Former Top Iraqi Nuclear
Scientist: Saddam Could
Have Bomb In Months
KHIDIR HAMZA, the man who ran Iraq's nuclear bomb program untl 1994, described Thursday how Saddam Hussein hid Iraq's nuclear weapons from the West, playing a deadly game of 'cat and mouse' with U.N. weapons inspectors that lasted for seven years. Hamza is the highest-ranking scientist ever to defect from Iraq. He was spirited out of the country by the CIA in 1994 and now lives in the United States. In an exclusive interview with NBC News, he told his story for the first time on television. "Many of the weapons were put in houses and schools and other buildings. Some were kept on blocks, some were put on railroads as cargo and kept on railroads moving back and forth," says Hamza. Now critics say the game of evasion is over, despite Iraq's promise of full access to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and threats by President Clinton that the United States would act in the face of Iraqi defiance. Indeed, Iraq has now locked out virtually all U.N. inspectors and without their surprise visits Iraq could rebuild its weapons and "even make an atomic bomb within months. If Saddam gets the bomb he'll be a hero in the Arab world, and the Islamic world," says Hamza. "He'll be impregnable."
After spending tens of billions of dollars to defeat and contain Saddam and after crippling his economy with U.N. sanctions, the Iraqi dictator is still in power, still taunting the U.N. and the U.S. But now, instead of threatening military action, the Clinton Administration is relying on the U.N. to punish Saddam. "If he doesn't reverse course, at some point it will become increasingly clear to the rest of the world that he doesn't intend to comply with the Security Council resolutions and we will be insisting that the Security Council respond," said State Department spokesman James Rubin, who spoke in an interview Thursday. "Instead of any military response, we say, well, that's a UN problem, not a U.S.-Iraqi problem."
BRENT SCOWCROFT National Security Advisor Bush Administration But the administration's approach to dealing with Saddam is not being met with approval by those who dealt more firmly with the Iraqi leader. Brent Scowcroft, National Security advisor during the Gulf War, says the Clinton Administration's approach could be a mistake. "Instead of any military response, we say, well, that's a U.N. problem, not a U.S.-Iraqi problem," says Scowcroft. Former President George Bush says that the U.S. must not back down and should make efforts to consolidate international support for any action against Iraq. "The U.S. must mobilize world opinion and get the international community behind us with the most forceful diplomatic initiative we can bring to bear," says Bush. "It would be a tragic mistake to let this man stop one iota short of living up to all...I mean all of the United Nations resolutions."
For Bush's successor, who is mired in possible impeachment proceedings, and a crisis of confidence in his leadership, this is a major test of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger fears could undermine the effectiveness of the United States in its conduct of foreign affairs. "I believe the course on which we are now is extremely dangerous," says Kissinger, "because it devalues our threats. It does not leave any impression of what it is we're trying to do. We're talking about sanctions, but we're not enforcing them. And it undermines our plans and it may embolden our enemies." The Clinton Administration says the military option has not been ruled out but America's allies may be growing tired of the endless standoff with Iraq, becoming unsure the U.S. will ever follow through. "If you indicated you were going to use force and then the private diplomacy failed, the diplomacy failed or the international sanctions failed, you better be prepared to use [force]," says Bush. So has Saddam Hussein won? So far, Hamza says, the answer is yes. "America won the battle of the Gulf War, but lost the war."