Washington (Jun. 23)
The State Department continued to maintain today that the United States has “no definitive evidence” that Iraq was moving towards a nuclear bomb before its reactor was destroyed by Israel June 7.
David Passage, a State Department spokesman, stressed this position in the wake of a report that Israeli Premier Menachem Begin told a Knesset committee yesterday that he received a document from the U.S. last January expressing American concern that Iraq was planning to build a bomb. Begin reportedly said the document, based on intelligence reports, was given to him by U.S. Ambassador Samuel Lewis.
Passage said the U.S. has discussed its “concerns” about nuclear proliferation with a number of nations in the Middle East. He stressed the “conclusions” did not differ from that expressed by senior State Department officials when they testified before Senate and House committees last week that they did not hear about Israel’s belief that Iraq planned to build a nuclear weapon.
But Passage refused to comment directly on Begin’s reported revelations. “We do not discuss the nature of sensitive exchanges that we have with foreign governments including friendly foreign governments,” the Department spokesman said. “We specifically cannot discuss the nature of intelligence exchanges.” He added that even if “Prime Ministers” or other “heads of government” were prepared to discuss private exchanges they had with the United States, “I am not.”
Passage also would not comment on an Israel radio report that Begin told the Knesset committee that the situation in Lebanon was not as serious as he has contended. Begin reportedly said he has used his threat against the Syrian missiles in Lebanon to divert attention from Israel’s planned attack on the Iraqi nuclear reactor.
Passage said that the U.S. efforts over the past weeks particularly the mission of special U.S. envoy Philip Habib “have been motivated by the seriousness in which we view events in that area, the tension in that area and our recognition that there was an urgent need for undertaking some action which would help defuse those tensions and restore a degree of normalcy.”
But Passage stressed that the U.S. is not urging any specific action, “such as the removal of the Syrian missiles,” because Washington believes the best way to help ease the situation is not to make any specific suggestions on which way the parties involved should move. Meanwhile, Habib, who was in Saudi Arabia over the weekend, was in Beruit today. (By David Friedman)