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World - Middle East

Ground Zero Graphic

Nuclear watchdog: Iraq can't build an atomic bomb


But U.N. inspectors aren't so sure

June 19, 1998
Web posted at: 1:29 p.m. EDT (1729 GMT)

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The global nuclear watchdog says Baghdad is no longer capable of building an atomic bomb.

The revelation comes seven years after the world learned Iraq had fooled the International Atomic Energy Agency, and had secretly acquired the expertise and technology needed to develop the atomic bomb.

At that time, the IAEA feared Iraq could become a nuclear power within 18 months.

CNN's Jane Arraf talks about the IAEA's conclusions
3 min. VXtreme video

The IAEA says Iraq's nuclear program no longer exists, and that active monitoring -- through satellite photographs, remote-control cameras and soil and water samples -- will ensure Baghdad doesn't revive it.

U.N. weapons inspectors, charged with making sure Iraq possesses no banned weaponry, say the Iraqis tried to hide the program from them, even when the inspectors confronted Iraqi officials with proof.

Rolf Ekeus  

"I asked the deputy prime minister: 'Do you have, do you deny you have nuclear weapons?'" recalled Rolf Ekeus, a former U.N. arms inspector. "He said, 'Absolutely, we have no nuclear weapons.'"

Iraq denies having nuclear program

The IAEA says the Iraqis took their nuclear program deep underground after Israel bombed a suspected nuclear reactor in 1981.

It was Iraq's "human shields" during the 1990-91 Gulf War that tipped off nuclear experts to Baghdad's bomb-building activities, nuclear officials say.

At that time, some U.S. citizens in Iraq were held at Iraq's military installation of Tuwaitha.

When the Americans were released, the IAEA says experts tested their clothing and found it contained evidence of highly enriched uranium processing. Washington then made Tuwaitha one of its main targets during the rest of the war.

Iraq has for years repeatedly denied having a nuclear program.

Some experts say Baghdad could easily reactivate its nuclear program  

Security Council to review the issue next month

However, Baghdad officials would not let CNN cameras film facilities believed to be former nuclear sites, and the government's former top nuclear official refused to be interviewed on the subject.

"It (the IAEA) has entered a report to the (U.N. Security) Council, saying that it has a technically coherent picture of Iraq's past nuclear-weapons directed program, that Iraq doesn't in fact now have an atomic bomb, a nuclear explosive device," chief U.N. weapons inspector Richard Butler said.

Meanwhile, the council is scheduled in July to decide whether the IAEA should close its investigation into Iraq's nuclear program and place the nation under long-term monitoring.

The United States and many of its allies oppose such a move, claiming there are still significant gaps in the U.N. Special Commission's (UNSCOM) knowledge about Iraq's nuclear program. U.N. weapons inspectors are assigned to UNSCOM.

Some experts say Iraq could easily revive its program, even with a small amount of highly-enriched plutonium or uranium.

"The will and the enthusiasm to acquire nuclear weapons is still there. That will has not been broken," Ekeus said of the Iraqis.

Correspondent Jane Arraf contributed to this report.

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