Iraqi sites had U.S. technology

October 22, 1992|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- The former head of the United Nations inspections team in Iraq and other weapons proliferation experts yesterday challenged President Bush's assertion in the final presidential debate that no U.S. technology was used in Iraq's nuclear-weapons program.

U.N. inspections at Iraqi facilities after the war discovered that U.S. computers and other equipment had played a role in Iraq's nuclear-weapons program, said David Kay, the former U.N. official.

"The U.S. equipment was there, and there is no disputing that," Mr. Kay said in a telephone interview from London.

"I simply don't see how the president can say that U.S. technology was not used in Iraq's nuclear program," he said.

Presidential candidate Ross Perot raised the issue Monday night in the debate when he criticized Mr. Bush's prewar assistance to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

In an angry response, Mr. Bush said, "The nuclear capability has been searched by the United Nations and there hasn't been one scintilla of evidence that there's any U.S. technology involved in it."

Mr. Kay and others expressed concerns that Mr. Bush's statement glosses over serious gaps in export-control system here and in other countries, and that it could undercut efforts to get them addressed.

Their statements came as two U.S. government agencies appeared to confirm that at least some U.S. technology licensed for export by the Bush administration made its way into Mr. Hussein's ambitious attempt to build a nuclear weapon.

The U.S. Customs Service said that it was investigating U.S. technology found at Iraqi nuclear-weapons facilities by the U.N. teams.

The State Department acknowledged that some U.S. equipment was found at the plants but said that it "made no significant contribution."

In December, the United Nations released a list of foreign technology and supplies discovered at Iraq's nuclear-weapons facilities that included lubricants from the Du Pont Co., the U.S. chemical giant.

In February 1989, the administration approved an export license allowing Du Pont to sell $130,000 worth of nuclear-grade vacuum pump oil to the Iraqi government. U.N. inspectors later found the lubricant used in Iraq's program to make bomb-grade uranium.

Among the other U.S. technology provided to Iraq in 1989 and 1990 and found at Iraqi nuclear-weapons facilities were an advanced IBM computer and computer workstations, Mr. Kay said.

Gary S. Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, said the evidence was overwhelming that Iraq obtained U.S. goods for its nuclear program.

"For example, the administration's export records show that a giant electron-beam welder was sold with U.S. consent and wound up making vital components for Saddam's nuclear-weapon production line," Mr. Milhollin said.

Proponents of tighter export controls say Iraq exploited lax restrictions in the United States and other countries, buying technology for commercial purposes and switching it to weapons programs.

"If you were to rank the countries that supplied Iraq's nuclear program, the United States would be a small supplier," Mr. Kay said.

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