In Iraq, limited access, no proof

Inspectors' interim report to U.N. lacks smoking gun

Blix notes weak cooperation

Baghdad hasn't presented evidence it has disarmed

January 10, 2003|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Seven weeks of inspections in Iraq have failed to turn up any "smoking guns," but Iraq still might be hiding prohibited weapons in "dark corners or caves" and has failed to provide credible evidence that it has disarmed, a top United Nations inspector said yesterday.

Hans Blix, who heads the search for chemical and biological weaponry and missiles, told the U.N. Security Council that the access Iraq had granted to inspectors so far did not amount to satisfactory cooperation.

Besides numerous gaps in its 12,000-page weapons declaration, Iraq had provided an incomplete list of scientists to be interviewed, he said. He also told the council that Iraq had acknowledged importing parts for its missile program, a violation of U.N. sanctions, and that inspectors had turned up "a relatively large number of missile engines."

The reports by Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, who heads the search for Iraqi nuclear-weapons programs, prompted the United States to increase verbal pressure on Iraq. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John D. Negroponte, warned that the question of peace or war could depend on whether Iraq changes course by Jan. 27, when Blix and ElBaradei will deliver a more comprehensive report to the council.

But in a sign of a possible split between Washington and its closest ally, a spokesman for British Prime Minister Tony Blair called for the inspections to be given more time and said that, while Jan. 27 will be "an important staging post in the process, it should not be regarded in any way as a deadline."

Britain's stance suggested that the United States would face trouble gaining support in the Security Council for starting military action by mid-February, which many analysts say would be the optimum time for going to war because of favorable weather conditions in the region.

Blix, in his statement, said that if inspectors had already found clear evidence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, or had been blocked in their search, they would have reported this to the council. He said Iraqi transparency "is increasing - but does not exclude dark corners or caves."

"The absence of smoking guns, and the prompt access which we have had so far and which is most welcome, is no guarantee that prohibited stocks or activities could not exist at other sites, whether above ground, underground or in mobile units," Blix said.

"Prompt access is by no means sufficient to give confidence that nothing is hidden in a large country with an earlier record of avoiding disclosures," Blix said.

"Iraq is very familiar with the fact that only declarations supported by evidence will give confidence about the elimination of weapons. In this respect we have not so far made progress."

Declaration inadequate

He said that Iraq's Dec. 7 weapons declaration failed to answer numerous questions posed by inspectors as far back as 1998, including ones about Iraq's production of anthrax, nutrients for germ weapons and VX poison gas.

"We think that the declaration failed to answer a great many questions," Blix told reporters.

But he said the declaration did reveal that Iraq had illegally imported missile engines, some as recently as last year, and raw material to produce missile fuel.

Blix described as "inadequate" the list Iraq provided of scientists and others previously involved in its programs to develop weapons of mass destruction: "We do not feel that the Iraqi side has made a serious effort to respond to the request we made."

ElBaradei said inspectors from his agency had been unable to interview Iraqi scientists in private.

But both men indicated that while they are prepared to take scientists outside Iraq for questioning, as American officials have repeatedly demanded, they would prefer to conduct the interviews in Iraq.

Plea for information

And although Blix said his inspectors were starting to get useful intelligence from several sources, presumably including the United States, ElBaradei renewed his plea for "more actionable information."

Yesterday, The Washington Post quoted Secretary of State Colin L. Powell as saying that in the past few days the United States has begun giving the inspectors "significant intelligence" that has made it possible for them to be "more aggressive and to be more comprehensive in the work they're doing."

The White House seized on Blix's report as reinforcing its view that Iraq has failed to prove that it has disarmed.

"The problem with guns that are hidden is you can't see their smoke," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. "We know for a fact that there are weapons there."

The Nov. 8 U.N. resolution that launched the renewed weapons inspections requires the two chief inspectors to give the council an "update" on Jan. 27. U.S. officials indicated yesterday that they viewed this as a crucial date, although Fleischer said President Bush did not regard it as a deadline.

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