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CNN AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN

Message to Baghdad

Aired January 16, 2003 - 08:32   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: The situation in Iraq is very tense and very dangerous. Those are the words of chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix today. He is warning Saddam Hussein that he must cooperate with inspectors if he is to avoid war. Mr. Blix will be in Baghdad this weekend, and in a briefing this morning, he informed the European Union that inspection teams in Iraq have discovered illegally imported arms materials.
Dr. Khidhir Hamza, the former head of Iraq's nuclear weapons program, joins us now from Washington with reaction to you all of this and more.

Good morning. Thank you for being with us.

What do you think Hans Blix thinks his inspectors have found here? About the only thing he would confirm for reporters were missile parts that were part of this imported weaponry he was talking about.

KHIDHIR HAMZA, FMR. IRAQ NUCLEAR SCIENTIST: It has been expected for a while. You know, Syria has been a conduit for importing weapons into Iraq and several deals with the eastern block, former Soviet republic countries, which have dealings with Iraq in this regard.

The Germans, German intelligence, has documented several instances of other companies, such as a company in India that imports for India to ship back to Iraq certain parts and materials and equipment.

So it's been for a while, several intelligence agencies, including the American, British one, has reported Iraq imports of conventional and other parts.

ZAHN: Do you have any reason to believe this would not be for conventional weapons? It would be for something else?

HAMZA: I think it would be, but it might contain other pieces of equipment that could be used for unusual weapons of mass destruction. Mostly, it would be dual-use items, that Iraq will cover it by declaring it to be used in other nonconventional -- nonweapon related areas, but it would be used in the weapon areas. Once the list is known, one could discuss possible users and actual users of this equipment.

ZAHN: Mr Hamza, we were looking at pictures of inspectors. and we were told by our Baghdad base reporter, Rym Brahimi, earlier this morning that the owner of this home, a nuclear scientist, an Iraqi guy, was quite surprised by this inspection. Apparently, some documents were found in the home. How critical do you think this find is?

HAMZA: Well, the man, I think Shakra Jaburi (ph),. the one you just mentioned, and the house is -- I knew Shakra (ph) well, and he is highly trusted by the government, and I expect his house to have some documents of this type. His neighbor, the other scientist mentioned, is also a high-level official in the Iraqi nuclear program and could have also these kind of documents in his house and could also be incriminating documents.

ZAHN: And clearly, they got to know that these surprise inspections are going to happen. How damaging do you think the documents will be, or do you think they are documents they don't mind having lying around their houses?

HAMZA: Well, it has been a policy of the government to spread the documents among houses, rather than government buildings, because presumably, houses are more secure, or less prone to inspections than government buildings. And apparently, the inspectors caught on to that, and checked -- I mean, this is a good choice today, for the first time, they picked up the right guy to go into his house. Last two visits to other scientists and interviews were by choices. These guys would not talk and known to be government more or less, they toed the government line. But this time, it is a good choice to go to this house.

ZAHN: We all know that you testified before the House Services Committee last fall when you told members of Congress that you believe that Saddam Hussein is very close to developing a nuclear weapon, maybe two, three years down the road. What is he missing at this point?

HAMZA: Well, he has the weapon components more or less done. I mean, he has a design, a complete design for a low-yield possible weapon, and most of the components needed for that weapon. What he needs is the nuclear core, and there are couple of technologies available to Iraq, including the centrifuge one, and that's what is missing, putting large enough centrifuge units to produce the nuclear core. I don't believe it is as easy as it has been billed that Iraq can buy the material abroad. I don't think it's that available. But Iraq, I think, is intent on doing it locally by enriching uranium to bomb grade and using it in nuclear weapons. That would take something like three years.

ZAHN: Your insights are absolutely fascinating. We appreciate your spending a small part of your morning with us this morning. Khidhir Hamza, Thank you very much for dropping by.

HAMZA: Thank you.

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