July 25, 2006


Case Closed: The truth about the Iraqi-Niger "yellowcake" nexus. (Christopher Hitchens, July 25, 2006, Slate)

I shall quote here, with his permission, from a letter I have received from Ambassador Rolf Ekeus. Ambassador Ekeus, currently high commissioner for national minority questions for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, is a founder of the renowned Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, has been Sweden's envoy both to the United Nations and the United States, and won great acclaim for his effective defanging of Iraq when he was the first chairman of UNSCOM after the first Gulf War in 1992. (When it was proposed 10 years later that the U.N. inspectors be sent back to Iraq, Kofi Annan actually renominated Ekeus for the job but was overruled by France and Russia, who wanted the more conciliatory Hans Blix.) Ekeus writes to me as follows, having known Zahawie in a professional capacity and having read the posting, apparently from him, in Slate's "Fray":

One of my colleagues remembers Zahawie as Iraq's delegate to the IAEA General Conference during the years 1982-84. One item on the agenda was the diplomatic and political fall-out of Israel's destruction of the Osirak reactor (a centerpiece of Iraq's nuclear weapons ambitions). Zahawie in his response [to Slate] appears to confirm that he was Iraq's delegate, though not the Permanent delegate, to the IAEA (the General Conference) and therefore clearly not foreign to the nuclear issues, especially as he was the under-secretary of the foreign ministry selected by Baghdad to represent Iraq on the most sensitive issue, the question of Iraq's nuclear weapons ambitions. His participation as leader of the Iraqi delegation to the 1995 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference merely confirms his standing as Iraq's top negotiator on nuclear weapons issues. [italics mine]

He confirms that he was Iraq's ambassador to the Vatican, a not unimportant position given that all Iraq's [other] embassies in the West lacked senior or ambassadorial leadership and that all Western embassies in Iraq were closed. His modesty in this case is puzzling if you don't take into account that a resident ambassador in Rome was ideally placed to undertake discreet and sensitive missions, especially as he was fully plugged into the intricacies of nuclear-weapons diplomacy.

Zahawie furthermore confirms his trip to Niger. The question remains, why Iraq's top man on nuclear weapons diplomacy and negotiations would travel to Niger: with all respect, not the dream-place for a connoisseur of Mozart and Italian bel canto, though no longer of Wagner.

(Ambassador Ekeus' allusion in that last sentence is to Zahawie's affecting claim that he was posted to Rome in virtual semiretirement and mainly for the music. This is as credible as his claim, made to Hassan Fattah—then of Time magazine—that when he visited Niger he did not know that it exported yellowcake—which is famously just about the only thing that it does export.)

Let me now introduce a second corroborative witness, whose acknowledged expertise in the field is hardly less than that of Ekeus...

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 25, 2006 1:32 PM

It would be fun for the defense to bring this out while questioning Joe Wilson when (or more likely, if) he and Val's lawsuit goes to trial.

Posted by: John at July 25, 2006 4:02 PM