Nerve gas trace on Iraqi missile

A FRENCH laboratory found a trace of a nerve agent on an Iraqi missile warhead, and traces of a decontamination product that shouldn't have been there, United Nations weapons experts have claimed in New York.

According to Iraq's declarations about its chemical weapons, 20 missile warheads that were being analysed by French and Swiss laboratories should have only contained alcohol, which shouldn't require any decontamination, UN officials said. The fact that a decontamination product was used suggested that there might have been something more potent inside the warhead that needed to be destroyed.

The tests were conducted late this summer after a US laboratory reported finding traces of the deadly nerve agent VX on fragments of missile warheads in June. The US finding countered Iraqi claims that it was never able to make enough VX, or stabilise it properly, to load into missiles.

The report did not say that VX was found in any of the new tests, saying only that: "The French laboratory reported the presence of a degradation product of a nerve agent," in one sample. The report noted that French experts said this product could also originate from other compounds. Sarin or VX are such possible compounds.However,the Swiss and the French laboratories found chemicals known to be degradation products of a decontamination compound, the report said.

The U.N. Special Commission, which carries out inspections in Iraq, must certify that Iraq has destroyed all its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons before the Security Council will lift sanctions imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. (AP)