Nerve-gas lab denies hiding results of Iraqi missile tests

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The Independent Online
FRANCE denied yesterday that it had found traces of VX nerve gas on fragments of Iraqi missiles and had delayed announcing the results be-cause it wanted to see the United Nations Security Council lift sanctions on Iraq.

This week, UN sources claimed a French laboratory had found traces of chemicals associated with VX, but had kept quiet while Tariq Aziz, the Iraqi deputy prime minister, visited the UN in New York.

The dispute over the French tests of Iraqi missile fragments is the latest round in the propaganda war between the United States and Baghdad over whether Iraq ever placed VX in missiles that it later destroyed. Jean- Francois Bureau, the French Defence Ministry spokesman, said: "Our conclusions right now are that we do not have any definite conclusions about traces of VX on the samples."

The suggestion was made in June when a US military testing ground in Maryland said it had found traces of VX on a quarter of missile fragments found by UN inspectors in Iraq earlier in the year. It was the most concrete evidence so far that Iraq is lying about its chemical weapons programme.

Iraq denied that charge and demanded that the missile remains be tested in neutral laboratories in Europe. The Security Council agreed to fresh tests in Switzerland and France. The Swiss laboratory found no evidence of VX and a second American test was also negative. The outcome is important because the Security Council must decide this month on the future of Iraqi sanctions.

France, Russia and China believe it is time to relax sanctions, first imposed in 1990. The reputation of the UN Special Committee in charge of eliminating Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was damaged last month when Scott Ritter, its former chief inspector, admitted that much of its information came from Israeli intelligence.