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UN: Blix Urges Role For UNMOVIC In Iraq, But U.S. Continues To Oppose UN Inspectors

In his final report to the UN Security Council, chief UN inspector Hans Blix repeated that there have been no significant finds of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq for years. He urged the Security Council to make use of UN inspectors in postwar Iraq to try to resolve questions about weapons stocks that are still unaccounted for. But the United States continues to oppose any immediate role for UNMOVIC, saying its own inspectors are renewing efforts to confirm the presence of weapons programs.

United Nations, 6 June 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The man who guided UN inspection efforts in Iraq for more than three years says he is hopeful that the regime change will lead to answers for the many unresolved questions about its weapons of mass destruction.

Chief UN inspector Hans Blix stressed in his final address to the UN Security Council yesterday that years of inspections in Iraq uncovered little new evidence of major weapons programs.

And he said his monitoring mission -- known as UNMOVIC -- could help in the investigations now being conducted by weapons experts from the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. Blix later told reporters that UNMOVIC could lend credibility, as well as expertise, to the inspections.

"Anybody that functions under an occupation [by] a few foreign states cannot have the same credibility, internationally, as international inspectors would [have], but I'm not thereby casting doubt on their integrity," Blix said.

A majority of Security Council members support the return of UNMOVIC inspectors to Iraq. But U.S. officials oppose any immediate role for UNMOVIC.

The U.S. ambassador to the UN, John Negroponte, dismissed suggestions that there is personal animosity toward Blix in Washington. Some newspaper reports say senior members of the Bush administration fault Blix for failing to take a tougher stance against Iraq during the inspections. But Negroponte said the United States, like other council members, commends the professionalism of Blix, who retires at the end of the month.

So far, investigations of hundreds of sites by coalition experts in Iraq have found no evidence of banned weapons programs. Washington had cited intelligence about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction as the main reason for ousting the regime of Saddam Hussein.

Negroponte told reporters yesterday the United States is intensifying efforts to search for weapons of mass destruction under a newly launched Iraq Survey Team.

"We are going to be searching all available sources of information, both documentary and human, and I simply would counsel patience. This process has just begun. We've been in a stabilization phase and a phase of trying to restore security in Iraq, and it's been difficult for this kind of work to be conducted," Negroponte said.

Negroponte and British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock told Security Council members they would report back on their experts' findings at a future date.

Both of them stressed that, aside from the weapons issue, Iraq had violated last November's tough Security Council Resolution 1441 by repeatedly failing to provide full and unconditional cooperation to UNMOVIC inspectors.

Some U.S. and British officials recently said Iraqi authorities may have unilaterally destroyed their weapons prior to the war in March. But they said the regime continued to practice deceit and disrupt the work of inspectors.

In the postwar phase, Britain has been more supportive of a central UN role in Iraq and backs a return of weapons inspectors.

"We believe that UNMOVIC can continue to be a great help in the overall business of completing the disarmament of Iraq's WMD programs, and we will continue to work with UNMOVIC on that," Greenstock said.

In his comments yesterday, Blix repeatedly cited the lack of evidence about any new or revived programs for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But following his pattern of earlier briefings, Blix also pointed out the Iraqis' inability to provide convincing proof they had disarmed.

In the Security Council, Blix cautioned against making assumptions based on missing weapons stocks reported by a previous UN inspection mission: "There remains a long list of items unaccounted for, but it is not justified to jump to the conclusion that something exists just because it is unaccounted for."

Blix also raised questions about the Iraqi regime's behavior. In later comments to journalists, he said if Iraq really had destroyed its weapons of mass destruction, it was puzzling why the regime did not share this information.

"If that is the conclusion, well then, one would have to really ask oneself what were the reasons for the kind of conduct that Iraq had during the '90s and why they were living through all these sanctions and hardships that they had."

Blix said that before UN inspectors were pulled from Iraq ahead of the war, Baghdad had provided some new documents attempting to show it had destroyed large quantities of anthrax and VX nerve agent in 1991. But Blix said the Iraqi explanations were insufficient.