Iraq convinces UN aluminum tubes not for uranium enrichment

Monday, January 13, 2003

Iraq appears to have convinced the United Nations that Baghdad's attempt to procure high-strength aluminum tubes was to build rockets rather than for centrifuges to enrich uranium.

Britain and the United States have asserted that the attempted procurement was meant to facilitiate an Iraqi program to build centrifuges for the enrichment of uranium required for nuclear weapons, according to reports by The Washington Times and Middle East Newsline.

But the International Atomic Energy Agency appeared satisfied with what it reported was Iraq's assertion that the attempt to purchase high-strength aluminium tubes was part of an effort to reverse engineer 81 mm rockets.

"While the matter is still under investigation, and further verification is foreseen, the IAEA's analysis to date indicates that the specifications of the aluminium tubes sought by Iraq in 2001 and 2002 appear to be consistent with reverse-engineering of rockets," an IAEA report to the UN Security Council said. "While it would be possible to modify such tubes for the manufacture of centrifuges, they are not directly suitable for it."

The IAEA, which failed to detect Iraq's nuclear programs in the 1980s, said it could not confirm reports of Iraqi efforts to import uranium after 1991 in what the United States has asserted was part of Baghdad's nuclear weapons programs. Although the report determined that Iraq was fully complying with inspections, the agency called on UN members to relay any evidence of Baghdad's nuclear programs.

The IAEA reported that Iraq had sought to import the tubes over the last two years.

The agency, which will provide an updated report on Jan. 27, inspected facilities involved in the production and storage of reverse-engineered rockets, interviewed Iraqi personnel, obtained samples of aluminium tubes and examined documentation.

Iraq's defense industries produces such equipment as artillery and multiple-rocket launcher systems. The Iraqi army has a range of rockets, including the Frog-7 and the Laith-90, an extended-range version of the Soviet-origin Frog-7.

The report, based on 109 inspections on 88 locations, said that Iraq violated UN Security Council resolution 687 in attempting to procure the high-strength aluminium tubes. The resolution bans the supply to Iraq of weapons and many dual-use items, such as the high-explosive HMX.

Iraq was found to have used HMX without UN authorization. UN inspection chief Hans Blix said Iraq also imported an undetermined number of missile engines in violation of Security Council resolutions. He did not identify the engine and the missile it was meant for.

"To date, no new information of significance has emerged regarding Iraq's past nuclear program [pre-1991] or with regard to Iraq activities during the period between 1991 and 1998," the report said. "To date, no evidence of ongoing prohibited nuclear or nuclear-related activities has been detected, although not all of the laboratory results of sample analysis are yet available."

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