WASHINGTON -- The International Atomic Energy Agency plans to conduct a "litmus test" inspection in coming days to find out if Iraq has diverted about 20 kilograms of enriched uranium to make a bomb.
A State Department official, who declined to be identified, and some outside experts said yesterday that Iraq probably would allow the inspection to put to rest speculation that it had assembled a bomb using uranium obtained years ago from the Soviets and the French.
If Iraq refused to allow the inspectors in, said David Fischer, a former IAEA official, it would be open to suspicion "that it's up to some monkey business." He called the inspection a "litmus test."
The uranium in question includes 12.5 kilograms of highly enriched uranium originally supplied for a nuclear plant later bombed by the Israelis and another 8 kilograms supplied by the Soviets for a research reactor.
The total amount is less than the 25 kilograms that the Vienna, Austria-based IAEA says is necessary for a country's first atomic bomb. But given the right technology, a bomb could be created with the amount Iraq has.
If the uranium is being used in an aboveboard manner, inspectors will be able to find it. If not, "eyebrows will go up," said Mr. Fischer, who is in Washington for a conference.
The State Department official said the inspection, due in mid-November, should remove "one particular scenario that has been much speculated about."
The inspectors won't be allowed to inspect any "undeclared" nuclear facilities and have no authority to probe Iraq's ongoing research and development program for nuclear weapons.
Estimates of the length of time it would take Iraq to manufacture nuclear bombs range from one to 10 years.
Recent alarm has focused on the reported discovery of a uranium mine near the Turkish border and on Iraqi efforts to develop a uranium-enrichment plant.
Experts believe Iraq has both the designs and the specialty steel required, but there is debate on whether it actually will have the ability soon to produce the necessary high-technology centrifuges.