The United Nations' chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, says the earliest date that an advance team of inspectors can be sent to Iraq is the end of October. Blix had originally hoped to get inspectors back into Iraq by the middle of this month. But the UN Security Council is debating proposed resolutions that could alter the mandate under which they work. Meanwhile, Iraq today offered to allow U.S. inspectors into industrial complexes that Washington alleges are part of a program to produce weapons of mass destruction.
Prague, 10 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Chief United Nations weapons inspector Hans Blix says debates within the UN Security Council over proposed resolutions on Iraqi disarmament are delaying the deployment of inspectors to Baghdad.
Speaking late yesterday on the U.S. television program "Newshour With Jim Lehrer," Blix said his inspection teams are ready to go into Iraq now. But he said he thinks the earliest that an advance team can arrive and start preparing for a resumption of inspections is the end of October. "We [initially] had a timeline that represented the [UN] Security Council which aimed at the middle of October. If the Security Council now is going to work out a new resolution, which might in some ways change our mandate, then we think that it would be reasonable to wait for that mandate, at least for some little time. So, still, hopefully, before the end of October," Blix said.
Blix and Mohammad El-Baradei, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told reporters last week that the support of the Security Council is needed before experts can start a new series of inspections in Iraq.
It has been almost four years since the last UN inspection team left Baghdad in a dispute over their right to inspect sites suspected of being part of Iraq's alleged programs to develop weapons of mass destruction, including chemical, biological, and possibly nuclear weapons.
Last month, Baghdad said it would allow the immediate return of inspectors and give them unfettered access to suspected weapons sites under existing agreements with the UN.
The logistics of that return were explored in detail by Blix, El-Baradei, and Iraqi weapons experts in Vienna on 1 October.
This week, Blix sent a letter to the Iraqi government outlining the agreements reached in Vienna. A copy of that letter was also given to the members of the Security Council yesterday.
The letter seeks confirmation from Baghdad on what Blix and El-Baradei were promised in Vienna by General Amir Al-Saadi, an adviser to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
It says General Al-Saadi promised that inspectors would be given "immediate, unconditional, and unrestricted access" even to areas that, in the past, were termed as "sensitive sites."
"I think they realize that there must be very good cooperation on the ground, and opening up the sites. We did away with something called the 'modalities for sensitive sites,' where in the past, the inspectors had to wait until the arrival of an Iraqi official. And any delay in the inspection when you get to the site is one that reduces somewhat the credibility of the inspection," Blix said.
Blix said the sites that would be opened to his team include the Ministry of Defense and the facilities of Saddam Hussein's Republican Guards, which previously were off-limits to surprise inspections. "We have a great many places that we want to visit, and we will hope that we will get more information [about suspected weapons sites] from governments. But one must realize and remember that the Iraqis have had plenty of time to hide whatever they wanted to hide since 1998. They were quite capable of that before. And they would be even better at that now. We read stories to the effect that they have been putting things on mobile trucks and moving it around in the country. Or there could be underground installations. And we would need to have an idea of where we could find that," Blix said.
A 1998 agreement between Baghdad and the United Nations requires advance notice before inspectors can visit eight presidential palace compounds in Iraq.
That deal also was discussed in Vienna. But the Blix letter raises the possibility that the 1998 agreement could be overturned under a new UN Security Council resolution.
"Now there is much talk about the presidential sites, about which there exists an agreement between the UN and the Iraqis. And that would entail a much longer [period] of waiting -- several days -- before you can set up such an inspection. I think the Iraqis realize that they will have to increase the facility for inspections [and] the credibility of inspections. Whether that amounts to full cooperation or respect, well, we will see. The proof of that pudding is in the eating," Blix said.
The United States is demanding that the 1998 exemption be lifted and that the presidential compounds -- encompassing 31 square kilometers -- also be subject to surprise inspections.
Iraq says it has nothing to hide. But it views the sprawling complexes as a symbol of its sovereignty. It wants the 1998 agreement to remain in effect.
The debates within the UN Security Council this week are focusing on two different proposals for new resolutions.
The United States and Britain have submitted a toughly worded draft resolution. In addition to a new mandate for the inspectors, Washington and London want the inclusion of language that authorizes the use of military force should Baghdad renege on its obligations.
France proposed the other draft resolution. It would also give the inspection teams a new mandate and new instructions. But Paris wants any authorization of military force to be addressed in a later resolution after the weapons inspectors arrive and file new reports on Iraqi compliance.
On 7 October, in an address televised in the United States, U.S. President George W. Bush accused Hussein of trying to build nuclear weapons. He also alleged that Iraq is plotting to attack the United States with biological and chemical arms.
Since that speech, the White House has released satellite photos of two alleged weapons sites. An analyst at the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency has also identified two more suspected sites.
The four sites include the Furat centrifuge development center, the Nassr-Taji Steel Fabrication and Military Production Facility, the Qa'im uranium-ore refinery and the Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center.
All four locations have been bombed in the past, either during the Gulf War or the four days of U.S. and British air strikes in 1998 that followed the departure of the last UN inspection team.
In Baghdad today, Iraqi Minister of Military Industrialization Abdel Tawab Mullah Huweish flatly rejected Washington's latest allegations. "I confirm here that we have no weapons of mass destruction and we have no intention to produce them. We did not go against the relevant Security Council resolutions, even in the absence of inspectors from Iraq, and the monitoring directorate has continued with its work as if UNSCOM was present, issuing biannual reports and monitoring sites according to their duties in this matter," Huweish said.
Huweish also invited experts from the United States to visit the sites for themselves.