U.N. weapons chief: No evidence Iraq close to making nuclear arms
Former U.S. inspector reprimanded for his statementsOctober 1, 1998
Web posted at: 7:35 p.m. EDT (2335 GMT)
NEW YORK (CNN) -- The United Nations' chief weapons inspector in Iraq, Richard Butler, has strongly denied allegations that his agency uncovered information that Iraq is close to completing functioning nuclear weapons.
A former American member of Butler's inspection team, Scott Ritter, told members of the U.S. Congress in September that Iraq had managed to put together the components for three nuclear devices, and lacked only the plutonium or uranium necessary to fuel the bombs.
But at a news conference Thursday at U.N. headquarters in New York, Butler disputed Ritter's account.
"Does anyone in this room honestly think that if we had information that Iraq had three partly fabricated nuclear weapons that we wouldn't have called that to the attention of the International Atomic Energy Agency or put it on the table of the Security Council?" he asked. "Of course we would have."( 254K/22 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
Ritter resigned from the U.N. weapons-inspection program in protest in August, saying U.N. officials weren't doing enough to make sure Iraq dismantled its weapons of mass destruction. This week, Butler sent him a letter demanding that he stop revealing confidential U.N. information.
"He has said some things that I regret because, in some cases, I think they're not quite the correct stories," Butler said. "But more important than that, in some cases, too, they have involved revealing information he shouldn't have revealed."
Butler confirms Israeli aid
Butler's letter to Ritter informed "him that he was in violation of his U.N. contracts in making confidential information public that had come to his knowledge through his job at the United Nations," said U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard. Secretary-General Kofi Annan was informed of the letter and agreed with it, Eckhard said.
But Butler Thursday confirmed one other piece of information disclosed by Ritter -- that Israel had provided information used by U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq.
"We have had such cooperative relations with some 50 (U.N.) member states. Israel is one of them, but it is our policy not to go into details of that cooperation, to respect confidentiality between us and member states," Butler said.
He noted that Security Council resolutions have requested that all U.N. members help with the Iraqi inspection effort.
Israeli involvement with the inspection regime is controversial in the Arab world and could bolster Iraqi accusations that the inspectors are tools of the United States and, by extension, its ally, Israel.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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