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UN: Inspectors Seek Strong Mandate, Unity From Security Council On Iraq

Two UN officials who will be responsible for verifying Iraqi disarmament of weapons of mass destruction have urged the UN Security Council to unite behind a strong mandate for inspections. The latest comments from Hans Blix and Mohammad El-Baradei seem to support some key aspects of the U.S.-British draft resolution on new inspections. But diplomats believe further compromise is necessary before there can be broad council agreement on a new resolution. United Nations, 29 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Top UN weapons inspectors for Iraq have appealed to the United Nations Security Council to give them a strong mandate and avoid the divisions that undermined its previous resolution on inspections.

Chief UN arms inspector Hans Blix and Mohammad El-Baradei, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told the council yesterday that they can best verify Iraqi disarmament by receiving clear orders from the council.

They said such orders should come in a new resolution that has the vigorous support of the council. Blix said inspectors want to avoid the divisions that weakened the 1999 resolution on inspections, when France, Russia, and China abstained. "Just as important as clarity on the text and clarity on mandate is the readiness of the council to uphold the resolution and the prerogatives of the inspectors, that there is no, sort of, fatigue in maintenance because our authority would go down," Blix said.

El-Baradei, whose agency will oversee Iraq's nuclear disarmament, also told reporters about the need for council unity and engagement through the inspection process. "We need unified council support behind us. We need explicit authority, good practical arrangements, and information from all member states as how to go and where to go to be sure that Iraq is completely disarmed," El-Baradei said.

Both officials also signaled support for a key requirement -- the need for "consequences" in the event of Iraqi noncompliance -- in the U.S.-British draft resolution under discussion in the council.

Russia and France have objected to the reference to consequences in the draft out of concern that Washington could use it as UN authorization for military action against Iraq. But Blix said that given the UN's experience with weapons inspections in Iraq, in which inspectors faced deception and other obstacles, a threat of consequences would be helpful. "I think it is desirable that Iraq understands that any lack of cooperation or violation of the provisions of the resolution will call for reactions on behalf of the council, that the council -- as I said in the morning meeting [with council members] -- would exercise its influence in such a situation," Blix said.

But in their briefing with the council yesterday, Blix and El-Baradei also questioned some requirements included in the U.S.-British draft. Diplomats said they expressed concern about whether Iraq would be able to give a comprehensive declaration of its banned chemical and biological weapons within 30 days of the adoption of the resolution, as spelled out in the draft.

Diplomats said Blix and El-Baradei also had questions about the draft resolution's requirement that they be allowed to interview scientists and other Iraqi officials outside the country, along with their families. One council diplomat said the inspectors wanted to have discretionary authority about how to conduct such interviews.

Blix, in his comments to reporters, stressed that his inspectors will focus on objectively studying Iraqi weapons facilities and reporting their findings to the council. It will be up to the council, he said, to determine whether Iraq was in compliance. "We've seen it sometimes stated that we hold peace and war in our hands. We decline that statement. Our job is to report and the decision whether there is war or peace or a reaction, that is for the council and its members [to decide]," Blix said.

U.S. and British diplomats said they were encouraged by the inspectors' reaction to their draft resolution and the need for a tough inspection regime. They declined to discuss specific aspects of the draft resolution but said yesterday's discussions could help narrow the differences among council members on the terms of inspections.

U.S. Deputy Ambassador James Cunningham said the goal remains finding a united voice on the council for ensuring Iraqi disarmament. "It's clear, I think, from their comments that they welcome that authority, that we have proposed what one of them called a 'comprehensive approach' that will strengthen their hand and give them the opportunity to do the job that the council is asking them to do," Cunningham said.

U.S. officials are hoping for a vote on their proposed resolution by the end of this week. The Security Council is due to discuss the resolution again later today. France and Russia, which have prevented rival draft resolutions eliminating references to consequences, are expected to press for further compromises by the United States.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who attended part of the closed-door briefing yesterday, said compromise is essential. "I'm still hopeful that the council will come up with a resolution, a resolution that all of them can sign on to, or a vast majority. But it would require some compromises to get compromises, and I have not given up that hope," Annan said.

The White House yesterday repeated its challenge to the Security Council to act quickly for the sake of its prestige. Otherwise, said U.S. President George W. Bush, the United States would lead a coalition to disarm Iraq.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department was in especially intense negotiations with France in a series of phone calls between U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin during the weekend and through yesterday.