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Baghdad Admits to Larger Program of Deadly Weapons : Arms: In apparent bid to head off defector's revelations, Iraq offers data on bigger stockpiles of biological agents. U.S. says regime has misled U.N. for four years.

August 23, 1995|ROBIN WRIGHT and STANLEY MEISLER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — In a scramble to deflect the damage of a major defection, Iraq has revealed "massive amounts" of new information about its weapons of mass destruction to the United Nations. The data indicates that Iraq's programs were larger than it had ever admitted and that Baghdad has misled U.N. inspectors for more than four years, Clinton Administration officials said Tuesday.

The data also reveals that Iraq had far more advanced programs in biological weapons--including large stockpiles of anthrax and botulin, the toxin that causes botulism--than originally believed and that it did not destroy the arms before the Persian Gulf War, as once claimed.

Iraq also had developed sophisticated means of delivery, including loading biological agents into bombs and missile warheads with parachutes that would slow re-entry and allow a more controlled dispersal, the sources added.

In weekend sessions with Rolf Ekeus, head of the U.N. Special Commission charged with finding and dismantling Iraq's deadliest weapons, Iraqi officials produced more than 100 boxes of critical information on their biological weapons as well as new data on other programs.

The regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein alleged that the data had not been reported during U.N. visits beginning in 1991 because it was under the control of Lt. Gen. Hussein Kamel Majid, who defected Aug. 8 to Jordan.

The claim was described by a senior U.S. official as a "transparent and pathetic lie" by a regime trying to cover its tracks before the defector has time to inflict serious damage.

Majid, who is Hussein's son-in-law, was for years the major procurer of Iraq's most sensitive weaponry and one of the few officials in Baghdad to have full knowledge of Iraq's capabilities.

In a virtual race with Baghdad to see who can gain the most ground over weapons revelations, Majid has told U.N. and U.S. officials in Amman, the Jordanian capital, that Iraq may have one or more additional centrifuges, critical pieces of equipment in the production of nuclear weapons. A centrifuge is used to isolate radioactive materials for such weapons.

And in Baghdad on Tuesday, the Iraqi News Agency reported, Hussein chaired a meeting of the Revolutionary Command Council at which members discussed Ekeus' most recent visit and proclaimed their intent to cooperate fully with him.

Majid's successor, Amir Mohammed Rashid, said that he had taken Ekeus to Majid's farm and handed the U.N. inspection chief a stash of documents that the defector had hidden there, the news agency reported.

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While Hussein convened a session of his Revolutionary Command Council, Ekeus was conferring with Majid at a secret location in Jordan, according to Jordanian officials.

U.S. specialists have long suspected that Iraq had not come completely clean on its programs for all four weapons of mass destruction--nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and Scud missiles. Both the George Bush and Clinton Administrations have differed with the United Nations as well as with key allies in the coalition that forced Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait in 1991 over whether Iraq was fulfilling U.N. resolutions on dismantling its arms.

"We have always suspected that Iraq is not telling us everything in hopes of concealing enough to try again," a State Department official said this week.

"This proves we were right."

Although Ekeus appeared optimistic about the new information from Iraq, he said it would take some time for his staff to study the material and decide whether they now had a full accounting of the biological weapons program.

Ekeus has long maintained that there are only a few gaps in the Iraqi accounting of the weapons programs and that if satisfied that these have been filled, he would probably declare Iraq in full compliance with the resolution demanding the dismantling of these programs.

Russia and France would probably then ask the U.N. Security Council to lift its worldwide prohibition on the purchase of Iraqi oil and other exports. The United States, backed by Britain, has said it would oppose any lifting of sanctions, using its veto power to do so if necessary. The Security Council is due for its regular bimonthly review of sanctions in September.

The United States takes the position that even if Ekeus declares Iraq in full compliance, Hussein cannot be trusted to keep his promises.

And U.S. officials predicted Tuesday that Iraq's latest gestures may backfire.

"Because they've sprung on us things they insisted they did not have, it will cast doubt on their credibility and even on whether this is all of what they've been hiding," the senior official added.

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In recent congressional testimony, U.N. Ambassador Madeleine Albright was even more adamant than usual on this point, and the Administration is augmenting its military forces in the region because of what it calls "unusual" troop movements by the Iraqi regime in recent weeks.

Navy Capt. Michael Doubleday, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters that this activity "is continuing and it has not changed significantly." But he added that the Iraqi troops have not done anything in the past few days to make the situation more tense.

Defense Secretary William J. Perry went further in playing down the danger of the movements. He said the United States has not come up with any evidence "that leads us to believe that any invasion [of Kuwait or Saudi Arabia] is under way or planned."

"It is a matter that bears careful watching," he said, "and we are watching it very carefully. In the meantime, we're taking prudent actions."

A military transport left Ft. Hood, Tex., with the first of 1,300 troops who will join Kuwaiti troops in military training exercises. The Pentagon advanced the schedule of these exercises and rushed the U.S. troops to Kuwait as a warning signal to Hussein.

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