The International Atomic Energy Agency says that a report cited by President
Bush as evidence that Iraq in 1998 was "six months away" from developing
a nuclear weapon does not exist.
"There's never been a report like that issued from this agency,"
Mark Gwozdecky, the IAEA's chief spokesman, said yesterday in a telephone
interview from the agency's headquarters in Vienna, Austria.
"We've never put a time frame on how long it might take Iraq to construct
a nuclear weapon in 1998," said the spokesman of the agency charged with assessing
Iraq's nuclear capability for the United Nations.
In a Sept. 7 news conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Mr. Bush
said: "I would remind you that when the inspectors first went into Iraq and
were denied finally denied access [in 1998], a report came out of the Atomic
the IAEA that they were six months away from developing a weapon.
"I don't know what more evidence we need," said the president,
defending his administration's case that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was building
weapons of mass destruction.
The White House says Mr. Bush was referring to an earlier IAEA report.
"He's referring to 1991 there," said Deputy Press Secretary Scott
McClellan. "In '91, there was a report saying that after the war they
found out they were about six months away."
Mr. Gwozdecky said no such report was ever issued by the IAEA in 1991.
Many news agencies including The Washington Times reported Mr. Bush's
Sept. 7 comments as referring to a 1998 IAEA report. The White House did not ask
for a correction from The Times.
To clear up the confusion, Mr. McClellan cited two news articles from 1991
a July 16 story in the London Times by Michael Evans and a July 18 story in
the New York Times by Paul Lewis. But neither article cites an IAEA report on
Iraq's nuclear-weapons program or states that Saddam was only six months away
from "developing a weapon" as claimed by Mr. Bush.
The article by Mr. Evans says: "Jay Davis, an American expert working for
the U.N. special commission charged with removing Iraq's nuclear capability,
said Iraq was only six months away from the large-scale production of enriched
uranium at two plants inspected by UN officials."
The Lewis article said Iraq in 1991 had a uranium "enrichment plant using
electromagnetic technology [that] was about six months from becoming operational."
In October 1998, just before Saddam kicked U.N. weapons inspectors out of Iraq,
the IAEA laid out a case opposite of Mr. Bush's Sept. 7 declaration.
"There are no indications that there remains in Iraq any physical capability
for the production of weapon-usable nuclear material of any practical significance,"
IAEA Director-General Mohammed Elbaradei wrote in a report to U.N. Secretary-General
Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair on Sept. 7 cited an agency "report" declaring
that satellite photography revealed the Iraqis had undertaken new construction
at several nuclear-related sites. This week, the IAEA said no such report existed.
The IAEA also took issue with a Sept. 9 report by the International Institute
for Strategic Studies cited by the Bush administration that concludes Saddam
"could build a nuclear bomb within months if he were able to obtain fissile
"There is no evidence in our view that can be substantiated on Iraq's
nuclear-weapons program. If anybody tells you they know the nuclear situation
in Iraq right now, in the absence of four years of inspections, I would say that
they're misleading you because there isn't solid evidence out there,"
Mr. Gwozdecky said.
"I don't know where they have determined that Iraq has retained this
much weaponization capability because when we left in December '98 we had
concluded that we had neutralized their nuclear-weapons program. We had confiscated
their fissile material. We had destroyed all their key buildings and equipment,"
Mr. Gwozdecky said there is no evidence about Saddam's nuclear capability
right now either through his organization, other agencies or any government.
© 2002 News World Communications, Inc.