REPORT OF THE VX EXPERT MEETING


REPORT OF THE VX EXPERT MEETING

Over the period 22-23 October 1998, the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) held, in New York, a meeting of international experts on the issue of VX. This was the third meeting in this area of discussions related to the evaluation of analytical results generated by the laboratories on samples taken from Special Missile Warhead remnants. 21 experts from seven countries (China, France, Russian Federation, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and the United States), and experts from the Special Commission, participated in the meeting.

The purpose of this meeting was to discuss all analytical results obtained in the course of the Commission's verification of Iraq's Declarations related to the VX activities, and to assess how these results verify Iraq's Declarations. Another purpose was to provide the Chairman of the Special Commission with recommendations concerning further steps to be undertaken in the attempts to finalise the verification process.

All participating experts were requested to provide their opinions on the above mentioned issues.

The meeting began with the presentation made by the Commission's experts on the sequence and results of all VX related sampling missions conducted by UNSCOM.

The first samples were taken with respect to VX in April 1997, after Iraq declared the VX production facility and the dump site where bulk VX was disposed. These samples were analysed in the US laboratory. VX degradation products were found on the equipment pointed out by Iraq and in the soil from the dump site. In addition to these chemicals, compounds known as VX stabilizer and its degradation product were identified in some of the samples from the dump site. These results allowed the Commission to make further progress in the verification of Iraq's Declarations. At that stage, Iraq accepted the results as proof of its claims on the production site and on the unilateral disposal of VX. According to the recommendations of the international expert team to the Technical Evaluation Meeting (TEM) in February 1998, the US laboratory performed further analyses of samples from the same site. Their results confirmed the previous findings and provided more data for the evaluation of Iraq's declarations. In April/May 1998, UNSCOM undertook to verify Iraq's declarations on the filling of 45 Special Missile Warheads through the analysis of samples taken from their remnants. These warheads had been destroyed unilaterally by Iraq through demolition and buried in the desert. Of these 45 warheads, according to Iraq, 25 had been filled with biological warfare agents and 20 with a mixture of alcohols (isopropanol and cyclohexanol). The purpose of chemical analysis was to verify Iraq's statement on the 20 special warheads filled with alcohols. The same US laboratory found VX degradation products in some of the samples from 46 fragments of the 45 special warheads. The chemicals found on the missile warhead remnants were similar to those found at the VX dump site declared by Iraq. The laboratory reported these results to the Commission in June 1998.

In July 1998, the Commission requested that the US laboratory analyse another set of samples taken from some 43 different remnants of the same 20 warheads. No CW related chemicals were found. However, chemicals known as degradation products of a decontamination compound were identified in five samples. Signatures of unidentified non-phosphorus compounds were found in many samples.

Before these results were known, the Commission requested the French and Swiss laboratories to analyse samples from 40 other fragments of the same 20 special warheads, the majority of which were not sampled during the first and second rounds of analysis conducted by the US laboratory.

The French laboratory reported the presence of a degradation product of nerve agent (G- or V- agent) in one sample (The French experts noted that this product could also originate from other compounds, such as detergents. The US experts said that they are not aware of any of such compounds in connection with any commercial product).

The Swiss laboratory did not find any CW related chemicals. However, both the Swiss and French laboratories found the chemicals known to be degradation products of a decontamination compound, as well as a large number of samples containing the same unidentified non-phosphorous compounds, which had been detected in the second set of samples analysed by the US laboratory (The French experts noted that this decontaminant could also have been used for the purpose of chemical destruction of biological warfare agents. UNSCOM and other experts emphasised that according to Iraq's declarations sampled missile fragments were excavated from the burial site of chemical warheads, and that only potassium permanganate or a mixture of potassium permanganate and formaldehyde were used for biological decontamination. In addition, such a view would have serious implications for the accounting of the biological special warheads). These chemicals were not detected on the first set of samples of missile fragments analysed by the US laboratory.

During the meeting, all analytical data provided by the three laboratories were again considered as conclusive and valid. The difference in the results between the first set of samples taken by the US laboratory in April and subsequent samples taken by the US, Swiss and French laboratories in June / July was discussed by the experts. In particular, the presence of certain non-CW related compounds in a significant amount of the June / July samples, which are completely absent from the April set of samples has no obvious explanation. In the course of the meeting, the chemists from all three laboratories gave more details on the performed chemical analyses.

Experts from the US laboratory reported that they had re-evaluated all activities carried out in the laboratory in the course of chemical analyses in order to confirm that no cross-contamination or other mistakes had taken place.

Experts from the French laboratory reported that as a result of their investigation of two samples which had been previously reported as containing ethyl- and methyl- phosphonic compounds, the presence of those compounds could not be confirmed.

Experts from the Swiss laboratory gave more details on technical aspects of their chemical analysis.

Over the past six months, a large number of chemical analyses has been carried out in three separate establishments. The result of this work has enabled the Commission to collect more data and to move forward in the investigation. The Commission appreciates the support of the relevant Governments and acknowledges the high standard of technical support provided.

The existence of VX degradation products conflicts with Iraq's declarations that the unilaterally destroyed special warheads had never been filled with any CW agents. The findings by all three laboratories of chemicals, known as degradation products of decontamination compound, also do not support Iraq's declarations that these warhead containers had only been in contact with alcohols.

As a result of the evaluation of analytical data, reported to the Special Commission by three laboratories, it is recommended that UNSCOM invite Iraq to explain first the origin and history of the fragments analysed by all three laboratories and then the presence of degradation products of nerve agents. It was also emphasized, that Iraq would be invited to explain the presence of a compound known as VX stabilizer and its degradation product, and to provide more information on the Iraqi efforts during the period mid-1988 to the end of 1990 to develop and produce VX by improved synthetic routes.

The current report was adopted by experts involved in the meeting on 23 October 1998.

New York, 23 October 1998, 18:30 hrs.