Accessibility links

Breaking News

UN: Inspectors Urge Iraqi Cooperation As Debate Looms Over Deadline

Chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix says Iraq has failed to provide the active cooperation and transparency required under Security Council resolutions. Blix told the council yesterday that after 60 days, his mission has not been able to verify an Iraqi buildup of weapons of mass destruction. But he says it also cannot be sure that Iraq no longer possesses such weapons. The report has triggered a new round of discussions by council members, who are divided over continuing inspections or authorizing military action.

United Nations, 28 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The most detailed report so far by chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix criticizes Iraq for continuing a 12-year-old pattern of poor cooperation with international monitors.

In a report yesterday to the UN Security Council, Blix says that after 60 days of resumed inspections by his mission, known as UNMOVIC, questions remain about Iraq's chemical, biological, and ballistic-missile programs. Among the most serious, Blix says, are those relating to quantities of VX nerve gas and anthrax reported by the previous UN inspection mission but never accounted for by Iraq.

U.S. officials seized on yesterday's report to support their case that Iraq is in breach of its disarmament obligations and must face the "serious consequences" threatened in a November resolution. But other Security Council members signaled they want to see inspections continue.

The council carried out three hours of discussions in private with Blix and the director the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammad el-Baradei. Council members meet again today for what is expected to be intense debate about a timetable for inspections.

In his address, Blix did not accuse Iraq of developing weapons of mass destruction, but he said it has not provided proper assurances that it has fully disarmed. He cited reports made by the previous UN inspection mission from 1991 to 1998: "These reports do not contend that weapons of mass destruction remain in Iraq. But nor do they exclude that possibility. They point to a lack of evidence and inconsistencies which raise question marks which must be straightened out if weapons dossiers are to be closed and confidence is to arise."

Blix said inspections have also revealed that in the four years since previous inspections, Iraq has developed two types of missiles that exceed the permitted range of 150 kilometers.

Blix referred to the recent discovery of a small number of empty chemical warheads and thousands of documents on laser enrichment of uranium. Both cases, he said, raise concerns that a far greater amount of material remains concealed by Iraq. Iraq maintains that it has no more weapons of mass destruction, but Blix said it has failed to offer proper evidence. "When we have urged our Iraqi counterparts to present more evidence, we have all too often met the response that there are no more documents. 'All existing relevant documents have been presented,' we are told. 'All weapons relating to the biological-weapons programs were destroyed, together with the weapons,' [the Iraqis say]. However, Iraq has all the archives of the government and its various departments, institutions, and mechanisms. It should have budgetary documents, requests for funds and reports, and how they have been used," Blix said.

Cooperation has been especially poor, Blix said, in gaining access to personnel who have worked in Iraqi weapons programs. Iraq initially provided about 400 names of experts in biological and chemical weapons. But Blix said more than 3,500 people were linked to those programs in reports of the previous UN mission.

There are fewer unanswered questions regarding Iraq's past nuclear program. El-Baradei told the council that no prohibited nuclear activities have been identified during inspections so far.

Both Blix and el-Baradei said Iraqi officials have cooperated in providing prompt and unconditional access to inspection sites. But the chief of the nuclear agency, echoing Blix's remarks, said Iraqi officials must be more forthcoming with information to help inspectors. "It is urgent and essential that Iraq on its own initiative identify and provide any additional evidence that would assist the inspectors in carrying out their mandate. This proactive engagement on the part of Iraq would be, as we have told them, in its own best interest and is a window of opportunity that may not remain open for very much longer," el-Baradei said.

In his public address, Blix did not request more time for inspections, but el-Baradei said a few more months would be needed for his inspectors to complete their work. He stressed the value of intrusive inspections in eliminating Iraq's nuclear-weapons program.

That view was shared by a number of Security Council diplomats. Representatives of at least five council states -- France, Russia, China, Germany, and Syria -- spoke in favor yesterday of continuing inspections.

There was a general acknowledgment that Iraq should improve its cooperation but disagreement with the United States over how long Iraq has to show its cooperation. France's UN ambassador, Jean-Marc de La Sabliere, told reporters it could take up to a few months to reach the goal of verifying Iraq's disarmament. "We need now a more active cooperation from Iraq, and we need more time. I think that what many delegations said this morning during consultations is that we need more time," he said.

Russia's UN ambassador, Sergei Lavrov, would not speculate how long inspections should take. But he challenged the assertion by U.S. and British officials that time is running out. "All these new finds -- documents, some physical evidence -- do not change the basic assumption under which UNMOVIC and IAEA are working, namely, that they don't have any evidence that Iraq has resumed its [weapons-of-mass-destruction] programs, nor can they assert that all these programs have been stopped. Flowing from this is the need for inspections to continue," Lavrov said.

U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte repeatedly quoted from the November Security Council resolution that authorized new inspections, saying it did not envision a lengthy process. He also said Iraq has proven during the past 12 years that it is not serious about complying with UN inspections. "We have always maintained that inspections, in order for them to be effective and useful, require the cooperation of the government of Iraq. And Resolution 1441 stipulates that Iraq must cooperate immediately, unconditionally and actively, and we don't think that it has done any of those thing," Negroponte said.

Iraq's UN ambassador, Muhammad al-Duri, said his country has provided UN monitors the means to make thorough inspections. He told reporters his government is open to full cooperation with Blix and el-Baradei. "All the sites that the United States and Britain alleged in their two recent reports that we were producing weapons of mass destruction were repeatedly inspected, X-rayed, and environmental samples were taken to make sure that nothing happened there. The result proved that Iraq is clear of weapons of mass destruction," al-Duri said.

The Security Council is expected to hear a further briefing from Blix and el-Baradei on 14 February. There is expected to be agreement on continuing with inspections in the short term.

More details on the U.S. position are expected to follow the 31 January meeting between U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Washington's top ally.