest is being examined by the New York-based U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission.

"The information that is new is not from our perspective ... very significant because they relay activities that are not related in any way to weapons," ElBaradei said.

The latest U.N. resolution also mandates that Iraq surrender weapons of mass destruction -- which the Bush administration claims it has. The United States has threatened war if Saddam does not comply, in Washington's view, with U.N. demands.

ElBaradei said by Tuesday, his agency will provide the entire Security Council with censored copies of the Iraqi report, gleaned of information that might lead to nuclear proliferation.

But he said it will take "something like a year" to conclude if the Iraqi report is truthful.

"Iraq claims they have not been involved in any proscribed activities in the last four years. We cannot take that statement at face value," he said, contending further inspections were necessary to judge Baghdad's insistence that it poses no threat.

U.S. intelligence experts combing over the document were comparing conclusions with experts from other countries on the Security Council who got uncensored copies. A council meeting was planned for next Thursday.

The Iraqi report largely rehashes old declarations and reports and contains little new information, officials in Washington said. It does nothing to alter the U.S. belief that Iraq possesses chemical and biological weapons and is pursuing nuclear weapons, they said.

More important than what Iraq put in the declaration is what it left out, an official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The report does not account for quantities of chemical and biological agents missing when U.N. inspectors were expelled from Iraq in 1998, officials said. Hundreds of mustard gas shells, for example, remain unaccounted for, they said.

It also does not explain Iraqi acquisitions that the United States suspects are related to Saddam's nuclear program -- including the purchase of uranium in Africa, and purchases in Western countries of high-tech equipment that could be used in a uranium enrichment program, officials said.

ElBaradei, an Egyptian, said the United States should hand over the "solid evidence" the Bush administration claims it has that Saddam has weapons of mass destruction. The U.N. resolution urges all member states to share relevant information.

"We need the information. Information is the key to success," he said.

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