27 October 2003

Row over US General's comments on Iraq nuclear weapons

Those claims prompted the Federal Opposition to question the Defence Minister in the Senate, today.

[Labor Senator] JOHN FAULKNER: Is the Minister aware of reports in the Australian and US media citing Australian Brigadier General Stephen Meekin who said that the aluminium tubes, which were used as evidence of Iraq's attempts to reconstitute its nuclear weapons programs were quote, 'innocuous' and quote, 'were used for rockets'?

Does the Minister recall statements by the Foreign Minister that, and I quote him, 'Iraq's attempt at acquisition of very specific types of aluminium tubes' - this was said on the 17th of September 2002 - 'maybe part of Iraq's attempts to acquire equipment that could be used in uranium enrichment'.

Given that Brigadier General Meekin is from your department, can you advice the Senate who is right? The Brigadier or the Foreign Minister?

[Defence Minister] ROBERT HILL: Brigadier Meekin is the Commander of the Joint Captured Materiel Exploitation Centre, which has the mission of examining and locating Iraq's conventional weapons, and is only peripherally involved in the investigation of Iraq's WMD programs.

I'm told that Brigadier Meekin spoke only about Iraq's conventional military capabilities. Unfortunately, the journalist inaccurately and wrongly used the comments to make assertions about Iraq's nuclear programs. I'm told that he made no judgment, no judgment on the suitability or otherwise of aluminium tubes for Iraq's nuclear weapons program.

This gets curiouser and curiouser. If Meekin did not make the statement why did Anon say he was not qualified to make it? Wouldn't it have been better to just say Meekin did not say what the Washington Post reported?

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