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U.N. Inspectors Say They’ve Found No "Smoking Gun" in Iraq

Blix said he thought Iraq’s 12,000-page weapons declaration was incomplete and not credible.

Blix said that while inspectors continue to get “prompt access from the Iraqi side” and the inspections “are covering ever-wider areas,” the U.N. teams have yet to find evidence that Iraq is hiding banned weapons.

However, Blix maintained that the current lack of evidence does not immediately confirm Baghdad’s claims that Iraq possesses no weapons of mass destruction.

“The absence of a smoking gun 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,” he said.

Blix also criticized Baghdad’s arms declaration, submitted to the U.N. last month, which said Iraq was free of weapons of mass destruction.

The arms declaration was “rich in volume but poor in information about weapons issues and practically devoid of new evidence on such issues,” Blix said.

Also Thursday, Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the U.N.-sponsored International Atomic Energy Agency also at work inspecting Iraq, told the Security Council that his inspectors had not been able to arrange private interviews with scientists who may have knowledge of Iraq’s weapons programs.

“We are not able to have interviews in Iraq in private and that does now show the proactive cooperation we seek,” ElBaradei said.

Responding to Blix’s comments, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said the U.S. was not convinced that Iraq does not possess prohibited weapons.

“The problem with guns that are hidden is you can’t see their smoke,” he said. “And so, we will still wait to see what the inspectors find in Iraq and what events in Iraq lead to.”

After the Security Council meeting, British ambassador Jeremy Greenstock said that the “procedural, passive cooperation of Iraq has been good … but the proactive cooperation we have been looking for from Iraq has not been forthcoming.”

Earlier, Iraqi General Hussam Mohammed Amin, Baghdad’s liaison to the inspection teams, disputed charges that the declaration was incomplete.

“The fact that Iraq’s declarations are credible is confirmed firmly daily. That declaration … proved that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction,” he told reporters.

Amin said Iraq is “ready to respond” to questions about its arms declaration, adding that “we think the majority or all of the questions could be resolved during the monitoring phase, during the technical discussions that could be taken between both sides.”

Blix and ElBaradei briefed the Security Council on whether Iraq has complied with U.N. disarmament requirements. The next evaluation is scheduled for Jan. 27.

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