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Showdown Iraq: One-on-One With Khidhir Hamza

Aired October 30, 2002 - 12:23   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Time now for our "One-on-One" segment. We're joined today by Khidhir Hamza. He's a nuclear scientist, who served as the director of Iraq's nuclear program from 1987 to 1990. He escaped from Iraq in 1994 and wrote a book detailing his experiences, called "Saddam's Bombmaker."
Dr. Hamza, welcome back to our program -- thanks for joining us.

In your opinion, in all of the work that you've done, how close is Iraq right now to actually developing a nuclear military capability?

KHIDHIR HAMZA, AUTHOR, "SADDAM'S BOMBMAKER": Well, there are two answers to this. If Iraq can get the fissile material, that's the nuclear material that go in the core of the bomb, it could be within a year.

BLITZER: That's a big if, though, if they could get that?



BLITZER: What if they can't get through the black market, through smuggling, through somebody helping them on the outside, if they can't get that fissile material, how close would they be to developing a nuclear weapon?

HAMZA: They can produce it, and that's, again, a big if.

BLITZER: When you say they can produce it, but that would take them many years, right?

HAMZA: No, no, no, they are most of the way in. I mean, they did the research and development. They resolved the technology bottlenecks. They imported some parts. They might not have got some, but they've got the others, and they have two technologies, technologies (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

And the worst -- I mean, the slowest path is it might take up to the rest of this decade. But...

BLITZER: It could take another eight years, you're saying?

HAMZA: That's the worst possibility. The other possibility is that...

BLITZER: The worst possibility from the Iraqi perspective.

HAMZA: From the Iraqi point, yes. The other possibility is that it might take them three to four years, because really, they are in the stage of just putting it together. They know how to do it. They researched it. They gathered most of the parts. So, it is just putting it together and getting it to function.

BLITZER: Is this the old centrifuge technology that they allegedly were trying to get these aluminum pipes in to help in that development? Is that your...


HAMZA: That's one. And the other one, using the same pipes or a little bit bigger pipes diameter -- and there are larger pipe diameters been announced, Iraq was trying to purchase -- is that they use the diffusion technology, which they developed locally, the resolve the bottlenecks locally on how to do it and the barrier and whatever other components they needed.

So, they have two technologies to handle the diffusion and the centrifuge.

BLITZER: As you know, that there's a dispute whether those aluminum pipes really were, as many in the Bush administration accused the Iraqis of doing, being imported, smuggled in, in order to build a bomb potentially, as opposed to legitimate civilian or commercial purposes.

HAMZA: Well, not with the qualities described. The quality described is high purity aluminum with high specifications. You don't use those for just transporting liquids or other things. They are the types that are too expensive for this kind of purpose. But they are also not ready to be used directly for the centrifuge program.

BLITZER: When the Iraqis invaded Kuwait in August 1990, at that point, you were still in charge of the Iraqi nuclear program. How close were you at that point to actually developing, building a nuclear bomb?

HAMZA: Actually, we were months away, because the French fuel was supposed to be transferred into a bomb. So, the nuclear core problem there was already resolved. We had the material available in the form of nuclear fuel that was going to be used in the destroyed reactor, the Israeli destroyed the French reactor...

BLITZER: At Osiraq.

HAMZA: Osiraq. But we kept the fuel. And the fuel has bomb grade uranium in it, and the crash program must use that uranium and turn it into a nuclear weapon.

BLITZER: Well, this begs the question. Why didn't he wait until he developed that nuclear capability and then invade Kuwait, because that would have changed the entire balance of power in the region?

HAMZA: Exactly. He just was too broke.

BLITZER: What does that mean?

HAMZA: You see, Iraq was due for payments by August when it entered Kuwait, and it would be regarded in default. If Iraq is in fault of its payment, its credit would be worthless and nobody would sell Iraq anything. So, it was on the brink of being declared in default.

BLITZER: But Iraq is one of the world's largest oil exporters. It's taken in billions of dollars then, and even today, in oil export revenue. How could Iraq be that close to bankruptcy?

HAMZA: If you remember, oil went down to $7 a barrel then. And Kuwait was accused of doing that by overselling over its portion, according to OPEC. The price of oil was plummeting down to almost the cost of producing it. Also, Iraq was in debt, a huge debt, because of the Iran war, and the Kuwaitis and the Saudis would not forsake their debt, would not forgive Iraq their debts.

BLITZER: If the U.N. inspectors go back in, especially those inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency headed by Dr. Mohamed Elbaradei, if they go back in together with Hans Blix and the other inspectors, will they be able to find all of Iraq's nuclear facilities out there, the secret underground facilities where they may be working on these projects?


BLITZER: Why do you say that?

HAMZA: Because first, we had no major defectors since 1995. And if...

BLITZER: You were the last defector? Is that what you're saying?

HAMZA: Yes, I was the last defector. I was one of the last defectors, let's put it that way, because the chief of the program who is Kamel -- Hussein Kamel, Saddam's son-in-law, the head of the Iraqi weapons program, all weapons programs, defected after I did.

BLITZER: He defected to Jordan, but then when he came back, he was killed by Saddam Hussein.

HAMZA: He was killed. Presumably he went back. We believe he was kidnapped.

But anyway, so the last major defection we had since 1995. So, there is no human intelligence for the inspectors to tell them where to go and what to do. That's why President Bush in his speech on October 7, when he asked that Iraqi scientists be interviewed outside with their families would resolve this human intelligence angle to them.

BLITZER: So, your bottom line is that these inspections are pretty much a waste of time?

HAMZA: Unless you take the Iraqi scientists out.

BLITZER: And you would take them out to a third country...

HAMZA: To a third country.

BLITZER: ... and you'd interrogate them there?


BLITZER: With their families, assuming they're not going to go back under Saddam Hussein's roof?


BLITZER: That seems like a far-fetched goal, but...

HAMZA: It's very difficult to accept for Iraqis and there are many objections to it within the U.N. framework. But if it has to be done, then this the only way it would work.

BLITZER: All right, Dr. Khidhir Hamza, thanks for your expertise.

HAMZA: Thank you.

BLITZER: Always good to talk to you.

HAMZA: Thank you.

BLITZER: I always learn something when I talk to you.

HAMZA: Oh, thank you.

BLITZER: Thank you very much.


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