VIENNA, Austria - A top U.N. weapons hunter
says it would have been "virtually impossible" for Iraq to revive a
nuclear bomb program with equipment recently dug up from a Baghdad
backyard, as the Bush administration contends.
Jacques Baute said the long-term monitoring of Iraq's nuclear
establishment planned by the U.N. Security Council would have
stifled any attempt to build a huge uranium-enrichment plant for
making bomb material.
"This is a mistake people are making," Baute said. Such
contentions ignore the fact that Iraq would have operated for years
under international controls had the U.N. plan not been aborted by
war, he said.
Baute also said in an interview with The Associated Press that it
appears the unearthed cache of uranium enrichment parts, surrendered
by an Iraqi scientist last month, lacked critical components, and
its accompanying blueprints were marred by errors.
Baute, a French nuclear physicist, led the International Atomic
Energy Agency inspection teams that - until the U.S.-British
invasion in March - crisscrossed Iraq in search of banned
His assessment of the hidden equipment came as a furor grew in
Washington over President Bush's use of an earlier allegation - that
Baghdad sought uranium from Niger - to bolster the White House case
It was Baute's investigation last February that unmasked as
forgeries the documents that underpinned the claims about Niger.
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is holding to the
Niger story, noting that the British government now says other,
unspecified intelligence supports the uranium allegation. But London
hasn't supplied Washington with any such information, Rice
Likewise, Baute's office has received nothing from the British
three weeks after asking for the purported independent evidence,
said sources at IAEA headquarters in Vienna, speaking on condition
The U.N. agency's experts believe all reports of a Niger
connection stem from the same bogus documents.
Eliminating Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction was the
main reason given by Bush for invading the Arab country. But three
months of searching by the U.S. military has found no banned arms,
just as some 700 inspections by U.N. teams from November to March
also uncovered no signs of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons
Before the war, Baghdad said all its chemical and biological
weapons had been destroyed during U.N. inspections in the 1990s.
However, President Bush said Monday he remained convinced that
Saddam Hussein was trying to develop a weapons program that
threatened the world and justified the United States going to war.
"Our country made the right decision," Bush said.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher had no comment when
asked about Baute's statements. But he told reporters: "I think the
findings in Iraq demonstrate that Iraq had not abandoned its
intentions on nuclear programs. Just buried them. Maybe more. We'll
see. We'll find the full extent of that as time goes on."
Iraq never had nuclear arms but was making progress building
sophisticated centrifuges to produce enriched uranium for bombs when
the 1991 Gulf War intervened. Inspectors dismantled the program.
In early June, the centrifuge program chief, Mahdi Shukur Obeidi,
turned over to U.S. authorities equipment and documents he said he
buried in his garden in 1991, when he said Iraqi leaders told him to
hold the parts to revive the program.
The IAEA notes that Obeidi's account tends to undercut one White
House contention: that Saddam's government had secretly resumed its
nuclear program in recent years.
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer has instead now focused
on the Obeidi cache's potential, saying it would have allowed Iraq
to rebuild weapons facilities "once sanctions were ended."
But Baute, in the interview Friday, pointed out that once U.N.
economic sanctions were ended, after inspectors certified Baghdad's
weapons work had ceased, the Security Council was to have imposed an
Ongoing Monitoring and Verification regime on Iraq - controls
short-circuited by the U.S.-British invasion.
Inspectors, with unhindered access under U.N. resolutions, would
have kept close watch on Iraq's military-industrial complex, aided
by air and water sampling technology, satellite and aerial
surveillance, and monitoring of Iraq's imports.
An enrichment plant, a vast array of thousands of centrifuges,
would have been easily detected, said Baute, who once helped build
French nuclear bombs.
"To have turned it into a full-blown enrichment program while OMV
was in place would have been virtually impossible," he said of the
Although U.S. officials have not shared their Obeidi data with
the IAEA, Baute's experts closely examined available photos of the
components and found they included one critical part, the bottom
But other vital elements apparently are lacking, Baute said,
including the advanced carbon-fiber rotor, the spinning tube in
which uranium gas is separated.
"It is far, far from being a complete set," he said.
He also noted the Iraqis would have had to expose themselves by
searching for foreign manufacturers to duplicate complex
As for Obeidi's documents, they appear to be copies of centrifuge
drawings and papers seized by IAEA inspectors in 1995, Baute
"These Iraqi drawings seem to contain mistakes," he said. German
engineers who secretly assisted the centrifuge program apparently
didn't leave their hosts finished designs, and the Iraqis erred at
times in filling in