FRANCE DENIES IT KNOWINGLY HELPED IRAQI ARMS DRIVE



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Last Updated

17 Mar 2003

Source: Reuters, March 17, 2003

France Denies It Knowingly Helped Iraqi Arms Drive

PARIS (Reuters) - French officials on Monday dismissed suggestions that Paris had knowingly helped Iraq obtain biological weapons, but conceded Baghdad may have had ulterior motives for scientific cooperation dating back two decades.

The New York Times reported that Iraq had identified a Virginia-based biofirm and France's prestigious Pasteur Institute as suppliers of 17 types of biological agents that were used in weapons programs.

The Pasteur Institute told Reuters it had helped Iraq work on anthrax and other dangerous bacteria in the 1980s -- in purely scientific and educational research -- but said the last shipment of material had been transferred around 1985.

French foreign ministry spokesman Francois Rivasseau said such media reports were disingenuous as everyone had cooperated with President Saddam Hussein's Iraq during the 1980s.

Many western states at the time backed Iraq in its long war with neighbor Iran, an Islamic republic.

"A lot of information which is given is simply false," Rivasseau told reporters.

"It is false that we wanted to contribute to Saddam Hussein's biological arsenal," he said.

Nadine Peyrolo, head of the Pasteur Institute's press service, told Reuters that the medical institution had always strictly respected French and international law in its dealings with Iraq.

"Obviously, since 1990-1991 (when U.N. sanctions were slapped on Iraq to punish it for its invasion of neighbor Kuwait), all the procedures have changed.

"Since 1991, the dispatch of any dangerous (bacteriological) agents has been completely banned, and if requests (for such material) are made the Defense Ministry must be notified...so that, even if we send nothing, the authorities know that a request came from such and such a place," she added.

The institute had, for example, before about 1985 sent Iraq anthrax bacteria and a sample of anthrax vaccine. The disease mainly affects cattle and is prevalent in Mediterranean basin countries, Peyrolo said. In humans the disease is frequently fatal.

"We can imagine now that it was used for other purposes -- that's always possible, unfortunately," she added.