U.S. training nuke scientists in Mideast to prevent recruitment

Friday, May 28, 2004

The United States has launched a program to train hundreds of Arab nuclear scientists.

The Bush administration has approved funding and programs to retrain nuclear scientists from Iraq and Libya. Both countries have come under U.S. and international supervision regarding the destruction of their weapons of mass destruction facilities.

The U.S. aim has been to ensure that these scientists would not be recruited by regimes or insurgency groups in their efforts to develop nuclear weapons. Al Qaida was said to have explored such an option in the late 1990s.

"In the wake of the defeat of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the renunciation by Libya of its weapon of mass destruction programs, the United States has begun to expand the scope of its nonproliferation activities to prevent the migration of former WMD scientists and workers from these countries to other dangerous nations or organizations," Michael Roston, an analyst at the Russian American Nuclear Security Advisory Council, said.

"The excess scientists, technicians, and engineers from the two states could pose a brain drain proliferation threat because of their considerable expertise in nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons."

The major programs aimed to redirect weapons scientists in both Iraq and Libya into peaceful employment were created by the Energy Department and the State Department in a concept similar to the retraining of nuclear scientists from the former Soviet Union. An unreported number of Iraqi scientists have been detained as part of the U.S. search for Iraqi WMD, which has led to the flight of other Iraqi nuclear scientists from Iraq.

The State Department has helped create the Iraqi International Center for Science and Industry to retrain and re-employ Iraqi scientists in a $2 million project to be administered in cooperation with the Coalition Provisional Authority. The center aims to host a series of workshops to establish scientific, technological, and engineering priorities for Iraq that would include 600 total participants and retrain up to 300 Iraqi WMD workers.

The center also intends to seek additional information on Iraq's WMD knowledge base and WMD-related personnel in the Basra and Mosul areas. The department has not requested additional funds for the center in fiscal 2005.

"The State Department is investigating several sources of funding for IICSI. One option includes requesting more funds from NDF," Roston said in a report by the advisory council. "Additionally, the CPA may provide $20 million in funding for IICSI from the WMD Scientist Retention budget. The remaining $10.3 billion in the Development Fund for Iraq made up of made up of seized assets, unspent oil-for-food money, and other sources may also be tapped. Finally, the State Department could seek resources from other U.S. agencies."

In February 2004, the Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration outlined a program to engage Iraqi scientists and develop employment opportunities meant to support Iraq's reconstruction. The NNSA effort has been managed in collaboration with the Cooperative Monitoring Center at the department's Sandia National Laboratory and the Arab Science and Technology Foundation, based in the United Arab Emirates.

The report said the UAE-based center would promote regional participation in the effort to redirect Iraqi nuclear scientists. The Energy Department plan would operate primarily through the foundation in reviewing Iraqi science and technology infrastructure as well as determine and prepare to fulfill critical Iraqi requirements.

In September 2004, once the survey is completed, the UAE plans to host a workshop attended by representatives from Iraq, the United States and other members of the international scientific community to discuss project priorities and cooperation options. Funding will be solicited for high-priority projects from U.S. allies.

A pilot program by the U.S. Civilian Research and Development Foundation plans to identify a pool of Iraqi scientists and technicians with WMD-relevant expertise for new employment. Six scientists will be selected to attend a one week

seminar in the United States scheduled for mid-June 2004 and meet U.S. scientists.

The Energy Department has been responsible for accepting Libya's WMD and missile components and systems. But officials said the decision to maintain U.S. sanctions on Libya would prevent the funding of programs meant to redirect Libyan WMD scientists.

The report said the Bush administration would require waivers to approve a program in Libya similar to the one launched in Iraq. So far, the report said, the administration has not provided information on the number of Libyan nuclear scientists who could undergo retraining and re-employment.

"With its nuclear, biological, chemical, and missile weapons programs shut down, a number of Libyan scientists will be out of work," the report said. "However, very little is publicly known about the extent of Libya's WMD workforce, and it is difficult to assess the challenges faced by an effort to prevent the proliferation of its expertise."

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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