Nuclear capabilities of Iraq


For the first time in the history of the safeguards system, a state party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty - Iraq - was found to have violated its safeguards agreement with the IAEA by not declaring and submitting nuclear material activities to the Agency's inspection.

IAEA teams have been investigating Iraq's nuclear capabilities since May 1991 and following the Gulf War under terms of United Nations Security Council Resolution 687 directed at eliminating Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and the means to produce and use them. The resolution - which deals with ballistic missiles, biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons - expressly requested the IAEA to inspect known or suspected nuclear sites in Iraq; to remove or otherwise take exclusive control of all material and equipment usable for nuclear weapons; and to develop a comprehensive plan for future monitoring and verification of Iraq's nuclear programme. IAEA teams working in co-operation with the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq had completed ten on-site inspections as of February 1992.

The IAEA Board of Governors declared Iraq in violation of its safeguards agreement at a special session on 18 July 1991. It strongly condemned the Government of Iraq for not submitting nuclear material and facilities in its clandestine uranium enrichment programme to the IAEA's inspection, and expressed its grave concern about "evident deception and obstruction of IAEA inspectors", who were denied access several times to sites they wished to inspect. In accordance with its Statute, the IAEA transmitted its conclusions to the United Nations Security Council.

Iraq officially responded to the Board's action in a letter to the United Nations Secretary General on 23 July 1991 from its Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Ahmad Hussein. Criticizing the action as "unfair and unbalanced," he said the IAEA "had rushed to pass judgement" and that Iraq had "fully laid bare its nuclear programme."

Results reported to the IAEA Board and to the United Nations show a detailed, though not yet complete, picture of Iraq's nuclear programme in the view of inspectors. Inspection teams have reported "conclusive evidence" that Iraq had a "complex, comprehensive nuclear weapons development programme" and had made "continued attempts to conceal the true extent" of that programme.

Besides an ambitious and multi-faceted uranium enrichment programme, the picture emerging includes separation of small quantities of plutonium. Enrichment activities were found to be substantial, and included two industrial-scale facilities for producing highly enriched uranium at Tarmiya and Ash Sharkat, using the electromagnetic isotope separation (EMIS) method and a broadly-based programme to produce enriched uranium with ultracentrifuges. Iraq's interest in separating plutonium at its main nuclear research centre at Tuwaitha, albeit on a very limited scale, is considered noteworthy, especially since the activities should have been but were not declared under its safeguards agreement with the IAEA. Inspections are continuing to uncover the full extent of Iraq's nuclear capabilities, concentrating on sites where sensitive nuclear material or equipment may be installed, used, or stored and on the industrial and technological infrastructure supporting the nuclear programme. Inspectors consider it probable that the full extent of Iraq's in- frastructure to manufacture components for uranium enrichment method has yet to be completely revealed.

In parallel with inspections, operations have begun to remove highly enriched uranium research reactor fuel assemblies from Iraq by Member States of the Agency. IAEA inspectors further have placed under Agency seals a considerable amount of nuclear material and equipment items related to the enrichment programme and other activities. More than 30 sites and hundreds of buildings throughout Iraq have been inspected. Additionally, inspectors have collected thousands of samples of nuclear and other materials for analysis by scientists at the IAEA's analytical laboratories at Seibersdorf near Vienna.

Strengthening of safeguards

Apart from raising questions about the true scope of Iraq's nuclear capabilities, the inspections have intensified discussion about the need to strengthen the existing IAEA safeguards system. At the February 1992 meeting of the IAEA Board, several measures to strengthen the safeguards system were discussed. World-wide focus following Iraq's non-compliance has raised new questions about whether the system that has operated well for over two decades needs to be modified, expanded and enhanced.

The very essence of non-proliferation commitments and their verification is that neighbours, regions and the world at large should be able to rely upon them with confidence and without risking surprises that could have disastrous security implications, Director General Blix told the Board members. Although it is not possible to reduce to zero the risk that undeclared and impermissible nuclear activities could take place without detection, he has proposed ways to considerably reduce the risk.

Following the Director General's call to give more "teeth" to the safeguards system, the IAEA Board has reaffirmed the Agency's ability to conduct special inspections of undeclared facilities on which it has information in Member States with comprehensive safeguards agreements, when necessary and appropriate. It also agreed to expanded requirements on the timely provision and use of nuclear facility design information.

The Board called on States to provide preliminary information as early as possible on programmes for new nuclear facilities and activities, as well as modifications to existing facilities as soon as the decision to construct, to authorize construction or to modify a facility has been taken. This information would be updated during project definition, preliminary design, construction and commissioning phases.

The Board also addressed proposals on reporting and verification of the export, import and production of nuclear material, of sensitive equipment and certain non-nuclear materials. The proposals included measures under which States would provide the IAEA with information to enable it to verify that reported inventories in a given State are consistent with the State's declared nuclear activities. The Board will review these proposals further at a later date.

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