UN claims Iraq's nuclear threat 'remains at zero'

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The Independent Online
THE leader of the latest United Nations team in Baghdad to monitor Iraq's compliance with Security Council resolutions to scrap its weapons of mass destruction has repeated that Iraq is no longer engaged in developing a nuclear warhead.

Maurizio Zifferero in effect repudiated the scepticism expressed by one his predecessors, David Kay, about Iraq's programme. Mr Zifferero emphasised that Iraq was no longer developing nuclear weapons. 'There is no longer any nuclear activity in Iraq,' he told reporters yesterday in Baghdad. 'They have no facilities where (they can) carry out this activity.'

UN inspectors have for some time said that Iraq's nuclear weapons programme had been halted by a combination of coalition bombing during the Gulf war and the subsequent UN inspections in accordance with UN Security Council resolution 687.

Mr Zifferero, the deputy director of the International Atomic Energy Agency and a highly qualified assessor, had said that Iraq's nuclear effort stood at zero.

However, the UN has no illusion about Iraq's capability - in terms of qualified personnel, or intentions, stemming from political will - to develop a nuclear capacity. Hence the insistence that UN inspection teams continue to operate in Baghdad as a longer-term check on its compliance with UN resolutions.

Mr Zifferero emphasised that he was not taking at face value Iraqi assurances that its leaders had decided to halt the programme to develop nuclear weapons. Rather he said, the UN inspection teams had been able to confirm this for themselves.

Past teams had established that Iraq had reached a very advanced stage both in its programme to enrich uranium to weapons grade, and to build the launchers to deliver them.

UN inspectors have said they had stripped Iraq of its ability to develop a nuclear device using electromagnetic isotope separation. They had been over many parts of the country to uncover centrifuges Iraq used for producing weapons grade uranium, and found evidence in the past of Iraqi attempts to conceal this activity.

On Wednesday, the UN Security Council issued a statement demanding unrestricted access for UN relief workers in Iraq and calling on the Secretary-General to 'use all resources at his disposal' to deliver humanitarian aid. Iraq had refused to issue visas for guards and relief workers and accused them of being spies.