US Army Stands By Its
Tests Of Iraqi Missiles
For VX Residue
By Jonathan Wright
WASHINGTON, (Reuters) - The United States Thursday stood by its finding that Iraq armed missiles with the poison gas VX before the Gulf War in 1991. It said that recent laboratory tests in France and Switzerland, regardless of whether they turn out positive or negative, were on missile fragments other than those tested at a U.S. Army laboratory in July. A London-based newspaper said on Thursday that the European tests did not find traces of VX and that this contradicted the results of the tests made in the United States. Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon told a briefing on Thursday that the U.S. army tests found traces of decomposed VX on one quarter of 44 fragments salvaged from the Iraqi government's al-Hussein missile destruction site. The European tests were on 80 fragments taken from another part of the site and the results would have no bearing on the validity of the U.S. tests, he added. ``The United States does stand behind its findings... What the French and Swiss find cannot invalidate them, because the fragments came from different places.'' he said. The spokesman said he thought the laboratories had not yet sent their results to the U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM), the organization set up to dismantle Iraq's programs to develop weapons of mass destruction. An UNSCOM spokesman in New York confirmed this. ``We have not received formal final reports from either the French or the Swiss. We have undertaken not to discuss publicly any interim findings,'' said Ewen Buchanan. The final reports might be received next week, he added. The Arabic-language newspaper al-Hayat said it learned from diplomatic sources that: ``Switzerland and France have unofficially informed officials in Iraq and at the United Nations secretariat that most of tests of the samples of the Iraqi warheads ... showed they were free of the VX agent''. It said UNSCOM chairman Richard Butler requested the analysis after Iraq disputed the findings of a first series of tests carried out by the U.S. Army laboratory. But Bacon said an UNSCOM team of specialists, including many non-Americans, had already carried out more tests to double-check the U.S. results. ``They unanimously concluded that the U.S. findings were valid,'' he added. UNSCOM, trying to work out how many missiles Iraq armed with the poisonous gas, then went back to the site and collected the other 80 fragments, took swabs of them and sent half to France and half to Switzerland, he said. Iraq has repeatedly denied arming the missiles with VX. The fragments came from a site where Iraq destroyed weapons on its own initiative, without UNSCOM supervision. Iraq and the United Nations seem set on a collision course over arms inspections after the U.N. Security Council resolution decided to suspend its regular review of sanctions, imposed on Baghdad after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Baghdad on Wednesday threatened to halt all activities by U.N. inspectors unless the council cancels the resolution. The U.S. State Department warned Iraq against ceasing cooperation with the inspection team.