Iraq: Scientists to refuse private U.N. interviews

Published: Friday, January 24, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 23, 2003 at 9:36 p.m.
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraqi scientists are refusing private interviews with U.N. inspectors despite the strong urgings of the Iraqi government, a senior Iraqi official said Thursday.
But Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said Thursday that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had threatened cooperative scientists with death.
"Today we know from multiple sources that Saddam has ordered that any scientist who cooperates during interviews will be killed, as well as their families," Wolfowitz said in New York.
Despite the scientists' balking at interviews, Lt. Gen. Hossam Mohammed Amin said Baghdad hopes the chief U.N. inspectors will submit a progress report to the Security Council that falls short of declaring Iraq in material breach of the latest U.N. disarmament resolution.
The report, due Monday, will assess Iraq's level of cooperation with the U.N. inspection program and will be crucial in determining whether the United States and Britain launch military operations against Saddam's government.
During a news conference, Amin said top inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the U.N. nuclear agency, had "exaggerated" differences between them and the Iraqi government after talks in the Iraqi capital on Sunday and Monday.
Amin noted that Blix said after Monday's talks that outstanding issues included Iraq's refusal to allow reconnaissance overflights by American U-2 spy planes to help the U.N. inspectors' hunt for banned weapons programs.
"He accused us of putting unnecessary conditions and so forth, which is inaccurate," said Amin, the chief liaison with the U.N. weapons monitors.
He said Iraq was simply seeking "safeguards" that would "secure our right to defend our sky and our ground." He noted that U.S. and British jets still patrol no-fly zones over Iraq - which Baghdad maintains are illegal - and that the presence of American spy planes in Iraqi skies would "complicate the air defense project."
Amin said U.S. surveillance aircraft that flew missions in support of U.N. inspections in the 1990s spied on Iraq's "conventional defense capabilities" and gave the information to the CIA.
During the recent talks, Iraq also promised to encourage Iraqi scientists to be interviewed by U.N. inspectors without Iraqi government officials present.
The United States has been pressing for private interviews, including some outside the country, in the hope that scientists would be more forthcoming with information that might point to banned weapons programs, which Iraq denies it has.
Amin said the government had encouraged a half-dozen scientists to meet privately with the inspectors, but the scientists had refused.
"As we promised, that we shall encourage the scientists to make interviews, we did our best to push the scientists," Amin said. "But they refused to make such interviews without the presence of (Iraqi) officials."
Wolfowitz, however, said the scientists also have been tutored on what to say, and intelligence officers are posing as scientists to be interviewed by inspectors.
Teams of inspectors continued their daily searches Thursday, revisiting the chemical and explosives company QaQa, a site 15 miles south of Baghdad that has been inspected frequently.
They also visited the medical and science colleges of Baghdad's al-Mustansiriya University and a fiberglass tubing factory south of the capital, according to the Information Ministry.
The inspectors have become the target of a campaign of criticism since Saddam accused them in a Jan. 6 speech of spying.
The country's government-controlled media have joined in the criticism, and in recent days the accusations have increased, despite the government's promise of greater cooperation.
FYI: Developments in the Iraq crisis Thursday's main developments in the Iraq crisis:
  • The foreign ministers of Turkey, Egypt, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Jordan met in Turkey and urged Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to cooperate fully with U.N. arms inspectors.
  • Iraq said its weapons scientists still refuse to speak to U.N. inspectors in private, though the government is encouraging them to do so.
  • Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak warned Saddam to take the threat of U.S. attack seriously.
  • The U.S. military was wrapping up its inspections of bases in Turkey.
  • Secretary of State Colin Powell said many nations would join the United States in war even without U.N. approval.
  • French and German politicians complained bitterly after Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld dismissed the countries as "old Europe."
  • Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said no evidence yet justified an attack on Iraq.
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