U.N. inspectors need more time in Iraq


Published: Tuesday, January 14, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 13, 2003 at 11:51 p.m.

UNITED NATIONS (AP) - Top weapons inspectors said Monday they need months to search for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, but getting that time may depend on whether Iraq provides new evidence about its nuclear, chemical and biological programs.

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Unidentified members of the U.N. weapons inspectors team write notes during their work at the al-Amer facility in Ramadi province some 90 km north west of Baghdad Monday, as the inspectors continued their hunt for banned weapons in Iraq.

The Associated Press

Chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix said Iraq must answer outstanding questions about its weapons programs or may face the possibility of war.

Blix said he and Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, will deliver this message to the Iraqi government when they visit Baghdad on Sunday and Monday.

"I think they only need look around their borders and they should realize the seriousness," Blix said in an interview with The Associated Press and Associated Press Television News, alluding to the huge U.S. military buildup in the Persian Gulf and neighboring Kuwait.

"We would hope ... for a peaceful solution to this, and that inspection can provide that," he said. "I think also what the show of force demonstrates to Iraq is that here is the other alternative."

Blix streesed the peaceful alternative is a lot cheaper than war.

"We are perhaps 250 or 300 people on the inspection side. We cost about $80 million a year. If you take the armed path, you are talking about $100 billion, you're talking about 250,000 men, you're talking about a lot of people killed and injured, a lot of damage. So I think the whole world prefers a peaceful solution if you can have one that is credible," Blix said.

He said those seeking peace include President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Blair said Monday that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein can peacefully end the standoff over weapons of mass destruction, but warned that he will be disarmed by force if he does not.

Blix and ElBaradei said although Iraq has cooperated in providing access to sites, it hasn't provided the information inspectors need to verify its claim that it has no banned weapons and long-range missiles to deliver them. They reiterated that Iraq's 12,000-page weapons declaration didn't contain new evidence.

"There are a great many open questions as to their possession of weapons of mass destruction and the Security Council and the world would like to be assured that these questions be sorted out," Blix said. How long this takes "depends entirely on how cooperative the Iraqis are."

ElBaradei, in Paris for meetings with top French officials, said his inspectors "still need a few months to achieve our mission" but the time frame will depend on Baghdad's willingness to supply documents, allow U.N. inspectors to interview Iraqi scientists and show physical evidence of what facilities and weapons have been destroyed.

The international community, he said, is "getting impatient that after 11 years, we have not yet brought to a closure this file about Iraq's disarmament."

Blix and ElBaradei stressed that their Jan. 27 report to the Security Council would be an update -- not a final report on inspections which resumed in November after four years.

"We can see a lot of work ahead of us beyond that date if we are allowed to do so," Blix said, but the decision on whether inspections continue is up to the Security Council.

He said he did not know how long the American government was willing to wait for his team to carry out its searches.

"It could be that one day they will say, 'Move aside boys, we are coming in,'" he told the British Broadcasting Corp. on Monday. "That's possible, but I think a great many people and a great many governments would prefer to have disarmament through peaceful means."

If the council does not take any action on Jan. 27, Blix told APTN that inspectors will go ahead with plans to identify by late March the key disarmament tasks that Iraq must fulfill before sanctions imposed after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait can be suspended. These are likely to include detailed information about its anthrax and deadly VX nerve agent production, he said.

Iraq's "active cooperation" in answering outstanding questions is the most critical issue, he said.

"We think they have more evidence," Blix said. "It may be that it is difficult to find, but they do have after all the budgets. They have the production reports. They have the destruction reports."

Inspectors will also conduct some interviews in Baghdad this week with Iraqis involved in weapons programs, but there are still issues involved in taking scientists abroad including where they would go and what would happen to their extended families at home, he said.

"We don't think we should be a mechanism for defection," Blix reiterated.

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