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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 June, 2003, 14:26 GMT 15:26 UK
Iraqi nuclear find 'backs IAEA'
US troops look down on the facility at al Tuwaitha
Inspectors had limited their searches to known sites
The United Nations nuclear watchdog says parts of a gas centrifuge found hidden in the back garden of an Iraqi scientist do not change its assessment that Iraq has not had a nuclear programme since 1991.

The scientist, Mahdi Shukur Obeidi, handed over the parts to US authorities saying they had been buried there since 1991 on the orders of Saddam Hussein's government.

Mr Obeidi headed Iraq's centrifuge programme - aimed at enriching uranium to be used in nuclear weapons - until then.

US officials have conceded the discovery does not show that Iraq had an active nuclear weapons programme - and "we would agree that this is not evidence of a smoking gun," International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) spokesman Mark Gwozdecky said.

While we have found no evidence of any ongoing nuclear weapons programme in Iraq, we are not able to detect small, readily-concealable items such as these
Mark Gwozdecky
IAEA spokesman

"The findings and comments of Obeidi appear to confirm that there has been no post-1991 nuclear weapons programme in Iraq, and are consistent with our reports to the [United nations] Security Council," Mr Gwozdecky said.

However, he said that: "Without access to the actual findings, the IAEA is not in a position to offer any final conclusion or further assessment."

And the agency had always made it clear that "while we have found no evidence of any ongoing nuclear weapons programme in Iraq, we are not able to detect small, readily-concealable items such as these".

'Well-known'

The alleged existence of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons was a major reason cited by the US and UK for invading Iraq.

No such weapons have been found to date.

A US radiation expert reads the radio active levels on a mixing vat allegedly stolen by looters and dumped
US forces has been scouring Iraq for evidence

"These findings refer to material and documents of the pre-1991 Iraqi nuclear weapons programme which were well known to the IAEA," the agency's spokesman said.

He said the IAEA had reported that Iraq had successfully tested a centrifuge prior to 1991 - and had been provided with "a large number of original centrifuge drawings" some of which had been passed on to the IAEA.

However, the recent recovery did not change the agency's assessment of Iraq's capabilities in the area of centrifuge enrichment.

US authorities believe Me Obeidi's statements are credible and provide evidence that Iraq was hiding information from UN inspectors, the BBC's Ian Pannel says.




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