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UN: Ahead Of Key Report, Blix Again Signals Problems With Iraqi Cooperation

  • Robert McMahon

While the powers on the UN Security Council debate the need for escalating pressure on Iraq, chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix has signaled some of the criticisms of Iraq he will make in his eagerly awaited report next week. In his latest comments, Blix reiterated that Iraq's record of cooperation so far has been mixed. And he again cited South Africa's nuclear disarmament a decade ago as an example Iraq should follow.

United Nations, 24 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Days before his much-awaited report on Iraq's disarmament (27 January), chief UN inspector Hans Blix has outlined a number of areas where Baghdad needs to improve cooperation.

Although careful to defer judgments to the Security Council, Blix signaled again in comments yesterday that his report on 27 January will fault the Iraqi government for failing to provide proactive cooperation. He said Iraq was putting conditions on U-2 spy-plane flights -- considered crucial to monitoring possible weapons sites -- and was sending an excessive number of government "minders" along with inspectors.

In previous comments, Blix has repeatedly pressed Iraqi officials for responses to unanswered questions about its past nuclear-, chemical-, and biological-weapons programs. He has also sought greater contact with Iraqi scientists.

Blix yesterday did credit the Iraqis with providing prompt access to inspection sites and facilitating the UN mission's creation of infrastructure necessary to carry out monitoring. But he said Iraq has been responsible for the slow pace of inspections, dating back to their beginning in the early 1990s. "If Iraq showed the cooperation in all respects that is asked of them, then it could be a fast process. If they provided the evidence that is needed, it could be fast now, as it could have been fast in 1991. And if you do not have that cooperation or respect, then it can drag out," Blix said.

Blix was speaking to reporters at UN headquarters after meeting with his advisory board, a body that includes scientists and government officials from a range of countries.

He told the Security Council earlier this month that inspections have uncovered no "smoking gun" in Iraq. But U.S. officials have cited many of his other critical comments about Iraqi cooperation in justifying their claim that Iraq is in "further material breach" of its disarmament obligations. That phrase is considered a legal trigger for possible action.

In Baghdad, meanwhile, a senior Iraqi official told a news conference that Blix and the head of the UN nuclear agency, Mohammad el-Baradei, were exaggerating their differences with the Iraqi government.

The Iraqi official, General Hossam Muhammad Amin, said Blix had unfairly accused Baghdad of putting unnecessary conditions on the reconnaissance flights by U-2 planes. Amin said his government was trying to secure safeguards to preserve its right to "defend our sky and our ground." He noted the ongoing U.S. and British patrols of no-fly zones over Iraq, which Baghdad says are illegal.

The Iraqi official also defended his country's willingness to allow UN inspectors to talk to Iraqi scientists and other experts. "As we promised -- that we shall encourage the scientists to give interviews -- we did our best to push the scientists and to send them to the [interview] site, but they refused to make such interviews without the presence of the [Iraqi] National Monitoring Directorate representative," he said.

Blix, for his part, again cited his experience with South Africa, which voluntarily surrendered its nuclear arms when he headed the International Atomic Energy Agency. He said Iraq's case is much more complex but it was worth noting South Africa's determination to create confidence in its nuclear disarmament. "It demonstrated the will and the eagerness of South Africa to be believed in the world, and they were setting an example, I think, for Iraq," Blix said.

The Bush administration has also cited South Africa's example in its latest high-level campaign to make the case of Iraqi noncompliance. U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, in a speech yesterday at the Council on Foreign Relations, referred to South Africa, as well as Ukraine and Kazakhstan, as recent cases of countries that fully cooperated in their nuclear disarmament. "Each of these cases was different, but the end result was the same: The countries disarmed while disclosing their programs fully and voluntarily. In each case, high-level political commitment to disarmament was accompanied by the active participation of national institutions to carry out that process," he said.

But it remains apparent that the U.S. case for imminent action instead of prolonged inspections faces resistance by key Security Council members. France's UN ambassador, Jean-Marc de La Sabliere, yesterday reiterated his country's desire to see proactive cooperation from Iraq. But he stressed, in comments to reporters, that France's goal is the peaceful disarmament of Iraq.

De La Sabliere said the rigorous inspection regime set up by council Resolution 1441 was already producing results. There was no need, he said, to set any deadlines at this point. "There is, on the basis of this resolution, a real chance to be sure that Iraq will be disarmed through peaceful means and this is what we are saying and we do think that many members in the Council agree with this position," he said. De La Sabliere also said he did not believe there was much support in the council for a second resolution on Iraq at this time.

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said the possibility of a second resolution was an "open question." He reiterated the U.S. position that there is sufficient authority for military action in existing resolutions but said other Security Council members prefer a second resolution if military force is under consideration.