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Iraq: Baghdad Promises To Boost Cooperation With UN As War Pressure Grows

Baghdad promised today it will boost cooperation with UN weapons inspectors. The promise is contained in a joint statement signed during a meeting in Baghdad between Iraqi officials and the heads of the UN inspection teams. Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has warned that the lack of cooperation seen from Baghdad so far, and Iraq's inaccurate weapons declaration, may constitute a "material breach" of its disarmament obligations, a term that could be used to justify a U.S.-led war.

Prague, 20 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The heads of the United Nations weapons-inspection teams in Iraq say Baghdad appears willing to respond to some of their demands for greater cooperation.

Hans Blix, head of the UNMOVIC inspectors, and Muhammad el-Baradei, chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, signed a joint statement with Iraq today in which Baghdad is promising to increase its cooperation.

The promises come as Blix and el-Baradei finish a final scheduled day of talks in Baghdad before making their 27 January report to the UN Security Council on Iraqi compliance.

Speaking for the first time since the top-level security talks began in Baghdad yesterday, el-Baradei said he thinks progress has been made. "I got the feeling that they got on board some of the messages that we have been trying to impress on them. And hopefully we should see some reaction from their side in the next few days or weeks," el-Baradei said.

One issue that has raised concerns in the past week is the discovery of a dozen Iraqi warheads capable of carrying chemical or biological weapons. The warheads were empty but in well-kept condition.

El-Baradei and Blix have also voiced frustration after inspectors found at the home of an Iraqi scientist some 3,000 pages of documents related to the enrichment of uranium, which can be used in nuclear weapons.

The Iraqi scientist has strongly denied any link between the documents and Iraqi weapons programs. But the UN inspectors complain that Iraqi officials have obstructed their attempts to interview Iraqi scientists privately.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's top scientific adviser, Amir al-Saadi, read out Iraq's fresh promises on the issues today: "After the find of some empty 122-[millimeter] chemical munitions at the al-U Haidir stores, the Iraq side has appointed a team to undertake an investigation and comprehensive search to look for similar cases at other -- at all locations. One find of four more units was already reported at the el-Taji munitions store. The final results will be reported."

Blix said that Iraq has also promised to respond to concerns about some 30,000 other chemical and biological warheads that it was known to possess in the past but that have not been accounted for and were not declared in Iraq's weapons declaration to the UN Security Council last month. "The declaration given on December 7 by Iraq was discussed. Iraq expressed their readiness to respond to questions raised in connection with the declaration and [to] discuss such questions," Blix said.

Blix said that Iraq has also promised to help UN inspectors obtain interviews with scientists and to gain access to private locations. "Access has been obtained to all sites, and this will continue. The Iraqi side will encourage persons to accept access also to private sites," Blix said.

Al-Saadi said another Iraqi promise is to answer all remaining questions about its alleged nuclear-weapons programs. "Iraq agreed to continue technical discussions with the IAEA to clarify issues regarding aluminum tubes, alleged uranium importation, and the use of high explosives, as well as other outstanding issues," al-Saadi said.

Both Blix and el-Baradei had warned on the weekend that Iraq is running out of time to show full cooperation with the UN inspection teams in order to avert war.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on U.S. television yesterday that lack of cooperation on Baghdad's part would constitute a "material breach" of its obligations to disarm, a term that could be used by the United States to justify war. "The real test that's taking place is the issue as to whether or not the Iraqi regime is going to be cooperative with the United Nations. The process that's going on right now is not testing whether something can be found. It's testing the degree of cooperation that the Iraqi regime is going to show to the United Nations," Rumsfeld said.

And Rumsfeld said that Iraq has, so far, failed to pass that test. "Thus far, they've filed a false declaration of what they have. They have refused to provide the list of scientists that they are required to provide so that the scientists can be taken out of the country and talked to in safety, with their families, and won't be killed by Saddam Hussein as he did kill his sons-in-law after they came back into the country," Rumsfeld said.

U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice reiterated Washington's position yesterday in a remark that also suggests the United States is not willing to allow Hussein to use diplomacy to delay his disarmament obligations. "There is an enormous amount at stake here, and time is running out. It is time for either Iraq to comply or the Security Council is going to have to deal with its obligations. We do not have the luxury of allowing Saddam Hussein to drag the international community again through the kind of charade that he did for the last 12 years," Rice said.

Rumsfeld yesterday also suggested that he personally supports the idea of allowing senior Iraqi leaders and their families to live in exile in a third country in order to avoid war. But he said any decision on granting immunity to Saddam Hussein from war crimes charges would rest with U.S. President George W. Bush and the U.S. Justice Department.

Iraq has already rejected the idea of any deal that calls for Hussein to step down from power.