Iraq has agreed to another routine international inspection of its principal nuclear research facilities and stockpile of highly enriched uranium, easing foreign concerns that the material might be used in a stepped-up Iraqi effort to develop a nuclear bomb, according to informed diplomats and independent experts.
The inspection announced in Vienna yesterday by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will be the first since Iraq's Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait. The last such inspection occurred in April and found no evidence of diversion to a bomb-building program, the agency said.
Iraqi officials aroused suspicions of a stepped-up program earlier this year by attempting to purchase Western technology essential to the manufacture of a nuclear bomb. But intelligence analysts and officials have differed on how close Iraq is to making a bomb, and many experts believe completion of an Iraqi weapon is at least two, and probably five, years away.
The IAEA routinely conducts inspections at six-month intervals of facilities holding appreciable quantities of fissionable materials in nations that have signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Iraq's representative to the IAEA, Rahim Al-Kital, told the agency's director, Hans Blix, three weeks ago that "the doors were open" for an inspection of the country's four nuclear research sites, IAEA spokesman Hans-Friedrich Meyer told the Associated Press yesterday.