US Is First to Get a Copy of


By Julia Preston

New York Times
December 10, 2002

The United States has taken possession of a copy of Iraq's declaration of its weapons programs, after persuading the four other permanent members of the Security Council to support it in insisting on seeing the document immediately, American officials said today.

In doing so, Washington reversed a decision that all 15 Council nations made on Friday to hold off on receiving the declaration until it had been screened by United Nations experts for information that could be used to make a nuclear weapon. That process would have taken 7 to 10 days, and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, decided late Friday that they did not want to wait, United States officials said.

A table of contents from the declaration, released by the United States today, suggests that it includes much detailed technical information about Iraq's past secret efforts to build a nuclear weapon. It also hints at information about countries that provided Iraq with equipment for its illicit nuclear effort.

Today the Bush administration, citing an Iraqi general's comments over the weekend about his country's past arms programs, argued that President Saddam Hussein had not given up his quest to build a nuclear weapon.

The declaration was given to the United States by Hans Blix, a chief weapons inspector, at the behest of the Colombian ambassador to the United Nations, Alfonso Valdivieso, who is serving as Council president.

Secretary Powell called Colombian officials over the weekend to secure their cooperation with the United States' plan, American officials said. Secretary Powell returned Wednesday night from a trip to Colombia, where he announced major increases in American military aid.

A Colombian diplomat acknowledged today that his government had made a "political decision" to accede to Washington's plan and wave aside objections from some of the nonpermanent Council members, most notably Syria.

This morning, American diplomats here sent the declaration to Washington, where, they said, copies of the mountains of paper and CD-ROM's were being prepared for the four other permanent members. The diplomats said copies would be distributed through secure channels by Tuesday morning at the latest. France and Britain confirmed tonight that they had received their copies.

One section of the table of contents released today is called "enrichment by gaseous diffusion and gaseous centrifuge"; another is a 30-page section on "isotope separation by laser," followed by "enrichment of lithium isotopes."

There is also a 111-page section titled "Procurements of petrochemicals and the Design Centre," which could detail which countries gave Iraq what equipment.

The table of contents also refers to 300 pages that describe the current status of 27 Iraqi industrial sites that could have had some nuclear activity from 1991 to 2002.

The Bush administration is eager to make its own study of the 12,000-page declaration and compare it with American intelligence, to see if there are omissions or inconsistencies that would put Iraq in new violation of Council resolutions requiring it to disarm.

Most of the 10 nonpermanent members of the Council agreed — some very reluctantly — to be excluded for the time being from seeing the declaration, diplomats from those countries said. But Syria, the only Arab nation on the Council, strongly objected to favoring the permanent members, and accused Colombia, the country holding the rotating Council presidency this month, of violating basic diplomatic norms.

With the change of approach, meticulous reviews of the weapons declarations will be taking place in Washington and four other capitals at the same time as United Nations weapons analysts are poring over the documents. Although American officials said they were only seeking to help the United Nations with the giant task of deciphering the information, Washington's move gave yet another sign that it seeks faster weapons inspections in Iraq than do Mr. Blix and other ranking international weapons inspectors.

In arguing for early access to the Iraqi document, administration officials said the United States and the other permanent, veto-bearing members — Britain, France, Russia and China — did not need to wait for the United Nations to pick it clean of data that could foster nuclear proliferation. The five are already nuclear powers, the officials pointed out.

"We would have nothing to gain in terms of proliferation from reading an unsanitized version, because we already have that information" about the structure of nuclear weapons, a United States official said.

"This is not a question of asserting some special privilege," the United States ambassador, John D. Negroponte, said today. "It's more a question of drawing on the expertise of declared nuclear weapons states," he said, to expedite the analysis of the enormous declaration.

He called it "a win-win situation for everyone."

Sergey Lavrov, the Russian ambassador, said: "The sole purpose of this exercise is to make sure that nonproliferation treaties are respected. Nothing else is behind this process."

But American diplomats and others from the permanent Council nations were determined to bar non- nuclear nations from obtaining unfiltered copies of the report. The 10 countries that are currently rotating Council members have all signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and so face legal restrictions on their access to data on nuclear weapons.

"It could have signaled to the rest of the world what Iraq still needs, and we have plenty of enemies who could supply what they need," an American official said.

Iraq alerted the Council that some of the material in the declaration could be dangerous if made public.

"I should like to draw the attention of the Security Council to the fact that the publication of this detailed information, in particular the parts relating to research and development and techniques for the production of agents and weapons, entails risk and is inconsistent with the norms of the weapons nonproliferation regime," wrote Iraq's foreign minister, Naji Sabri, in a Dec. 7 cover letter that came with the declaration.

Mr. Blix and his chemical and biological arms team, and the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, will remove the sensitive passages from the documents and keep them in their confidential files. They expect to have completed most of that work by Dec. 19, when Mr. Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the nuclear agency, will meet with the Security Council.

Mr. Blix said today that he agreed with the United States' plan. "I have no problem," he said. "We work at the service of the Security Council."

It remained unclear when and how the nonpermanent members would have access to the nuclear information, in order to form a judgment about whether Iraq had failed to comply with its obligations.

"We are not happy," said Mikhail Wehbe, the Syrian ambassador. "It is in contradiction to the political logic, to the procedural logic, to every kind of logic the Security Council used to work on." The Council president normally acts only on the consensus of all 15 members.

Mexico was among the countries that went along without much enthusiasm today with the new arrangements. Secretary Powell spoke by telephone on Sunday with Foreign Minister Jorge G. Castañeda.

Secretary General Kofi Annan stressed today that the United Nations weapons experts should be given time to do their work in Iraq.

"I have always maintained that the inspectors have work to do and we should allow them to do a professional job, and I have indicated they should be given the time and the space to do it," Mr. Annan said. For emphasis he added, "I do expect the Council to support the inspectors as they do a professional job."

In contrast to the increasingly bellicose language from Washington, the secretary general also made it clear that he believed that war could still be avoided.

"I have maintained that war is not inevitable and it is up to President Saddam Hussein to disarm, to cooperate fully with the inspectors and honor all his obligations to the United Nations," Mr. Annan said.

"If that is done, I would see no reason for war."

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