The International Atomic Energy Agency on Wednesday ordered Iraq to destroy parts of a big industrial complex used by the Iraqis to develop nuclear weapons.
Iraqi officials had no immediate reaction to the announcement. They previously insisted the affected facilities at Al Atheer, 20 miles southwest of Baghdad, housed only civilian industry.Al Atheer, which reportedly includes about 100 buildings, survived allied bombing attacks during the gulf war virtually intact.
Iraq denied after the war that it was trying to produce nuclear weapons, but U.N. officials say they have uncovered evidence of an extensive program that was close to developing a warhead.
The U.N. nuclear agency is acting under the authority of the gulf war cease-fire accords, which order the destruction of Iraq's nuclear weapons program, its chemical and biological arms, and its long-range missiles. Most of the actual destruction is carried out by Iraqis, but U.N. experts supervise it.
A U.N. team is in Iraq now to wreck missile manufacturing equipment and verify Baghdad's claims to have destroyed many long-range missiles last June.
The agency said destruction of nuclear-related equipment and facilities at Al Atheer would begin next month during a visit by the 11th team of U.N. nuclear inspectors to go to Iraq since the end of the gulf war.
The Iraqi ambassador in Vienna, who also is his country's envoy to the nuclear agency, was not available for comment. His secretary said she doubted he could be reached until Thursday.
But at an earlier news conference, Ambassador Rahim Abid Al Kital said Baghdad was prepared to comply with the U.N. resolution requiring the elimination of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
Missile equipment destroyed
The head of a U.N. arms team said key components of Iraq's ballistic missile production and repair equipment were destroyed under his supervision Wednesday.
"We began the process of destroying the ballistic missile repair and production facilities . . . We have overseen the destruction of six or seven different items and two other items are being destroyed," Briton Derek Boothby told reporters on his return to the capital.
Boothby said the destroyed equipment included instruments used in the mixing of solid missile propellant and others used in the production and repair of Scud missiles, salvos of which were fired at Israel and Saudi Arabia during last year's Persian Gulf war.