Iraq calls reports exaggerated
Published: Wednesday, January 29, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 29, 2003 at 1:15 a.m.
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Arms inspectors exaggerated problems over progress in their pivotal reports to the U.N. Security Council, a senior Iraqi complained Tuesday. He said Baghdad would work on the problems, including scientists' rejection of private U.N. interviews.
On another issue - U.N. reconnaissance overflights - Lt. Gen. Amir Rashid said Iraq would allow them if the Security Council told Washington to ground its attack planes during such missions.
In Iraq's first detailed response to Monday's reports by chief inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, Rashid, a presidential adviser, said his government was cooperating with inspectors ''with all our capacity'' to show that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction. He said it would do more as required.
The Blix-ElBaradei assessment set the stage for renewed debate among world governments about what to do in Iraq - allow U.N. inspections to go on, or short-circuit what Blix calls ''the peaceful route'' and opt for war against Iraq, as threatened by Washington and London.
In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Bush was expected again to focus Americans' attention on his accusations that Baghdad retains banned weapons. Then, On Wednesday, the Security Council meets in New York with Blix and ElBaradei to discuss questions raised by council members about their reports.
The presidents of two veto-holding powers in the council spoke out on the confrontation again Tuesday.
Russia's Vladimir Putin said Russia, which opposes military action against Iraq, might change its stance if Iraq ''creates problems for the inspectors.'' France's Jacques Chirac, in a meeting with the Saudi foreign minister, said inspections must be given more time, but ''Iraq's cooperation must improve,'' Chirac's spokeswoman said.
In his report Monday, Blix said the Iraqis were cooperating by granting full access for inspectors, but he said they'd failed to offer evidence to allay suspicions they retain chemical, biological or nuclear weapons programs. They seem not to have come to ''genuine acceptance'' of U.N. disarmament demands, he said.
In his meeting with reporters late Tuesday, Rashid objected to such judgments.
''We are cooperating with all our capacity, and if there is a demand for additional cooperation on some issue, here or there, we will do it,'' he said.
The general, a former military-industrial chief, complained that in the Blix-ElBaradei reports ''there was no proportionate presentation of the facts. We see, for example, some facts amplified and magnified, on what are called problems ... while important points have been abbreviated.''
One point that should have been stressed, he said, was that U.N. inspections, renewed two months ago after a four-year gap, have shown that allegations contained in U.S.-British intelligence reports late last year were ''totally false.''
Those reports suggested that U.N.-prohibited weapons activity may have been resumed at a dozen Iraqi ''sites of concern.'' Inspections over the past two months have repeatedly covered these installations and no major violations of U.N. edicts have been reported.
On the subject of interviews, Rashid said that under an agreement reached Jan. 20 with Blix and ElBaradei, Baghdad officials were encouraging Iraqi scientists to submit to private interviews, with no Iraqi monitors present. But ''all of them, they demanded a representative from (the government) or a friend or colleague as witnesses,'' he said.
The U.N. Baghdad spokesman, Hiro Ueki, said Tuesday that 16 Iraqi specialists have refused U.N. requests thus far to grant unmonitored interviews. He said the inspectors consider such interviews an ''important tool,'' believing knowledgeable scientists would be more candid without government officials listening in.
''This is a very sensitive issue,'' Rashid said. ''Who can protect the rights of such scientists? This idea of having a witness present was an idea to protect the rights of those people.''
But of U.N. dissatisfaction, he said, ''On this issue we are ready to study with them. It isn't a real problem.''
Blix also complained about Iraq's reluctance to allow U.N. reconnaissance flights using American U-2 spy planes. The Iraqi general countered that Baghdad has not ruled out U-2 flights, but fears their unannounced flight plans might confuse Iraqi air defenses on guard against U.S. and British air patrols in the U.S.-declared ''no fly zones'' of northern and southern Iraq.
Those warplanes regularly attack Iraqi ground targets in those zones.
The Security Council should instruct the United States and Britain not to launch warplanes during U-2 flights, Rashid said.
As the debate over Iraq dragged on, the U.N. inspectors went about their daily work Tuesday, visiting a Baghdad University biotechnology research center, a chemical company 50 miles south of the capital, and a missile plant north of Baghdad, among other sites.
One team returned to the ammunition depot south of Baghdad where U.N inspectors on Jan. 16 found their only undisclosed ''weapons of mass destruction'' thus far - 12 empty chemical warheads, apparently leftovers from the 1980s.
''We need a little more time to continue and complete our inspection work,'' U.N. spokesman Ueki said. But, he added, ''a 'little more' is a matter of interpretation.''
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