The United States says Iraq tried to fool international inspectors who paid a surprise visit to a military base fingered by informants and satellite photos as a storage facility for weapons-grade uranium.
The administration said Iraq violated its own commitment to report all nuclear material and facilities to the United Nations but declined to say what it would do if Iraq persisted in its alleged cheating.State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said Iraq had for several days blocked an international inspection team from visiting a site at the Abu Gharaib military base in Baghdad suspected of containing nuclear equipment. The inspectors were only allowed in Wednesday and found the targeted building empty.
Tutwiler said that in the intervening days, the inspection team was allowed to enter the military base three times but not to approach the suspected nuclear site.
From a distance, the inspectors saw heavy moving equipment, trucks, forklifts, cranes "and observed urgent activity by work crews," she said.
Iraq denied removing any nuclear material from the base. But U.S. satellite photos shown to the U.N. Security Council showed nuclear materials and chemical weapons at the base were moved between Sunday, when the inspection team first tried to visit, and Wednesday, when it finally was allowed in.
Acting U.S. Ambassador Alexander Watson said Iraq was hiding parts of a crude device for enriching uranium to weapons-grade quality.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said in Vienna that when the visit finally took place, "activities which had been observed from a distance during the first visit had ceased and objects that had been seen had been removed."