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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Interview With David Albright

Aired June 25, 2003 - 17:55   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BLITZER: I want to get back to that breaking news story we reported earlier this hour. CNN has learned that the CIA now has in its hands a critical parts of a key piece of Iraqi nuclear technology, parts needed to develop a bomb.
I want to bring in David Albright, a former U.N. weapons inspector. He knows a great deal about Iraq's nuclear ambitions. David is joining us from Munster, Germany on the phone.

David, you are familiar with this report that we have that this gas centrifuge system that the Iraqis had before the first Gulf War, one of their top scientists was told by a son of Saddam Hussein, Qusay, to hide it in his backyard under a rose bush, which is what he's done, but has now made it available to U.S. intelligence. How significant of a development is this?

DAVID ALBRIGHT, FORMER U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: Well, it's very important. And I must say, I actually have been talking to Obeidi about this since about April 20. And an independent journalist, named Kurt Pitzer (ph), actually, ran into Obeidi at that time, and Obeidi asked him to call me. So I've been actually quite interested in getting this kind of information from Obeidi.

Inspectors actually knew or suspected, I should say, to be more accurate, that Iraq had hidden centrifuge documents, and maybe components. And so when we started working in Iraq with people like Obeidi, we were actually trying to find out if that was true.

And what happened, Obeidi made a decision. He wanted to cooperate, and he needed a mechanism to do that. And believe me, it was extremely hard to organize. I mean, the U.S. government was working against itself on this.

But in the end, it's worked out well, and Obeidi did turn over these parts. They're very important because they are classified. Urenko (ph) gas centrifuge components, Urenko (ph) is a European enrichment company, only works on the civil side, but unfortunately Iraq managed to get a lot of classified information from them in the 1980s, so it was an advanced centrifuge.

And so there was actually a great amount of relief that we don't have to worry about these particular documents and components spreading to other countries.

So I think Obeidi has done a great favor to the United States. I would say that in an earlier report, you talked about inspectors. Actually, Obeidi told me that if the inspectors had taken him out of Iraq with his family, he would have told them about these centrifuge components and these classified documents.

BLITZER: So what does it say, the bottom line, David. We don't have much time. The bottom line about what Iraq's nuclear program was about on the eve of the war?

ALBRIGHT: What it looks like is it was in hibernation, and that the order to restart the program had not ever been given to Obeidi, and that he said that he had not worked on a nuclear weapons program, particularly on gas centrifuges, since 1991, and was holding these, waiting the order to restart the nuclear program, and it just never came, according to Obeidi.

BLITZER: David Albright, we'll be spending a lot more time on this very important story throughout the night here on CNN. David Albright joining us on the phone from Germany. Thanks, David, very much.

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