Blix sees 'beginning' of Iraqi co-operation

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Posted by Esperanza from ( on Sunday, February 09, 2003 at 3:15PM :

Associated Press

Baghdad — Chief UN inspector Hans Blix said Sunday he saw a beginning of Iraqi understanding that it must seriously observe UN demands for disarmament and that he believed further UN inspections were preferable to a quick U.S.-led military strike.
"I perceive a beginning," Mr. Blix said after two days of talks in Baghdad. "Breakthrough is a strong word for what we are seeing." But he added: "I would much rather see inspections than some other solution," referring to Washington's threats to launch a military strike.

But Mr. Blix said he and UN nuclear chief Mohamed ElBaradei did not win immediate agreement on using American U-2 surveillance planes to assist with the inspections.

The success or failure of the weekend session could help decide the next steps taken by the UN Security Council in the months-long standoff that has left the Middle East suspended between war and peace.

There was no immediate U.S. response to Mr. Blix's comments, but U.S. President George W. Bush reiterated that it was time for action against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Hussein "wants the world to think that hide-and-seek is a game that we should play. And it's over," Mr. Bush told congressional Republicans at a policy conference. "It's a moment of truth for the United Nations. The United Nations gets to decide shortly whether or not it is going to be relevant in terms of keeping the peace, whether or not its words mean anything."

Mr. Blix said he had received assurances that Iraq would expand a commission to search for weapons and weapons programs and "relevant documents nationwide," and that he had hopes that Iraq was taking the disarmament issue seriously.

Asked for comment on Mr. Bush's declaration last week that the "game is over," Mr. Blix replied, "Well, we are still in the game."

During the two days of meetings, the Iraqis submitted a number of documents that are still being evaluated. Mr. Blix said they related to outstanding issues of anthrax, VX nerve gas and Iraqi missile development.

He said those documents would have to be reviewed intensively by UN experts in the coming days to determine their value. Mr. Blix also said he hoped Iraq would soon enact legislation banning weapons of mass destruction.

A senior Iraqi official said Baghdad also gave Mr. Blix and Mr. ElBaradei additional names of nuclear scientists to supplement the initial list — criticized by the United Nations as incomplete — of 400 scientists and others involved in past weapons programs.

Lieutenant-General Amer al-Saadi said Iraq also was studying ways to comply with "the problem" of U-2 surveillance flights, which Iraq had refused to allow unless the United States and Britain suspended patrols in the "no-fly" zones.

He said he hoped the surveillance issue could be resolved before the inspectors make their report to the Security Council on Friday.

Mr. ElBaradei said Iraq's cooperation must be "simultaneous in all areas" of the inspection process.

"We made it clear to Iraq they need to move on the whole file," meaning all types of weapons of mass destruction, he said.

Mr. ElBaradei said he felt, however, that he and Mr. Blix had "good technical meetings" during their two days in Baghdad.

"I see all this as a beginning of a change of heart, a new attitude that will be tested. Time is of the essence," he said.

On the issue of U-2 flights, Mr. Blix said he expected the Iraqis to respond by Friday. The Iraqis have refused to accept U-2 flights unless the United States and Britain suspend air patrols in the "no-fly" zones while the spy plane is aloft.

Mr. Blix and Mr. ElBaradei are to make their next report to the UN Security Council on Friday. Their report is expected to be pivotal in determining whether the United States launches military action to disarm Iraq.

Meanwhile, UN inspectors found another empty chemical rocket warhead at an ammunition depot north of Baghdad. Inspectors have found nearly 20 such warheads during inspections over recent weeks although none have been loaded with chemical agents.

As the inspectors pressed for concessions, Iraq's foreign minister traveled to Iran in a surprise diplomatic move. There was no advance notice Naji Sabri's visit to Tehran, a leading opponent of Saddam Hussein's regime that has nonetheless rejected military intervention without UN approval.

Also Sunday, Pope John Paul II ordered a special envoy sent to Iraq to emphasize his plea for peace and to encourage Iraqi authorities to cooperate with the United Nations, the Vatican said Sunday.

The Baghdad talks will set the tone for reports Mr. Blix and Mr. ElBaradei will submit next Friday to the UN Security Council, whose member nations are searching for unanimity on the next step in the explosive crisis.

The council majority wants something short of a UN authorization for war against Iraq, sought by Mr. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Washington and London contend that Iraq retains chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs prohibited by UN resolutions, and threaten a military strike if not satisfied Mr. Hussein has disarmed.

The Bush administration has increasingly expressed impatience with the UN inspections process, although it voted with all other Security Council members last November to send the inspectors back with greater powers to search for forbidden arms.

The Security Council banned Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and longer-range missiles after Iraq's defeat in the 1991 Gulf War. During the 1990s, UN inspectors oversaw destruction of the great bulk of chemical and biological weapons, and dismantled Iraq's program to build nuclear bombs.

The UN experts resumed inspections last Nov. 27, after a four-year gap, to certify that Iraq has no leftover weapons and did not restart the arms programs during the UN absence.

-- Esperanza
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