| US soldier Derek Watson (right) leads a squadron during a trench clearing exercise in the northern Kuwaiti desert. (Reuters)
United Nations/Baghdad, Dec. 9 (Reuters): The UN will give the US, Britain, France, Russia and China an uncut copy of Iraq’s arms dossier, in a reversal of an earlier Security Council decision, diplomats said.
A quiet deal was struck to override a Friday ruling of the full 15-member council, which feared that technical secrets on the manufacture of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons might pass into the wrong hands if the full document was circulated.
After weekend discussions involving UN weapons experts and diplomats of the US and the four other permanent members of the council — all nuclear powers already — it was agreed to let the five have all 12,000 pages, diplomats said.
“The goal (earlier) was to keep the information out of the hands of those who might be able to use the information to make bombs. But those of us who already know how wouldn't learn anything from the full document,” a diplomat from a permanent council member said.
UN experts in New York and Vienna began studying the dossier today to judge whether it said enough to satisfy UN demands for disarmament and perhaps to avert war with the US.
Hours after the arms declaration arrived at the UN headquarters in New York, UN inspectors resumed their searches of suspect sites in Iraq, returning to a complex that was at the heart of previous efforts to make a nuclear bomb. Washington stressed it would wait to see what was in the document flown from Baghdad yesterday.
But US officials say they have their own evidence of continuing Iraqi nuclear, biological or chemical programmes and insist Washington will take military action if necessary to rid Iraq of them.
Iraq says the dossier, not yet made public, shows it has no weapons of mass destruction — an assertion that puts it on a collision course with Washington.
Strikes on Iraq are among the military scenarios to be tested in a major US war game that began today in the Gulf Arab state of Qatar, site of Gen. Tommy Franks’ new mobile headquarters for US Central Command.
US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage said however President George W. Bush had “patience”.
“He would much prefer to have Iraq disarm herself,” he said during a visit to Tokyo. “But, as the President said, if Iraq won’t disarm, then eventually, Iraq will be disarmed.”
A top aide to President Saddam Hussein hinted yesterday that Iraq once came close to making a nuclear bomb. He invited the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to decide for itself how close.
“We have the complete documentation from design to all the other things. We haven’t reached the final Assembly of a bomb nor tested it,” Amir al-Saadi told journalists. “It is for the IAEA to judge how close we were,” he said, adding: “If I tell you we were close, it is subjective.”
IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky told Reuters in Vienna today that this statement “was consistent with what we found between 1991 and 1998” and was no surprise to the UN agency. “We never speculate about how close Iraq might been to actually having a weapon,” he added.
The arms inspectors, who resumed work in Iraq last month for the first time in four years, today searched al-Tuweitha Nuclear Research Centre, 20 km south of Baghdad, for the third time since their arrival.
Other experts inspected a military industrial complex near the town of Fallujah.