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Associated Press September 6, 2002

U.N. inspectors say satellite photos of Iraq show unexplained construction at sites they were banned from

Tuwaitha Nuclear Center, Iraq
Tuwaitha Nuclear
Center, Iraq

BY GEORGE JAHN

The head of a U.N. inspection team banned by Baghdad said on Friday that satellite photos of Iraq show unexplained construction at sites the team used to visit in its search for any evidence that Saddam Hussein was trying to develop nuclear arms.

He and other officials of the International Atomic Energy Agency emphasized that no conclusions on whether Iraq had restarted nuclear weapons programs could be deduced from the images.

"We can't draw any conclusions from a new building or a new road," said Mark Gwozdecky, a spokesman for the agency's Vienna headquarters.

But the White House expressed concern, and independent experts spoke of a worrisome indication of how little control the outside world had over potentially lethal developments in Iraq since Baghdad banned outside inspectors four years ago. "This is a troubling report," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer in Washington, suggesting the photos could indicate that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein "may seek to develop nuclear weapons and may be making progress."

Independent Iraq analysts said while the existence of such images was common U.S. government knowledge, the report would be welcomed by administration of President George W. Bush as it seeks to wear down worldwide resistance to the idea of toppling Saddam by force.

"I think that this is basically a preview of ... the type of information that the U.S. government is going to be using to make the case for doing something about Iraq," said John Pike, of the nonprofit group GlobalSecurity.org, based in Alexandria, Virginia.

The last U.N. inspectors pulled out of Iraq in December 1998, ahead of bombing by the United States and Britain. But even though Baghdad has refused to let U.N. teams looking for nuclear or other prohibited weapons programs back in since then, monitoring has continued through satellite photography and other intelligence gathering.

French physicist Jacques Baute, the leader of the U.N. nuclear inspection team, said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press that reviews of commercial satellite images since 1999 show "some buildings that have been reconstructed ... and some new buildings (that) have been erected" at sites its team visited before the ban.

Without identifying them, Baute described the sites as having potential "dual-use capabilities," meaning they could potentially be locations for both civilian and military nuclear programs.

In a related development, a report made available to the AP on Friday and drawn up by Hans Blix, chief inspector of the team assigned to look for chemical and biological weapons, said Iraq has not been reporting to the United Nations its "dual-use" imports, which can be used in peaceful and military nuclear programs.

The United States has accused Iraq of trying to rebuild its banned weapons programs and of supporting terrorism, and has called for the ouster of Saddam.

In seeking to line up international support for a military strike on Iraq, the Bush administration contends Saddam's pursuit of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons in defiance of his disarmament pledge after the Gulf War is a powerful case for a regime change.

Facing opposition from traditional allies to such an attack, Bush has scheduled consultations with heads of countries sitting on the U.N. Security Council to establish whether new U.N. pressure can be brought to bear that would force Baghdad to again allow weapons inspectors in.

On Friday, Bush telephoned leaders of China, Russia and France. Fleischer, the White House spokesman, said the president stressed that "Saddam Hussein was a threat and that we need to work together to make the world peaceful."

Bush was scheduled to meet Saturday with Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, the only major U.S. ally supporting Saddam's ouster through military means. In comments broadcast Friday, Blair reiterated his backing, saying Britain was prepared to shed blood to support the United States.

But other traditional allies remained defiant. A large delegation from Turkey arrived in Baghdad on Friday, just a day after Arab states declared their allegiance to Iraq and defined U.S. threats against Saddam as threats against the whole Arab world.

The administration is likely to ask the U.N. Security Council to adopt a resolution setting a deadline for Iraq to admit weapons inspectors or to risk punitive action.

Officials of the Vienna-based U.N. agency declined to give details about the sites or when the images were taken, saying only that satellite photos of previously inspected areas were being continually being upgraded.

But Gary Napier of Space Imaging in Thornton, Colorado - one of the companies on contract with the International Atomic agency - said the photos from his company's satellite provide close-up details of objects "a little larger than a meter (yard)" as long as the backdrop was a contrasting color. He said a single image covers an area 11 kilometers (nearly 7 miles) in length.

Pike, of GlobalSecurity.org, said the images from Iraq will not provide "a smoking gun image that clearly ... shows they're working on atomic bombs."

"What we are going to see is a lot of buildings with a lot of locations associated with their (suspected) missile program or their nuclear program, and these buildings have either been rebuilt or continue to be used," he said.

"All of it proves that they have a lot of facilities where you would suspect they would be working on prohibited weapons."


Copyright 2002 Associated Press