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UN: Blix Raises Concerns About Iraq's Elusive Weapons Of Mass Destruction

UN weapons inspectors remain outside of Iraq, but their chief, Hans Blix, will appeal for a revived role in his last report to the UN Security Council tomorrow. Blix's written report cites a number of unresolved issues related to Iraqi chemical- and biological-weapons programs. It could stir new debate in the Security Council about the way inspections should be concluded.

United Nations, 4 June 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The defeat of Saddam Hussein's regime has removed concerns about military threats from Iraq and raised questions about the need for a UN weapons inspection mission.

But chief UN inspector Hans Blix, in his last report to the UN Security Council this week, underlines numerous unresolved issues related to Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

His report urges the Security Council not to make major cuts in the inspection agency -- known as UNMOVIC -- because of its valuable expertise about Iraqi weapons programs, sites, and personnel. Blix will make an oral report to the Security Council tomorrow that could revive some familiar debate about Iraq's prewar weapons programs.

But Russia's UN ambassador, Sergei Lavrov, who presides over the Security Council this month, told reporters yesterday the concern now is about the proliferation of any remaining weapons stocks amid the recent upheaval in Iraq. "We all must know whether there [are] still some remnants of [weapons of mass destruction] programs in Iraq, because if there are, then we cannot be safe," Lavrov said.

Lavrov said U.S. and British diplomats have agreed to report to the Security Council soon on efforts by coalition forces to track down Iraqi nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons. The United States has taken over the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, using experts from the military and recruited from the previous UN inspection mission.

Since the end of the war, U.S. teams have visited more than 230 suspected sites from a list provided by U.S. intelligence but have found no weapons. They have not sought the help of Blix, who has been criticized by some members of the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush for not taking a tough-enough stand against the former Iraqi government.

Britain is said to be supporting the return of UN inspectors, but U.S. officials continue to say they foresee no role for UNMOVIC.

Blix, who is stepping down from his post at the end of the month, said UN inspectors could resume inspections in Iraq within weeks if they receive approval from the Security Council and the United States and its military allies.

In his latest report, Blix repeats his assessment from before the war that inspectors had found no evidence of continuing programs of weapons of mass destruction. But he said inspectors -- who left Iraq on 18 March -- still have a long list of unresolved disarmament issues. For example, Blix said, Iraq had provided unsatisfactory information to support its claims that it had destroyed large stocks of anthrax and VX nerve gas.

The danger of proliferation has been raised by watchdog groups such as the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, which runs the Iraq Watch website ( Valerie Lincy, a research associate at the Wisconsin Project, told RFE/RL that it makes sense to use UNMOVIC's expertise in Iraq.

"They do have the most comprehensive information about where Iraq's programs were. And I think that our ability to use the information that they have, whether using their inspectors in particular or just the information, I think that that would be invaluable," Lincy said.

Lincy said it is important to bring available resources into action as soon as possible to protect against proliferation. "We're not even able to secure the sites we know about," she said, "so what about the sites that we don't know about that could be storing this stuff? They could be used by civilians and be harmed in that sense, but they could also be taken and get into the hands of terrorist organizations or siphoned to other states, or who knows?"

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is sending a team to Baghdad on 6 June to investigate whether any radioactive material is missing from a nuclear site that was looted near the capital.

But under an agreement with U.S. officials, the IAEA team will focus on a safeguard inspection as part of its duties under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It will not engage in looking for nuclear weapons, as previously mandated by the Security Council.

Thomas Graham, a former general counsel of the U.S. arms control and disarmament agency, says it is appropriate for the IAEA to return to Iraq, but not for UNMOVIC. Graham told RFE/RL that with the end of Hussein's regime and the Security Council's authorization of U.S.-British authority in postwar Iraq, it is time to wind down the role of UNMOVIC.

"Maybe in a small advisory role, simply as validators, there would be a role for, say, 50 or so UN inspectors, sort of permanently located in Baghdad available to validate and to advise any continuing U.S. efforts. But that would be as far as I would go because the reason for UNMOVIC is gone," Graham said.

The Security Council resolution that authorizes the postwar administration of Iraq calls for a further review of the mandates of both UNMOVIC and the IAEA at a future date.