UNITED NATIONS -- In recent meetings in Baghdad, Iraqi officials told the chief U.N. arms inspectors that they have no weapons of mass destruction and expressed reservations about inspections of President Saddam Hussein's palaces, Hans Blix, one of the inspections chiefs, said here yesterday.
Briefing the Security Council, Blix said Iraqi officials had pledged to cooperate fully with the inspections but also raised a host of skeptical questions about a declaration of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons due Dec. 8.
Suggesting the declaration was too broad to finish by that deadline, the Iraqis wondered whether they had to include every detail of their nation's civilian chemical industries, down to "the production of plastic slippers," Blix said.
Blix said he responded with a curt warning that if Iraq was going to claim to be clean, it would have to provide convincing evidence.
The weapons chief gave a glimpse of his tough stance and Iraq's ambivalent reaction in his first report to the council since he and Mohamed ElBaradei, the top nuclear inspector, traveled to Baghdad a week ago, starting a new round of inspections after a four-year hiatus. The first contingent of 19 U.N. experts arrived in Baghdad yesterday, saying they planned to conduct the first inspections tomorrow.
On a day when many council nations expected a show of unity to support the inspections, the United States provoked dissension by trying to add several items that it said could be used for military purposes to a list of restricted imports to Iraq, diplomats said.
When debate produced no accord on whether or how to revise the list, the council voted last night to extend the mandate for U.N. monitoring of Iraqi oil sales until Dec. 4. It was set to expire at midnight last night.
The program, called oil-for-food, uses Iraqi oil revenues to buy food, medicines and other civilian goods for the population.
At the behest of the Pentagon, American officials said, U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte insisted on adding several medical and communications items to the list of goods that must pass U.N. review. They included global positioning scanning devices, equipment to jam radio intercepts and 7-inch injectors to administer the drug atropine as well as the drug itself. It is used to resuscitate heart attack patients but can also be a treatment for victims of attacks with chemical nerve agents.
The United States was also seeking to block large-scale imports of Cipro, a strong antibiotic that can be used to treat anthrax infection, administration officials said.
Negroponte said the United States believed these goods "did not have a benign, civilian or purely humanitarian purpose." He said Washington insisted on extending the debate for nine days to revise the goods list before it would approve renewing the program.
Other council diplomats were frustrated that the United States insisted on the revisions to the list as the deadline approached. The list has been the subject of long and contentious debate in the past, and most council nations were hoping to avoid getting into it again until next year to avoid undermining the weapons inspections.
"We would like to have a solution to this, and everybody must try to come together" to support the program, said Ambassador Peter Ole Kolby of Norway, with a diplomatic hint of frustration.
Blix said he had told Iraq to expect aggressive surprise inspections.
"The council has authorized us to go anywhere anytime, and we intend to do so without telling anyone in advance," Blix said he informed Iraq; the comments were praised by American officials.
While saying they would do nothing to delay the inspections, the Iraqi officials, led by Gen. Amir Hammudi al-Saadi, also observed that entering "into a presidential site or a ministry was not exactly the same thing as entry into a factory."
Resolution 1441, adopted unanimously by the council Nov. 8 to give the inspectors a new forceful mandate, authorizes them to inspect the vast compounds around Hussein's nine palaces.
Most council nations were pleased by Blix's report, which was endorsed by ElBaradei, that the inspections were moving forward as planned in the resolution.
"So far, so good," said the Chinese ambassador, Wang Yingfan, speaking for the 15-nation council.
But differences among the council powers surfaced in the discussion after Blix's briefing, diplomats said. The Russian ambassador, Sergey Lavrov, took issue with Blix's statement that "many governments" believed there were still programs to build weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
"I can only think of a few," Lavrov said, according to diplomats in the session, making it clear that Russia was not one of them.
Blix noted that the inspections teams would begin their work 19 days after Resolution 1441 was passed, considerably faster than the 45 days the Security Council allowed. He said he and el-Baradei expected to provide a comprehensive report to the council on their progress Jan. 27.
Blix said the arms chiefs had stressed that Iraq's Dec. 8 declaration had to be complete, disclosing any prohibited program.
He said past declarations by Iraq "left it an open question whether some weapons remained."
In a sign that the Iraqis were weighing the possibility of dropping their flat denial of any illegal arms, Blix said yesterday that they reported there were some omissions in a stack of records Baghdad had handed over, which Iraqi officials volunteered to revise soon.