New developments appear in the controversy about exactly what American intelligence officials knew about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction, before to the U.S. led war. Friday, the U.S. Defense Department confirmed its own analysts reported last year they had no reliable information suggesting Iraq had chemical weapons. However, a Pentagon spokesman said the report did contain information suggesting that Iraq was producing and stockpiling such weapons. Meanwhile, the United Nation’s main nuclear agency is returning to Iraq for the first time since the war. Robert Raffaele has the latest.
A group of seven United Nations nuclear experts arrived in Baghdad Friday to investigate the looting of Iraq’s main nuclear facility at Tuwaitha, about 30 miles south of Baghdad. A convoy of buses brought the members of the International Atomic Energy Agency to their hotel, under close escort from U.S. military personnel.
U.S. officials say Iraqi civilian guards abandoned the plant at Tuwaitha on March 20th, and it was unsecured for two weeks. Looters took several barrels, which once contained processed uranium, or so-called ‘yellow cake.’ A U.S. task force recovered some of those barrels, but it is unclear how many others are missing. That has raised concerns about health risks to nearby villagers, and the possibility the material could fall into terrorists’ hands. But Brian Rens of the IAEA says his team’s main goal is to ensure that Iraq is not violating a nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
BRIAN RENS, I.A.E.A. TEAM LEADER
“We will basically be establishing that the area is safe for us to work in, but that’s about it. We are not going beyond the confines of this location.”
“Are you positive you have a big enough team with you?”
“To achieve our goals, I believe we do.”
“So if there are health concerns with the people surrounding the site?”
“That’s not on our agenda, no.”
Rens repeated the Pentagon’s claim that the visit is not a search for weapons of mass destruction. The U.S. has tried to keep the IAEA out of Iraq since the U.S. lead war began. Officials reluctantly allowed the agency to return, after acknowledging that U.S. troops are not equipped to secure the Tuwaitha site.
In a BBC radio interview Thursday, outgoing chief UN weapons inspector, Hans Blix said his team visited many sites around Iraq and only found items of interest in just 3 cases. Mister Blix said those items were not related to weapons of mass destruction, but it is still too early to determine if Saddam Hussein had such weapons.
U.S. law makers are now planning to conduct inquires into U.S. intelligence gathering, prior to the war.
Meanwhile, the U.S. civil administrator for Iraq, Paul Bremer, met in Baghdad Friday with the leaders of several Iraqi political parties, to discuss the formation of an interim Iraqi government. Earlier this week, Mister Bremer announced his plan to establish a council of 25 to 30 Iraqis, rather than hold a national convention of Iraqi political leaders to form an interim authority. That plan upset many of those leaders.