United Nations, 11 September 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The chief UN weapons inspector for Iraq, Hans Blix, has reiterated that he has no solid evidence that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction.
Blix told reporters after briefing the UN Security Council yesterday that based on previous UN inspections, open questions remain on Iraqi weapons programs. UN officials have said these questions primarily concern Iraq's chemical and biological weapons programs, which are relatively easy to conceal.
An official with the International Atomic Energy Agency last week said construction is taking place on sites that once housed nuclear facilities. But Blix said satellite imagery that experts now rely on is not adequate to determine whether old nuclear weapons sites have been revived:
"One can see whether there have been extensions, whether they have rebuilt, etc. But it is not the same thing as saying that there are weapons of mass destruction. It is precisely for this reason that we would like to have inspectors on the ground so we can view horizontally and not just vertically. The satellites don't see through the roofs."
Blix said he is open to further talks with Iraqi officials on what he called "practical arrangements" on the return of inspectors but not on open disarmament issues. He said that any unresolved disarmament issues can only be discussed after inspectors have made an initial review to assess changes since their last inspections in 1998.
He said the UN inspection mission -- known as UNMOVIC -- is ready to assume some tasks immediately but the process of deploying monitors in the field would take some time. This is partly, Blix says, because many trained inspectors currently hold other jobs:
"As soon as we have a green light for resumed inspections in accordance with resolutions of the Security Council, then we can set in motion a lot of things. Much has been prepared -- where we can rent airplanes and helicopters, what kind of tags we'll have, electronic seals, etc. But getting inspectors in takes a little while."
Neither Blix nor Security Council diplomats speaking yesterday would speculate on the prospects for the Council to issue an ultimatum to Iraq to permit inspections or face military action. Such coercive inspections are expected to be the subject of talks between U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and other Council diplomats later this week.
U.S. President George W. Bush is to address the UN General Assembly tomorrow to try to make the case that the Iraqi regime poses a global threat.
Britain's ambassador to the UN, Jeremy Greenstock, told reporters that Bush's speech could spur greater action at the United Nations to resolve the problems with Iraq:
"I think we all expect what the president may say on Thursday to be very important in this context, and maybe it will set some activity going at the United Nations. I very much hope so, because my prime minister (Tony Blair) has made very clear that the important thing on Iraq is for the UN route to be taken and to work."
The deputy U.S. ambassador at the UN, James Cunningham, declined to discuss whether Bush, in his speech, will offer proof of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. But he stressed that, under UN resolutions, the burden is on Iraq to show it does not possess such weapons:
"The structure of the process is not on us or UNMOVIC to prove that they (Iraq) have weapons of mass destruction. The burden of the process is on Iraq to prove that it does not. That was its obligation after the Gulf War. That was the obligation it hasn't met, and that was the obligation that needs to be met."
A senior White House official said Bush's speech tomorrow will not provide new information about an Iraqi threat or recommend any specific actions. The official said Bush will detail Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's defiance of 11 years of UN resolutions and try to rally support for taking action against him.