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UN: Chief Inspectors To Meet With Powell, Waiting For Unified Message From Council

  • Robert McMahon

The UN's top inspectors for chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons in Iraq will wait for the UN Security Council to clarify the terms of their mission before resuming inspections. That's the message from Hans Blix and Mohammad El-Baradei, who say they are eager to send their experts into the field but think it unwise until the Security Council speaks with a united voice on inspections. The two are also due to meet U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell today to discuss inspection plans.

United Nations, 4 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The head United Nations weapons inspectors say they will seek further guidance from the UN Security Council before proceeding with their mission to uncover evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Chief inspector Hans Blix and Mohammad El-Baradei, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told reporters yesterday that the full support of the council is needed before their experts can mount investigations in Iraq. They spoke after briefing the council on their discussions with Iraqi weapons experts earlier in the week in Vienna.

El-Baradei said he and Blix emphasized that a clear mandate from the council is necessary for them to proceed. "We need to work with the [Security] Council for support. I think that's a point we both made, that we need unanimous support by the Security Council to be able to do effective inspections. And I think that point has been well taken by the council," El-Baradei said.

Blix said they hoped the council would be able to provide the necessary instructions in the near future, saying inspectors are ready to return at the "earliest practical opportunity." But he said inspections clearly cannot take place while the council is still debating new terms of engagement in Iraq. "It would be awkward if we were doing inspections and then a new mandate with new, changed directives were to arise. It would be better to have those early. My impression is that there is a good deal of intensity in the talks about that," Blix said.

He and El-Baradei are expected to meet U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell later today in Washington to exchange views on inspection plans.

The United States and Britain have drafted a new resolution that seeks to make inspections more effective and avoid circumstances they said allowed Iraq to "cheat and retreat" during previous UN missions in the 1990s.

The draft accuses Iraq of being in "material breach" of UN resolutions imposed since the end of the 1991 Gulf War. It provides Iraqi officials with seven days to detail their weapons programs and permits UN inspectors an additional 23 days to verify Iraq's claims. Iraqi noncompliance could result in a military response, under the U.S.-British draft.

U.S. and British officials want to make sure any new inspections cover the presidential sites, which were not considered in Blix's talks with Iraqi officials this week. The sites covered 32 square kilometers and included hundreds of buildings in 1998 when a UN group of diplomats and weapons experts toured them. Under a memorandum with the United Nations, they can only be inspected under special conditions.

But Iraq's ambassador to the UN, Mohammad al-Douri, emphasized that existing resolutions are enough. "We think that we have enough resolutions, and legally speaking, we are bound -- Iraq and other parties, the UN Security Council, and the members of the United Nations -- bound by these resolutions, and we have to implement, if there is anything to be implemented, these resolutions," al-Douri said.

The U.S. deputy ambassador to the United Nations, James Cunningham, told reporters after the briefing by Blix yesterday that the council should provide Blix's team with a more effective inspection plan before allowing them to go to Iraq. He said the United States will seek to better define what "immediate and unfettered access" means. "We have repeated that we will seek or are seeking a further resolution with additional guidance and authority for them that will strengthen their efforts and enable them effectively to pursue the goal of disarmament," Cunningham said.

But a divide among the five permanent council members persists over some of the stronger terms included in the U.S.-British draft. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Saltanov said yesterday in Moscow that automatic use of force in the draft is unacceptable. "From our point of view, using force, especially when it is not approved by the Security Council, will not resolve the Iraqi problem. For many years, we have kept this position and as you remember, our position justified our line on the question of so-called 'smart sanctions.' Our position is contained in the ideas of a complete normalizing of the situation around Iraq through the return of inspectors, and a step-by-step lifting of sanctions," Saltanov said.

France is proposing a two-step approach that first offers Iraq the chance to cooperate on inspections and then, if necessary, a resolution authorizing force. China supports the French position.

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