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UN: Inspectors Say Weapons Report Lacks Evidence To Exonerate Iraq

  • Robert McMahon

United Nations, 20 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- UN experts say Iraq's weapons declaration offers little evidence to free it from suspicion that it is developing weapons of mass destruction. Hans Blix and Mohammad el-Baradei have told the UN Security Council they will seek more information from Iraq on specific chemical-, biological-, and nuclear-weapons issues. U.S. officials accuse Iraq of continuing a pattern of deceit and say that time is running out for it to comply with Security Council resolutions.

United Nations, 20 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The two top UN weapons inspectors say Iraq has so far failed to answer outstanding questions on key elements of its chemical, biological, nuclear, and ballistic-missile programs.

Hans Blix and Mohammad el-Baradei said yesterday that much of Iraq's weapons declaration handed in earlier this month was recycled from previous reports. Blix heads UNMOVIC, the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, while el-Baradei is director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). They gave the UN Security Council a preliminary analysis of Iraq's declaration and were asked to return early next month for a more detailed assessment.

El-Baradei told reporters outside the Security Council that UN inspectors will go back to Iraq with questions about all aspects of Baghdad's weapons-of-mass-destruction programs. "We still need much more cooperation from Iraq in terms of substance, in terms of providing evidence to exonerate themselves that they are clean from weapons of mass destruction, and I think that's a challenge both for them and for us. If they come with additional information, then our task will be much shorter, much easier. Our conclusion will be much more credible."

As an example, Blix cited Iraq's incomplete declaration of its programs to develop anthrax. He said Iraq has not verifiably accounted for the growth media it used to produce thousands of liters of anthrax.

Blix said Iraq has declared that it has destroyed it all, and he said there is evidence that it has destroyed some of it. But there is not, he said, sufficient evidence to show it has destroyed all of the material used to make anthrax.

Iraq could hand over records, Blix said, or provide personnel who took part in the destruction of the anthrax. He said inspectors have similar questions about many items. "An opportunity was missed in the declaration to give a lot of evidence. Well, they can still provide it, and I hope they'll provide it to us orally, but it would have been better if it had been in the declaration."

Blix told the Security Council that inspectors are also seeking more information on the whereabouts of 550 mustard-gas shells declared lost after the Gulf War. They also have questions about declarations concerning the weaponization of the nerve agent VX, and the destruction of missile engines, Blix said.

But a top scientific adviser to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, General Amir al-Saadi, reiterated to reporters in Baghdad yesterday that the Iraqi declaration is legitimate and discounted U.S. charges that its weapons report is incomplete. "All these are just allegations. They haven't submitted one signal concrete evidence to support them. They continue to say that in an obvious attempt to preempt the assessment of the specialists. And I might add that we have only heard politicians talk like that -- we haven't heard any reputable weapons expert come out and pick out the holes in our declaration."

The UN inspectors' initial assessment of the Iraqi report followed several days of critical remarks by the United States and Britain, which were among the first countries to study the Iraqi declaration.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told a news conference in Washington yesterday that Iraq clearly remains in what he called "material breach" of its disarmament obligations. That term is seen as part of the legal justification for mounting a military attack against Iraq. Powell said Iraq's new breach would not unleash military action, but he added that patience is running out. "There is no question that Iraq continues its pattern of non-cooperation, its pattern of deception, its pattern of dissembling, its pattern of lying. And if that is going to be the way they [the Iraqi government] continue through the weeks ahead, then we're not going to find a peaceful solution to this problem."

The French and Russian ambassadors to the UN stressed that Iraq's disarmament of its weapons of mass destruction must be verified through UN inspectors. But France's ambassador, Jean-Marc de La Sabliere, joined the criticism of the Iraqi declaration. "It doesn't lift the doubts about the possible continuation by Iraq of prohibited activities since December 1998 when the inspectors left the country. There are still question marks."

Russian Ambassador Sergei Lavrov told reporters Russia is still skeptical about the charges that Iraq is developing weapons of mass destruction. "We have been hearing allegations that Iraq does continue its [weapons-of-mass-destruction] programs. We have heard it many times, but we never saw any evidence that this is the case. We don't know whether this is true or not, and we want this to be verified by professionals -- by UNMOVIC and IAEA."

A key task now for the inspectors is conducting interviews with current or former Iraqi weapons experts. Iraq says it will provide the names of such experts -- as required by the Security Council's latest resolution -- by the end of this month.

Blix has been under pressure from U.S. officials to begin the process of interviewing these experts, outside the country, if necessary. Blix has been uncomfortable with the prospect of taking Iraqi scientists outside of the country, saying previously he does not run a "defection agency." He told the Security Council yesterday that practical arrangements for taking the experts outside the country would have to be carefully examined.

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