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World - Middle East

U.N. panel confirms nerve gas in Iraqi warheads


In this story:

October 26, 1998
Web posted at: 10:11 p.m. EST (0311 GMT)

UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- International arms experts validated U.S. tests indicating Iraq put the deadly nerve gas VX into warheads before the 1991 Gulf War, contrary to Baghdad's denials, according to a U.N. report.

The report, which was sent to the U.N. Security Council on Monday, also hinted that Iraq may have tried to decontaminate the samples between the first tests in the United States and those conducted later in French and Swiss government laboratories.

The report was submitted by 17 scientists from 12 countries who analyzed findings from the United States, France and Switzerland on samples, or swabs, of Iraqi warhead fragments.

CNN Senior U.N. Correspondent Richard Roth reports
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"The experts as a whole said the whole picture is that Iraq put chemical weapons in these warheads," said Richard Butler, chairman of the U.N. Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM). "What's critical ... is that for years (the Iraqis) said they never did any such thing, so that blows this wide open."

Stringent 8-year-old U.N. sanctions on Iraq are linked to demands that Iraq destroy and account for its weapons of mass destruction. Iraq has repeatedly thwarted attempts by U.N. arms inspectors to gather data firsthand.

Iraq has denied VX missile capability

Iraq has admitted putting sarin, a gas that causes spasms, nausea and possible death, into warheads but has denied it was able to load VX before the 1991 Gulf War.

A report by international arms experts suggests traces of a chemical nerve agent were found in Iraqi missile remnants  

VX, a colorless liquid that turns into gas, prevents the transmission of nerve signals, causing loss of muscle control, respiratory paralysis and death.

The tests for chemical weapons on Iraqi missiles have been a source of controversy since June, when a U.S. Army laboratory said it found traces of VX in 11 of the 46 swabs it analyzed in May.

Iraq accused the United States of faking the results and insisted that French and Swiss laboratories duplicate them.

Samples from different areas of a warhead dump in Iraq were then given to Swiss and French government laboratories in July. The report said tests from Switzerland proved negative, as did a second round of U.S. tests from other samples.

France, according to the report, found a "degradation product" of a nerve agent in one sample, which could be VX, or other nerve agents, sarin or soman.

While French scientists said their findings of nerve agents could also originate from other compounds, such as detergents, the U.S. experts "said that they are not aware of any such compounds in connection with any commercial product," according to the report.

Tests indicate decontamination attempt

The report also said that tests from the French and Swiss laboratories, as well as the second round of American tests, all found chemicals associated with a decontamination compound.

The U.N. panel of arms experts suggested an attempt had been made to remove traces of nerve gas.

"It is recommended that UNSCOM invite Iraq to explain first the origin and history of the fragments analyzed by all three laboratories and then the presence of degradation products of nerve agents," the experts said in the report.

The report also asked Iraq to give more data on its efforts from "mid-1988 to the end of 1990 to develop and produce VX by improved synthetic routes."

No warhead with chemical or biological agents was fired during the Gulf War, in which a U.S.-led coalition drove Iraqi troops from Kuwait. But UNSCOM wanted to know if Iraq had loaded VX into warheads in order to determine if any remained.

"We need to know what (chemical) agents, and how much of the stuff overall (the Iraqis) made and is it disposed of," Butler said.

Senior Correspondent Richard Roth and Reuters contributed to this report.

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