LONDON (Sep. 8)
Concern that Iraq is rebuilding missile factories that were destroyed in U.S.-led bombing raids is prompting a fresh Anglo-American diplomatic drive at the United Nations for a resumption of weapons inspections.
The new urgency is in part being fed by a secret White House report to Congress that expressed concern about “Iraq’s long-established covert procurement activity,” the London Sunday Times reported.
The newspaper also said a classified White House report expressed alarm over “activity” at Iraqi sites that are known to be capable of producing weapons of mass destruction.
The paper quoted experts on Iraq’s nuclear capability as saying Iraqi President Saddam Hussein could assemble a nuclear warhead within months, although testing it would take much longer.
“It is assumed,” said the paper, “that Saddam has taken advantage of the absence of United Nations weapons inspectors he expelled late last year to pursue chemical and biological weapons programs as well.”
A security council debate on Iraq is expected later this month, but expectations are low for restoring the U.N.-led weapons inspections, with the Security Council reportedly more divided than ever over how to deal with Saddam.
Britain and the United States insist on reinstating the former rigorous weapons-inspection program while continuing to impose sanctions until Saddam complies with U.N. disarmament demands.
But three fellow permanent members of the Security Council — members France, Russia and China — are seeking a relaxation in both the sanctions and the inspection program.
A U.S. proposal for Security Council members to meet Wednesday in Washington and discuss their differences fell through after some countries refused to attend, according to U.S. diplomats.
Pentagon officials are reportedly pressing for an intensification of the air campaign, which has involved U.S. and British pilots firing 1,100 missiles at 359 Iraqi targets during the past eight months.
At the same time, some members of Congress support the arming of Saddam’s opponents.
Experts believe Iraq will try to acquire enriched plutonium from Russia for use in building nuclear weapons and have little confidence in the ability of Western intelligence agencies to detect this.
“They [the Iraqis] know how to hide their tracks,” David Albright, a former nuclear inspector in Iraq and president of the independent Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, was quoted as saying. “Russia is a shopper’s paradise for them.”
He believes it is possible that Iraq already has a nuclear weapon design, lacking only the “fissile material” — enriched uranium or plutonium – - necessary for building a bomb.