Baghdad, 10 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The top two UN weapons inspectors left Baghdad today with more documents about Iraq's missiles and more optimism that Saddam Hussein's regime will cooperate with inspectors searching for weapons of mass destruction. After weekend talks on arms issues, Chief weapons inspector Hans Blix and Muhammad el-Baradei, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), will now prepare a report that will be presented to the UN Security Council on 14 February.
In another development over the weekend, German Defense Minister Peter Struck promoted a plan that would avert a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq by deploying more inspectors in Iraq and possibly guarding them with UN soldiers.
"It goes back to a comment by the French Foreign Minister in the Security Council [last Wednesday], which called for an increase in the numbers of inspectors in Iraq. We support this measure because it's crucial that the inspectors can really investigate fully whether [the Iraqi President] Saddam has weapons of mass destruction," Struck said. "And if yes, that these are destroyed under the supervision of the UN. We are in close agreement with France on this. We hope that the initiative will be taken up positively in the Security Council on February 14 after [the UN Chief Weapons Inspector Hans] Blix has given his report."
In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said the plan is a diversion and the real issue is whether Hussein is prepared to disarm.
"If he [Saddam Hussein] still didn't come into compliance, did not tell us what happened to these weapons, did not allow interviews to take place or allow reconnaissance to take place, then the council was to meet again and consider serious consequences," Powell said. "We are approaching that moment, and everyone who voted for that resolution last November knew that this moment might come and this is not the time to step back and ignore the fact that that moment is now upon us."
New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Hunt lent support to the plan, however, saying it must be taken seriously. And the Italian newspaper "Corriere della Sera" quotes European Commission President Romano Prodi as saying the initiative is a step in the right direction.