More time needed for work in Iraq, say U.N. inspectors

Officials might seek many more months in effort to avoid war


PARIS - In a move that could complicate U.S. war plans for Iraq, U.N. weapons inspectors said yesterday that they would ask the Security Council for more time - perhaps many months - to complete their investigation of Iraq's weapons program.

Mohamed ElBaradei, director of the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency, told reporters at a news conference in Paris that he and Hans Blix, the chief U.N. chemical and biological weapons inspector, would make the request to avoid war.

At a news conference with Blix and President Jacques Chirac of France, ElBaradei called war "the worst scenario," saying: "If we can avoid that, even spending a few more months to do our job, that is time well spent. Both Dr. Blix and I will tell the Security Council that we need time for the inspections to take their course."

Chirac announced their request of a delay in his opening remarks to reporters after his meeting with the arms experts, saying that he supported it. "The inspectors have asked for more time," Chirac said. He added, "Wisdom requires us to grant this request and the time that is needed so that they can make serious conclusions to convince the international community."

In a rebuff to the Bush administration, which has said that it has the authority to wage war on its own if it wishes, Chirac underscored that only the Security Council could decide what to do if the weapons inspectors determined that Iraq had not complied with demands to reveal and destroy their chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs.

"It's the responsibility of the Security Council and the Security Council alone to make a decision regarding the report and also the requests of the inspectors," Chirac said. "If one country or another were to take a step that did not conform to what I just said, it would put itself purely above and simply be contravening international law. This is a position that, of course, France would not be able to support."

For France, Chirac said, "war is always acknowledgment of failure."

Blix and ElBaradei are to return to Iraq this weekend and report to the Security Council on Jan. 27. There, they have said, they will confront Iraqi officials with yawning gaps in the 12,000-page weapons declaration that Iraq submitted to the Security Council on Dec. 7.

The Bush administration has repeatedly said that it wants to wrap up the inspections without delay. It has also made clear that it will consider taking military action against President Saddam Hussein without Security Council backing if Washington determines that Iraq has failed to cooperate fully in ridding itself of banned weapons.

But France insists that there be no rush. "The 27th of January is not the end of the story," said one French official involved in the meetings.

Chirac, Blix and ElBaradei expressed frustration that Iraq had not been more cooperative with the inspection regime.

Blix emphasized that his team was not sure that Iraq was rid of banned weapons, and he urged Baghdad to come up with convincing proof to avoid war. "There is not yet confidence, not yet certainty that all the chemical and biological weapons have been destroyed," he said, calling on Iraq to provide "good explanations, documentation or witnesses who will give us confidence."

Echoing Blix's call for more cooperation, ElBaradei called Iraq's cooperation with the inspectors "patchy." He added, "That is the clear message we are sending to Baghdad next week: Cooperate and there is a positive outcome. If you do not, unfortunately, the consequences will not be very pleasant."

Chirac also called on Baghdad to cooperate more, saying the international community needed "indisputable evidence of active cooperation."

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