U.N. downplays Iraq's arrest of germ expert; U.S. uncertain
March 24, 1998
Web posted at: 3:19 p.m. EST (2019 GMT)
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen said
Tuesday that Baghdad's arrest of an Iraqi biological weapons
expert could make it harder for the government of President
Saddam Hussein to prove it had nothing to hide from U.N.
But the U.N. Special Commission for disarming Iraq (UNSCOM)
played down the arrest of Nassir al-Hindawi, an anthrax
specialist seen as the architect of Iraq's germ warfare
UNSCOM inspectors are responsible for determining that Iraq
has dismantled its weapons of mass destruction.
United Nations officials acknowledged that Hindawi was a "key
player" early in Iraq's biological weapons program but, they
added, what he knows is of limited value.
Hindawi was not involved in Iraq's biological weapons program
during the key years of 1989 and 1990, according to UNSCOM
spokesman Ewen Buchanan.
"We have not sought to see Hindawi in the last year," said
Buchanan, when asked about a New York Times report that
Hindawi had been arrested as he prepared to flee Iraq with a
Buchanan confirmed that Iraqi Oil Minister Amer Mohammad
al-Rashid had informed UNSCOM officials in Baghdad "two weeks
ago" in a letter that Hindawi had been arrested.
Rashid submitted to UNSCOM "about 200 pages" of documents
reportedly held by Hindawi and relating to Iraq's germ
warfare program, Buchanan said. "We said thanks very much,
but we already had the vast majority," he added.
Rashid's letter did not say when Hindawi was arrested or when
he might have been planning to defect. Cohen, who spoke to
reporters at the Pentagon, declined to say whether the United
States had attempted to assist the scientist.
"I can't comment on whether (the arrest of) this particular
individual would be an intelligence loss to the United
States," Cohen said.
The Times article quoted Iraq's U.N. Ambassador Nizar Hamdoon
as saying that Hindawi is in an Iraqi prison after he was
found with documents relating to the country's biological
weapons program and evidence that he was about to leave Iraq
Cohen said the Iraqi action may make it even more difficult
for Iraq to convince the United Nations of its full
compliance with weapons inspections and to win a lifting of
sanctions imposed after the Persian Gulf War.
"This may be evidence of an attempt on the part of Saddam
Hussein to continue to hide and to prevent the UNSCOM
inspectors from receiving information that would help them
in their duties," Cohen said, "and if so, that would only
complicate the ultimate resolution."
UNSCOM leader Richard Butler, who leaves Baghdad on Thursday,
says his talks with Iraqi officials in recent days have
reflected a "new spirit" of cooperation following a deal
worked out last month that averted a threatened U.S. and
British attack on Iraq to force entry to disputed
Correspondent Jamie McIntyre and Reuters contributed to this report.