Iraqi offers more aid to arms experts

Official says Britain, U.S. hindering inspections

January 29, 2003|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

BAGHDAD, Iraq - A senior Iraqi official said yesterday that Iraq was prepared to do more to aid United Nations arms experts but provided few specifics and said his country no longer has weapons of mass destruction.

"We have cooperated fully," Gen. Amir Rashid said. "We are ready to cooperate more."

Rashid, Iraq's former oil minister, held to a familiar line that "Iraq has been free of any mass destruction weapons since the end of 1991, and all the inspections have proven this fact."

He also accused the United States and Britain of interfering with the inspections. He said reports from the White House, the CIA and the British government alleging that Iraq has continued to harbor banned weapons have been "proven totally false."

Rashid provided Iraq's most comprehensive public response to Monday's report to the U.N. Security Council by weapons chiefs Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei. Blix told the Security Council that Iraq appears not to have accepted U.N. resolutions regarding its disarmament.

Today, the Security Council is to meet in New York with Blix and ElBaradei to discuss questions raised by council members about their reports.

Though laced with criticisms, Rashid's low-key presentation and moderate language contrasted strikingly with more recent belligerent statements from Iraqi officials and seemed to suggest that Iraq was trying to take a more moderate position.

Rashid said there was "no proportionate presentation of the facts" in the U.N. reports, adding that some issues had been "amplified and magnified to what are called problems" that create a "negative" point of view.

He said the reports belittled "the importance of inspections," despite Iraq's providing an "unconditional agreement and acceptance of inspections."

Rashid said Iraq was willing to provide "clarification" to those who continue to be skeptical of the country's past weapons programs.

"We have done a lot," he said. "It is our interest as a country to finish a few issues here and there, even if they are of minor importance. We are ready to deal with them properly."

Responding to detailed questions, Rashid seemed to sidestep how Iraq might satisfactorily handle many of the outstanding issues, most prominently the suggestion that that country might still have stocks of chemical weapons, germ warfare agents and long-range missiles.

Blix said Iraq failed to provide enough proof that it had destroyed stocks of VX nerve agent and anthrax bacteria.

Rashid countered that Iraq's manufacture of VX was an "experimental production and it was a failure." He said Iraq developed anthrax in liquid form with a "shelf life of only a few years."

Bill Glauber writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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