U.S. to Fund Peaceful Research by Former Iraqi WMD Scientists

WASHINGTON — To encourage former Iraqi WMD scientists to refrain from marketing their abilities to potential U.S. enemies, the U.S. State Department announced a plan yesterday to support those scientists in peaceful research projects dedicated to reconstructing the nation (see GSN, Nov. 17).

The department will fund a new Baghdad facility, the Iraqi International Center for Science and Industry, in an effort give former weapons scientists “a preferable alternative to leaving the country in search of suitable employment,” according to a State Department fact sheet.

The announcement drew praise from U.S. Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), an original cosponsor of similar programs established in the former Soviet Union.

“I commend the administration for the start of efforts in Iraq to redirect personnel formerly engaged in the planning, research and production of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. The need to contain this knowledge and to provide opportunities for the peaceful employment of such individuals is a critical priority in stabilizing Iraq and in winning the global war on terrorism,” he said in a statement.

The program will begin with $2 million for initial efforts and could entail an additional $20 million in the future, department spokesman Richard Boucher said yesterday in his daily press briefing. The initial funds are to come from the department’s Nonproliferation and Disarmament Fund.

The center “will work closely with the Iraqi government to identify, develop and fund activities in support of Iraqi reconstruction,” Boucher said, estimating that the first projects would be “up and running by February.”

Boucher said that “hundreds of scientists” would probably be eligible to participate, and while specific rules have not yet been determined, the primary eligibility requirement would be past employment in one of Iraq’s WMD research and development programs.

The program follows criticism in past months from some nonproliferation experts who have urged the United States to offer more incentives to Iraqi scientists to cooperate with the U.S. investigation into Baghdad’s WMD efforts (see GSN, Sept. 8).

Yesterday, Boucher said the United States would not seek to punish WMD research scientists, and news reports indicated last week that only eight Iraqi scientists are in U.S. custody (see GSN, Dec. 9).

“The United States would be interested in pursuing for prosecution people who might have used weapons of mass destruction. But the people who might have been associated with the programs to develop them, we would not be interested in prosecuting,” he said (see GSN, Sept. 18).

Lugar said the approach has proven successful in the former Soviet Union with the programs he launched with former Senator Sam Nunn (D-Ga.).

“I know from my own experience with similar efforts, under Nunn-Lugar’s International Science and Technology Center in Moscow, how this engagement contributed to successful nonproliferation of WMD knowledge. To date, ISTC Moscow has engaged with almost 700 institutions and more than 50,000 individuals. I hope that the new IICSI in Baghdad will meet with similar success,” he said.

Former Clinton administration nonproliferation official Gary Samore, now with London’s International Institute of Strategic Studies, also praised the announcement.

“It’s a good idea for two reasons. First, it will help to facilitate efforts to encourage Iraqi scientists to provide information about Iraq’s past programs. Second, some of these scientists obviously know dangerous things and it’s better for us to give them benign employment,” he said.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Sam Nunn is chief executive officer of the Nuclear Threat Initiative and Richard Lugar serves on the NTI board.  NTI is the sole sponsor of Global Security Newswire, which is published independently by National Journal Group.]

December 19, 2003
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WASHINGTON — To encourage former Iraqi WMD scientists to refrain from marketing their abilities to potential U.S. enemies, the U.S. State Department announced a plan yesterday to support those scientists in peaceful research projects dedicated to reconstructing the nation (see GSN, Nov. 17).

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