Iraq's nuclear threat

June 21, 1991|By Newsday

ONE OF Washington's stated reasons for going to war against Iraq was the destruction of Baghdad's ability to produce nuclear weapons. President Bush told America that goal was attained in the intense bombing of Iraq's nuclear facilities, which were high-priority targets early in the war.

Now it seems that accomplishment may have been overstated, if only because Iraq tried to mislead the United Nations about the true extent of the bomb damage to its nuclear facilities. It will be up to a special commission appointed by the U.N. Security Council to determine the accuracy of claims, made by a defecting Iraqi nuclear scientist, that much of Baghdad's capability to build an atomic bomb remains intact.

Until the commission is satisfied that all nuclear materials needed to make weapons have been removed from Iraq, the United Nations must maintain full economic and military sanctions against Baghdad.

The Iraqi scientist defected to American forces two weeks ago with information that led the United States to conclude that Iraq may have exaggerated the true extent of the allied damage to its nuclear reactors.

According to the defector, only three of eight primary sites for nuclear research and development were damaged extensively by bombs in the Persian Gulf war.

It is too early to assess, from the defector's information, just how much of a threat Iraq's nuclear program still represents. The United Nations, however, now has a duty to find out. And once it does, it must ensure that all nuclear materials with practical weapons potential are removed.

Until then, the United Nations has no other choice than to tighten its economic sanctions. To do any less would erode the credibility of the allied victory in the Persian Gulf war as much as the Kurdish debacle did.

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