Nuclear agency says search in Iraq has revealed 'no smoking gun'


Published: Tuesday, January 7, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 6, 2003 at 11:01 p.m.

VIENNA, Austria (AP) - The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, whose agents have been in Iraq for two months, said Monday that it was still too early to determine whether the Mideast nation was trying to develop nuclear weapons.

"We are not certain of Iraq's (nuclear) capability," Mohamed ElBaradei told reporters. He spoke at the end of a top-level meeting of his International Atomic Energy Agency, which censured North Korea for reactivating suspect nuclear programs and eliminating agency controls meant to ensure it is not making atomic weapons.

IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said Monday that inspectors have turned up "no smoking gun" in Iraq so far, but "its too early to draw sweeping or final conclusions."

ElBaradei declined to say which nation, Iraq or North Korea, posed the greater threat.

"I don't think I'd like to speculate on who is more dangerous." He said that while "North Korea (clearly) has a nuclear capability," the case of Iraq _ which permitted U.N. inspectors looking for nuclear, chemical and biological weapons to return in November only after a four year hiatus -- was not so clear-cut.

The North Koreans have advanced capability, probably more than Iraq because in 1998, we managed to neutralize Iraq's program," he said.

Iraq, which agreed to renewed inspections under threat of war from the United States, had denied it had renewed efforts to build nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction.

Before inspections resumed in late November, Iraq had not reported to the world since December 1998. That was when U.N. inspectors pulled out on the eve of U.S.-British airstrikes, amid allegations that Baghdad was not cooperating with the teams.

By the end of the 1991 Gulf War, inspectors discovered Iraq had imported thousands of pounds of uranium, some of which was already refined for weapons use, and had considered two types of nuclear delivery systems.

Inspectors seized the uranium, destroyed facilities and chemicals, dismantled over 40 missiles and confiscated thousands of documents.

The 2,400-page nuclear dossier turned over to the U.N. Security Council as part of a 12,000-page declaration on its possible weapons programs also has not revealed "any indication that they have been untruthful," Fleming said. "However, it is too soon to tell."

Laboratory tests of air and earth samples have also turned up "nothing significant that would lead us to draw conclusions that they have been building a nuclear program," she said, again cautioning that it was too early for definitive conclusions.

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