RENO, Nev. - Lifting sanctions on Iraq in an effort to spur oil production would be a serious mistake, handing a ''tremendous bargaining chip'' to the world's most dangerous man, a former chief U.N. weapons inspector warned Thursday.
''It would be shocking to send a signal to Saddam Hussein that after 10 years of an effort to control his weapons, we now are going to give up on that because of higher gas prices,'' said Richard Butler, the former Australian ambassador to the United Nations.
''It would put in his hands a tremendous bargaining chip. We don't need to do that and we shouldn't do that,'' he said before a lecture at the University of Nevada, Reno.
Reform Party presidential hopeful Patrick Buchanan said last week the United States should stabilize oil prices partly by lifting sanctions on Iran and Iraq and selling them oil-drilling equipment.
Butler, who was the chief U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq from 1997-99, said Buchanan's suggestion was ''simplistic.'' He said the United Nations already has agreed to allow Iraq to import oil-drilling equipment to upgrade its industry.
''Some political courage is required here within domestic politics in the USA,'' Butler told The Associated Press.
''At the risk of being simplistic myself, what is more important, keeping gas under $2 or being sure Saddam's weapons of mass destruction are under control?'' Butler said.
''Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and the possibility they might spin out of control is the greatest threat to humankind,'' he said.
Besides, he said, gas in the United States is not more expensive than it was 10 years ago when inflation is taken into account.
In a speech at UNR's College of Arts and Sciences, Butler said Saddam is the only person in the world who has tried to destroy the tapestry of international nuclear and chemical weapons treaties that have been established since World War II.
''He quite simply doesn't think weapons of mass destruction are wrong. He doesn't make that moral judgment. He thinks they are fine,'' he said.
Butler testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week that Iraq most likely has been rebuilding its nuclear arsenal in the 18 months since weapons inspectors last were allowed in the country.
''We haven't been there for a year and a half, so as far as I'm concerned, all bets are off,'' Butler said.
''It is crazy to assume (the weapons factories) have not been put back to work,'' he said.
Butler acknowledged critics, including Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., who argue its not possible to enforce treaties because scientists cannot verify whether weapons are present with certainty.
''You cannot verify any of these treaties 100 percent. But you can get into the high 90s. So I can't agree with Senator Lott and others who say they are unenforceable,'' he said.
Butler said chemical and biological weapons are more difficult to detect than nuclear weapons.
''In Iraq, we saw a fermenter with a capacity of a few liters and they would make beer with it in the morning - like a local home brewer would - then rinse it out and grow anthrax spores in it after lunch and rinse it out again and make beer again the next morning,'' he said.
''It's the same technology. It is very small. And the duel use makes it very difficult,'' he said.
''Chemical weapons in many respects - because of their toxicity and portability - are more dangerous today and present a more imminent danger today than nuclear weapons,'' he said.
One SCUD missile warhead carrying 140 liters of deadly nerve gas could kill up to 1 million people, Butler said. He said some new efforts to mix ''cocktails'' of biological weapons show the potential to bring back small pox.