I take strong exception to the assertion in the Oct. 28 editorial "Missing and Explosive" that "the sensation over the missing explosives emanates from the International Atomic Energy Agency," as well as to the labeling of the agency's director, Mohamed ElBaradei, as "an adversary of the Bush administration." The editorial also said that Mr. ElBaradei took an "unusual step" by informing the U.N. Security Council about the missing explosives, thereby providing "easy fodder" for Sen. John F. Kerry's presidential campaign.
These characterizations misrepresent a straightforward series of events. On Oct. 10 the government of Iraq reported to the IAEA that 350 metric tons of high explosives were missing from storage sites subject to IAEA monitoring. Concerned about the security of the Iraqi people and multinational troops, as well as the potential proliferation implications, Mr. ElBaradei checked the information with Iraqi authorities, then brought it promptly and exclusively to the attention of the United States in its capacity as commander of the multinational force in Iraq. His hope was that the explosives could be recovered and secured before the issue became more widely known through reporting it to the Security Council.
The Security Council has given the IAEA specific monitoring and verification mandates in Iraq, and it is the agency's obligation to keep the council informed of any developments related to these mandates.
When news of the missing explosives was made public last Monday by the New York Times -- whose reporters did not learn about it from the IAEA -- the rationale for waiting no longer existed, and Mr. ElBaradei was obliged to provide the relevant facts to the Security Council.
Mr. ElBaradei and the International Atomic Energy Agency have worked closely with the Bush administration, as with previous U.S. administrations, particularly on efforts to curb nuclear proliferation and combat nuclear and radiological terrorism. Regardless of the outcome of today's election, the IAEA will continue its half-century tradition of close cooperation with the United States.
International Atomic Energy Agency
The editorial "Missing and Explosive" said, "Less than a pound of the high explosive known as HMX was enough to destroy a Pan Am jumbo jet over Scotland in 1988." However, it is widely agreed that the explosive used by the Libyans to bring down Pan Am Flight 103 was Semtex (named for the Czech village where the explosive was developed), which was sold to states, such as Libya, Iraq, Iran and North Korea, that have carried out or supported terrorist acts.
Semtex is composed of a stable compound and has an almost indefinite shelf life; reportedly, it is readily available on the black market.
One of the most powerful high explosives in use, HMX (or high melting-point explosive) explodes violently at high temperatures and can be used to implode fissionable material in nuclear devices.