| An Iraqi guards the UN plane carrying the dossier detailing Iraq’s weapons programmes before its take-off from Saddam airport in Baghdad. (Reuters)
Baghdad, Dec. 8 (Reuters): Iraq said today it did not have any weapons of mass destruction as a massive dossier on its nuclear programme arrived in Vienna to be scrutinised by experts.
The content of the declaration, which could spell the difference between war and peace, may not be known for some time as UN experts screen the papers for sensitive data.
The section on Iraq’s nuclear programme arrived in Vienna, home of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), at around 1730 GMT.
The entire 12,000-page document, which also deals with Iraq’s chemical, biological and missile activities, was being flown to the UN in New York.
Iraq handed over the declaration to UN arms inspectors yesterday, a day before a deadline set by a UN resolution requiring Baghdad to give a full account of any past and current nuclear, chemical or biological weapons programmes.
Washington has threatened to use military force to disarm Iraq if it does not come clean.
UN powers differed in their assessment of the handover.
Russia’s foreign ministry said the fact Baghdad met the deadline showed Iraq was complying with the UN resolution to disarm, while Britain warned that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s previous disclosures were “a pack of lies”.
UN arms inspectors began searching Iraq last month for weapons of mass destruction after a four-year hiatus.
US officials say Washington has substantial evidence, including some not made public, that Iraq has retained and accelerated banned weapons programmes.
But Iraq said today the document proved it did not have such weapons and challenged the US to provide the UN inspectors with evidence to the contrary.
“We hope that it will satisfy (Washington) as it is current, accurate as they have asked for and comprehensive, truthful, everything,” Saddam’s adviser Amir al-Saadi said.
“If they have anything to the contrary, let them come up with it, give it to the IAEA, give it to the UNMOVIC (UN weapons experts), they are here, they could check it. Why play this game'” he told journalists in Baghdad.
But British foreign secretary Jack Straw told BBC Television that Saddam’s past disclosures about weapons had not been truthful.
“None of them have been accurate or full disclosures. Normally, they have been a pack of lies. It remains to be seen whether this... disclosure is consistent with his past behaviour or that he at long last has got the message that the international community’s patience is about to run out,” he said.
Straw said the previous UN weapons inspection team, which left Iraq in 1998, said it had found chemical and biological material which could be used to make weapons. The first thing Saddam must do is account for those “thousands of tonnes of material”, he said.
But former US President Jimmy Carter, in Oslo to collect the Nobel Peace Prize, said Iraqi compliance with UN weapons inspectors was a step towards averting any US-led war.
“If Iraq does continue to comply completely then I see no reason for the war and I think it’s a good step forward,” he told reporters today. “But nobody knows what to expect.”