TERENCE SMITH: Iraq is expected to turn the required report over to the United Nations representatives in Baghdad tomorrow. For an update from Baghdad we go to John Burns, senior foreign correspondent for the New York Times.
John, tomorrow apparently is the big day, what did you expect?
JOHN BURNS: Well, it looks like the first people to get a sight of these documents are going to be western reporters here. We have been summoned to the information ministry at 12 noon, that's 4:00 a.m. Saturday in New York -- downstairs in the building on the roof of which I'm standing on now. And as we understand it we're going to get a sight of something like 7,000 to 8,000 pages -- so it's rumored -- of documents and CD ROMs, which will then be handed over formally sometime later tomorrow afternoon our time,. around noon your time, to the United Nations here, and will be put on a United Nations aircraft that will fly them to Cyprus where they will be divided and flown onwards to Vienna, the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency, on the one hand and to New York for the Security Council and the new United Nations weapons upon monitoring team UNMOVIC on the other.
TERENCE SMITH: What would be the Iraqi strategy in releasing the documents publicly first?
JOHN BURNS: Well, I think we're not going to see anything that's in the documents; indeed, we may not see the documents themselves. I think the Iraqis keep changing their mind about this. But I think one thing that is clear is they see themselves as having a clear beat on this - in the sense that they will release documents. We know what the covering document will say - it ill say because we've been told this repeatedly, that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction. The rest is all detail. I think they know it's going to sometime before President Bush or anybody else is able to go through those documents and come up with a countervailing word. And so they want as much time as possible, if you will, to put their own spin on it.
TERENCE SMITH: So is the notion of such a voluminous document basically a delay tactic?
JOHN BURNS: Well, I think the Iraqis have been denied the bluntest means of meeting the West pressures, that is to say the new weapons inspection mandate doesn't allow them any longer to deny inspectors access to plants or to hold them at the gates while they spirit documents and people out of the back. All that's gone. It's much too tough, this new document under American pressures. So I think they are shifting to new means, and I say that without knowing any better than you do whether they have weapons of mass destruction or not. But I think what they intend to do in a way is to drown the United Nations process with sheer volume, to send a blizzard of documents and, in effect, to invite the United Nations up every blind valley that there may be. You have to understand that the one key factor in all of this is the dual-use concept. That's to say that they are required to declare any civilian activity in processes, which could also be used to make weapons. So to give you a ridiculous example, they could send the inspectors to every toothpaste plant in Iraq.
TERENCE SMITH: And what is the atmosphere there now on the eve of what is obviously an important moment?
JOHN BURNS: Well, as you know, Saddam Hussein spoke out yesterday for the first time in one of his palaces, meeting with his fellow Iraqi leaders. And he said, even at the risk of seeming to be weaklings and cowards, we're going to cooperate with this process. He did not, however, say, and this is very significant, he did not say anything about the declaration. The final word on this is always with Saddam Hussein and nothing we have heard from any other Iraqi official will matter until we've heard it from him or from these official documents.
As for the mood, there is of course considerable tension amongst the elite here, the ruling elite, the military and others who understand that this process could lead to war. But amongst the people who have been through so many crises, not to mention eight previous full, final, complete declarations of Iraq, complete holdings of banned secret weapons, there's a kind of shrug. They are busy celebrating this two-day Muslim holiday, the Eid al-Fitr holiday, and they are attending to private family business. And when you ask them, for example, at the cemeteries of Baghdad, to which many of them went today, some of them to see kin who died in the Iran-Iraq War, about 500,000 Iraqis, when you met them coming and going today, what they said was "we have stared down the barrel of this gun before. We have been through endless crises for the last 20 years." I think they're pretty hardened against this kind of thing.
TERENCE SMITH: So there's no sense of imminent military action or imminent danger?
JOHN BURNS: That's very hard to say. The Iraqi state-controlled media have of course carefully spoon- fed the people of Iraq about this entire process. One thing they understand is that there is a threat of an American attack. But Iraqis have a wonderful way of finding out the truth. And I think they understand that even by the schedule of the most hawkish people in Washington, it's some time before we can expect to see any bombs falling.
TERENCE SMITH: And finally, the U.N. inspectors, are they supposed to take this report tomorrow and use it as a road map for further inspections?
JOHN BURNS: I'm sure that's the case. We've been told that up to now they have been going almost exclusively in the 20 sites that they have inspected to sites which were established sites, that is to say sites that were discovered, inspected and controlled between '91 and '98, during the last weapons inspections process. They are waiting to see this document before they go to the next stage, which is to go to sites, which, as they say, the Iraqis don't know we know about. When that process begins, and that could begin as early as tomorrow in effect, this process is going to become very much more tense.
TERENCE SMITH: All right. We'll stay tuned. John Burns, thank you very much.
JOHN BURNS: It's my pleasure.