Stockholm, 6 August 2002 (RFE/RL) -- UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix says that sanctions against Iraq will not be lifted this year even if inspectors are allowed back into Iraq and given unhindered access to carry out their task. Blix today said in an interview with Swedish public-service radio that verifying Iraq's compliance will take more than six months. Blix also said that it would take him several months to assemble and prepare an inspection team, should the UN and Iraq agree to resume inspections.
Blix said that once in Iraq, the team would travel for a couple of months and then report its findings to the UN Security Council with a proposal what to do next. Blix said that Iraq must cooperate with the inspectors for half a year before the UN Security Council decides to lift sanctions.
Iraq sent a memo to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan yesterday saying it wanted to review with Blix what had been achieved on disarmament matters before inspectors left at the end of 1998.
Annan says he will ask Iraq for clarification about whether its latest invitation to resume talks on weapons inspections indicates a new openness to permit inspectors to return.
Annan told reporters after meeting with members of the UN Security Council yesterday that some members were skeptical of the Iraqi offer for Blix to come to Baghdad for further talks. But Annan says other council members believe that every effort should be taken to reach agreement on the return of inspectors.
Annan told reporters before his meeting he needs to explore whether there has been a clear change in the Iraqi position. "Whether this is a real break and a real change in attitude is something that we will have to test. But I think, as I have indicated, if they were to agree to the position that Mr. Blix had laid out for them in accordance with the UN resolutions, we may be closer, but it's interesting that they write to invite the inspectors to come in at this stage. It has not happened before."
The Iraqi government sent a new memo to Annan yesterday saying it wanted to review with Blix what had been achieved on disarmament matters before inspectors left at the end of 1998. But a 1999 council resolution requires weapons inspectors to visit Iraq and then determine what questions Iraq must still answer about its chemical, biological, nuclear, and missile programs.