UNITED NATIONS – International missile experts found that an Iraqi missile exceeds the maximum 93-mile range allowed under U.N. resolutions, U.S. and Russian officials said Wednesday.
U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said it is now up to chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix to recommend what to do about the violation.
The experts met at U.N. headquarters on Monday and Tuesday to examine Iraq's production of the al-Samoud 2 and al-Fatah missiles, which in some tests exceeded the maximum range allowed under Security Council resolutions in place since the 1991 Gulf War.
Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Fedotov said the experts confirmed earlier conclusions that the al-Samoud's range exceeds 150 kilometers (about 93 miles) but "that is not the final conclusion." He said the experts also indicated "they had no problem with al-Fatah."
The experts recommended that Blix's team follow-up technical issues about the al-Fatah with the Iraqis where some questions still remained, diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Negroponte said the experts found that the al-Samoud "definitely has a capacity that exceeds the range of 150 kilometers."
"That is something that our own intelligence sources have been telling us for months. But apparently now it's a matter of agreement among the experts," he said.
He identified the missile as the al-Samoud 2, a liquid-fueled missile that Iraq declared in its semiannual report to inspectors and in its 12,000-page weapons declaration on Dec. 7.
According to council diplomats, Blix reported last month that there had been 40 tests on the al-Samoud 2, and it went beyond the maximum permitted range 13 times, once to 114 miles.
Blix refused to comment Wednesday on the experts' findings, saying "I will tell the Security Council on Friday." His report to the council on Iraq's cooperation with inspectors is expected to figure heavily in its debate about war in Iraq.
John Wolf, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation, reiterated that the United States believes both the al-Samoud and al-Fatah missiles violate U.N. resolutions because they exceed the 150 kilometer range.
A finding that the al-Samoud program violates Iraq's disarmament obligations could provide new ammunition to the U.S. case for military action against Iraq. But Fedotov said it could also show that inspections are working.
Blix refused to respond to a questioner who asked whether such a finding would constitute a "material breach," or violation, of Security Council resolutions, which could trigger military action.
Blix could recommend that U.N. inspectors destroy the al-Samoud missile system. In that case, a Security Council diplomat who confirmed the experts' finding said inspectors would also probably destroy the rocket engines Iraq imported for the missile. But Blix could also recommend the missile system be modified, or undergo more tests.
Last month, Blix reported that despite an arms embargo, Iraq had imported 380 rocket engines for the al-Samoud 2 as well as chemicals used in propellants, test instruments, and guidance and control systems.
During Blix's visit to Baghdad in January, he said the Iraqis suggested that when they fitted guidance and control systems and other devices to the al-Samoud and al-Fatah they would be weighed down and fly less than the allowed distance.
Iraq's U.N. Ambassador Mohammed Al-Douri said Wednesday his government would like a joint committee to verify the distance the al-Samoud can fly. He insisted that it would not go beyond 93 miles.
"The Iraqi side said it is very easy to verify if it exceeds 150 kilometers," Al-Douri said. "So the Iraqi side is open and very keen to discuss the issue with Mr. Blix and let the inspectors verify the range."
Blix explained last week that he wanted international experts, not just his own, to study the technical issues regarding Iraq's missile programs. He said he also wanted U.N. lawyers to look at the legal side of the matter.
The experts came from seven nations with missile programs including the five permanent council members -- the United States, Britain, Russia, China and France -- as well as Ukraine and Germany.