WASHINGTON (Feb. 24)
A White House investigation by “outside scientific experts” was unable to reach a conclusion whether on explosion sighted off South Africa’s Atlantic coast last Sept. 22 was or was not caused by an atomic bomb, the State Department said Friday.
Department spokesman Tom Reston, said that “there was a panel convened under Dr. Frank Press of outside experts” who “went over every shred of evidence” regarding the explosion and “came to the conclusion they could not come to a conclusion” that a nuclear device had been exploded. Press is scientific advisor to President Carter.
Israel was named in a CBS report Thursday night as having exploded a small atomic bomb. The report quoted “informed sources in Rome” that the test had been carried out with the “help and cooperation” of South Africa. CBS also said that Israel had called the report “complete nonsense” and quoted Defense Minister Ezer Weizman to that effect. CBS also said South Africa had termed the report ridiculous.
CIA POINTS TO ISRAEL
Reston told reporters Friday when he was asked about the bomb story, “these stories come up from time to time.” After reporting what the press panel had concluded, Reston said “in the absence of firm belief that something of such nature occurred, I would only note statements in the past by Israeli officials that they will not be the first to introduce a (nuclear) bomb in the area.” Reston added that “part of Frank Press’s study group conclusions was that further work had to be done about what happened down there. Those efforts are continuing.”
While the White House and the State Department indicated doubts both about the nature of the explosion and its origin, Central Intelligence Agency officials told a key Congressional committee that if there was a test near South Africa last September, Israel was the CIA’s leading candidate as the source. In addition, the CIA said, South Africa was its second candidate and that it could be possible such a test could have been a joint undertaking.