| A participant at an anti-war rally near the US Capitol building perches on the shoulders of a friend. (Reuters)
Jan. 19: UN weapons inspectors have uncovered evidence that proves Saddam Hussein is trying to develop an arsenal of nuclear weapons.
The discovery was made following spot checks last week on the homes of two Iraqi nuclear physicists in Baghdad.
Although chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix was made aware of the discovery last week, he failed to mention it during talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac.
British officials are particularly concerned that Blix appears to be playing down the significance of last week’s breakthroughs.
Blix indicated that he did not feel the discovery of the chemical warheads was an issue that needed to be reported to the Security Council.
(The UN nuclear agency chief said in Baghdad today that Iraqi officials appeared willing to respond to some demands of weapons inspectors but warned that time was running out for Baghdad to avert war, adds Reuters.
Mohamed ElBaradei flew in from Cyprus with Blix in what Blix called a last-ditch bid to get Iraq’s full cooperation with arms inspectors before they report back to the UN Security Council on January 27.
“We had specific questions to ask, we had certain proposals to them and I think they indicated responsiveness in some areas... I hope we would have some results in the next few days and weeks,” ElBaradei said.
The inspectors’ report and the ensuing Security Council debate may be crucial to deciding whether the US attacks Iraq to enforce its demand that Baghdad come clean on alleged nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programmes.)
Acting on information provided by western intelligence, the UN inspection teams discovered a number of documents proving that Saddam is continuing with his attempts to develop nuclear weapons, contrary to his public declarations that Iraq is no longer interested in producing weapons of mass destruction.
The revelation follows last Thursday’s discovery of a number of warheads at an ammunition storage facility south of Baghdad that had been designed for carrying chemical and biological weapons.
Although UN officials say that they have no comment to make at present on the documents found at the scientists’ homes, a western diplomat closely involved with the investigation into Saddam’s nuclear capability confirmed that the documents showed that Iraq was still attempting to develop its own atomic weapons.
“These are not old documents. They are new and they relate to on-going work taking place in Iraq to develop nuclear weapons,” the official said.
“They had been hidden at the scientists’ homes on Saddam’s personal orders. Furthermore, no mention of this work is made in the Iraqi dossier that was submitted to the UN last December.”
UN nuclear experts are this weekend continuing to examine the seized documents. Officials at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna have also been informed of the discovery.
The revelation that Sad- dam is working on nuclear weapons in defiance of the UN is further evidence that Iraq is failing to comply with the terms of UN Resolution 1441, which requires Baghdad to make a complete disclosure of its weapons of mass destruction programme.
A false or incomplete disclosure or a failure fully to cooperate with the inspectors would constitute a material breach of the resolution and result in military action against Baghdad.
The inspectors’ discoveries follow a radical improvement in relations between UN officials and western intelligence which had been reluctant to hand over sensitive information for fear that it might fall into the hands of Iraqi officials, thereby risking the lives of agents working in Iraq.