UNITED NATIONS – U.N. weapons inspectors cast doubts on U.S. assertions about Iraq’s weapons programs, saying Baghdad is cooperating with inspections and that some documents presented as evidence were forged.
Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told the U.N. Security Council on Friday that experts had dismissed as counterfeit documents that allegedly showed Iraqi officials shopping for uranium in Africa two years ago.
ElBaradei, who made his strongest statement yet in support of Iraqi cooperation, also rejected a Bush administration claim that Iraq had tried to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes to use in centrifuges for uranium enrichment.
“There is no indication of resumed nuclear activities,” he said.
Chief weapons inspector Hans Blix welcomed Iraq’s “proactive” cooperation with his teams but didn’t declare Iraq free of weapons of mass destruction.
Blix noted that Iraq is now providing inspectors with proactive cooperation, something he had asked for repeatedly through the winter.
However, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the United States was still convinced Iraq was hiding banned weapons.
“I think I have better information than the inspectors,” Powell said in an interview with ABC anchor Peter Jennings. “I think I have more assets available to me than the inspectors do.”
However, CIA Director George Tenet has said all relevant intelligence had been passed to the inspectors.
Blix said that even with continued cooperation from Iraq, it will take some time to ensure that Iraq has carried out key remaining disarmament tasks which he intends to present to the Security Council later this month.
“It will not take years, nor weeks, but months,” he said, stressing that even after this is completed, Iraq should be subject to ongoing inspections and monitoring of its facilities.
Iraq’s destruction of its Al Samoud 2 missiles constitutes a “substantial measure of disarmament,” Blix said.
“The destruction undertaken constitutes a substantial measure of disarmament. We are not watching the destruction of toothpicks. Lethal weapons are being destroyed,” he said.
The chief inspector, whose teams are responsible for the hunt for biological, chemical and missile programs, said Iraq had recently provided additional documentation on anthrax and the VX nerve agent.
“Many have been found to restate what Iraq has already declared.”
In a veiled jab at the United States, he said inspectors had been unable to verify some claims about hidden Iraqi weapons and asked again for more information about suspect sites.
ElBaradei told the council that the IAEA found no evidence to support reports that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger.
“Based on thorough analysis, the IAEA has concluded, with the concurrence of outside experts, that documents which formed the basis for the reports of recent uranium transactions between Iraq and Niger are in fact not authentic,” he said. “We have therefore concluded that these specific allegations are unfounded.”
“In the past three weeks, possibly as a result of ever-increasing pressure by the international community, Iraq has been forthcoming in its cooperation,” ElBaradei said. “I do hope that Iraq will continue to expand the scope and accelerate the pace of its cooperation.”
He reported again that in the area of nuclear weapons, inspections were moving forward.
“After three months of intrusive inspections, we have to date found no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons program in Iraq.”