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sa team to help iraq prove it has disarmed

  1. klown

    3,363 Posts.

    A team of South African disarmament experts prepared for a last-ditch mission to Iraq on Friday, saying they hoped their expertise could help Baghdad avert the threat of a US-led attack.

    The scientists, who led South Africa's voluntary drive to shed weapons of mass destruction after the end of apartheid in 1994, are due to arrive in Baghdad on Sunday for what would be an open-ended assignment.

    Iraq denies US and British claims it has weapons of mass destruction. But United Nations weapons inspectors in Iraq say Baghdad has not fully described how it disposed of past banned weapons programmes.

    The South African team would help Iraqi officials show that the country had in fact disposed of its weapons of mass destruction, mainly by assisting them with documentation, said Deon Smit, a scientist who played a key role in dismantling the apartheid-era nuclear programme.

    'We can see a paradigm shift in Iraq'
    "To show that you have in fact dismantled your capability totally, I think that is a very complex matter. You don't always have the documentation to prove it," Smit said.

    South Africa has taken a leading role among developing countries in opposing a possible US-led war in Iraq, saying it could lead to economic disaster for Africa.

    South African Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad, said the disarmament delegation - made up of experts in nuclear, biological and chemical weaponry - hoped to build on Iraq's efforts to comply with UN weapons inspectors.

    "Clearly there has been quite substantial movement in the levels of co-operation on substantive matters," Pahad said.

    Smit said South Africa's own disarmament experience had been a "complex puzzle" that had been extremely difficult to document.

    He added that recent changes in Iraqi policy, ranging from allowing more interviews with Iraqi scientists to permitting overflights by U2 spy planes, indicated Baghdad was doing its best to satisfy the weapons inspections process.

    "We can see a paradigm shift in Iraq, in the government there, so I think they need some assistance, some sharing of experience, just to make sure this process is now complete," he said.

    South Africa has led calls by the 53-nation African Union for UN inspectors to be given more time to verify whether Iraq has any nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

    The US and Britain say they have intelligence that Iraq does possess weapons of mass destruction, and that time is running out for it to come clean. Iraq denies it has such arms.

    Along with Smit, now general manager for acquisitions at weapons firm Armscor, the South African team includes Colonel Ben Steyn, who took charge of the country's chemical and biological warfare programme in the mid-1990s. - Reuters

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