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UN: Inspectors Say New Positive Signals From Iraq But No Response On Missiles

  • Robert McMahon

As pressure builds on Iraq to produce all evidence of its weapons programs, chief UN inspector Hans Blix has cited some of what he called "positive" new information from Baghdad. Blix has told reporters of a series of letters from Iraqi officials, including one in which they identified a bomb possibly containing a biological weapon. Meanwhile, a new initiative from Canada has been launched to try to bridge the differences between council members on Iraq's disarmament.

United Nations, 26 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- UN weapons inspectors have reported new positive signals from Iraqi officials to assist them in resolving the status of banned weapons of mass destruction, although overall cooperation is seen as mixed.

The new disclosures came in a series of six letters sent recently to chief UN inspector Hans Blix. He told reporters yesterday that one of them concerned a bomb found at a biological-weapons disposal site.

"There are some elements that are positive and which need to be explored further. There is one letter in which they tell us they have found an R-400 bomb containing liquid in a site which is known to us at which they did dispose of biological weapons before."

Iraq admitted in 1995 it had produced 155 of the R-400 bombs, which were filled with biological agents.

Blix said that in another letter, Iraqi officials report they have found some handwritten documents concerning the disposal of prohibited items in 1991. The letters appear to respond to some of the main complaints of Blix as well as U.S. officials threatening military action against Iraq: Baghdad's refusal to provide a complete declaration of its weapons programs.

But cooperation in key other areas is seen as lacking. Blix told reporters he had not yet received an official response from Iraq to his letter demanding the destruction of dozens of Al-Sumud 2 missiles by 1 March. UN experts say the missiles exceed the 150-kilometer limit set by UN resolutions. But Iraqi officials have asked for technical talks, saying the missiles do not exceed the limit.

Blix met yesterday with his advisory board to discuss his upcoming quarterly report on Iraqi disarmament, which he is to deliver to the Security Council by 1 March. He will make an oral presentation to the council next week.

The discussions included setting a priority list of more than 30 unresolved disarmament issues.

Security Council members are deeply divided over how to pressure Iraq to show it has completely disarmed. The United States, Britain, and Spain have introduced a draft resolution saying Iraq has missed its final opportunity to disarm peacefully and the measure implies the use of military force. But France, Russia, and Germany have presented a paper urging more extensive inspections. Most council members have expressed support for continuing inspections.

Among the commissioners advising Blix this week were Yuri Fedotov, Russia's deputy foreign minister, and John Wolf, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation. Fedotov told reporters the inspection process was working.

"I have the impression that this [draft] resolution is somehow disconnected from the realities on the ground, from the inspections which are going on with the cooperation from the Iraqi side as well as from the forthcoming reports we expect from the IAEA and UNMOVIC."

But Wolf repeated the U.S. charge that Iraq has failed to fulfill the main demand of the November council resolution that authorized tough new inspections. He said resolution 1441 placed the burden on Iraq, not the council, to account for its weapons of mass destruction: "What the council asked was for Iraq to identify fully, completely, and currently all of its weapons of mass destruction to put that in the declaration that was due December 7. That it failed to do, so it's very hard to identify tasks that remain to be done."

The 10 nonpermanent members of the Security Council met yesterday with France's UN ambassador, Jean-Marc de La Sabliere. They are expected to meet today with U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte. The full council meets to discuss Iraq tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Canada has circulated a document to council members proposing a timetable for UN inspectors to report on Iraq cooperation in disarmament, with the final report to come 28 March. The council would then be asked to vote on 31 March on whether Iraq was complying with its UN obligations. The document is an effort to bridge the differences among council members but there were no initial signs of support among the permanent members.