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Iraq: UN Makes Unprecedented Inspections

Washington, 23 March 1998 (RFE/RL) -- U.N. weapons inspection chief Richard Butler says his teams will comb eight Iraqi presidential sites for the first time ever in search of banned weapons.

In a television interview (on the U.S. cable news network - CNN) from Baghdad Sunday, Butler said it will take two weeks to go through these buildings. He said he is encouraged by what he called the "remarkable cooperation" by the Iraqi authorities. But the Australian diplomat says Baghdad should go beyond cooperation and start volunteering information about unaccounted aspects of Iraq's weapons research programs.

This is Butler's first visit to Iraq since last month's Iraqi-UN accord on weapons inspections that averted the threat of U.S. military strikes against the Persian Gulf nation.

Butler says he personally will not visit any of the sites. He says that would be like being "judge and jury" at the same time. Butler says the inspectors will report to him, he'll assess the program and report back to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Butler is in the Iraqi capital with the U.N. Under Secretary General for Disarmament Affairs, Jayantha Dhanapala. The inspections are mandated by U.N. Security Council directives handed down following the 1991 Gulf War that drove Iraq out of Kuwait.

Butler is in charge of these inspections. The U.N. experts are looking for weapons of mass destruction and evidence of research concerning biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.

Butler said the first inspections of the presidential sites would probably take place within ten days. These buildings will be searched in the presence of diplomats under the accord worked out between Annan and Iraqi officials.

Butler says the diplomats will act merely as observers. He says the inspectors are "not unduly suspicious" but have a job to do.

The U.N. inspection chief says Iraq recently permitted the weapons inspectors to visit the Defense Ministry in Baghdad. Butler says it was the first inspection of its kind. He says no banned materials were discovered.

But Butler said he will not withdraw his contention that Iraq is still hiding biological and chemical weapons "just because they say 'trust me.'"

Following his arrival in Baghdad on Sunday, Butler told reporters that his disarmament teams would conclude their work quickly if Iraq continued its cooperation.

Butler said: "I have a sense of a new spirit prevailing in our relationship. The degree of cooperation that Iraq has been showing the commission in all fields is very high and very welcome. My earnest hope is that it will continue."