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U.N. Team Says Iraq Inspections Could Take a Year

Mark Gwozdecky, a spokesman for the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog group, told Reuters that U.N. resolutions gave a timeline of “somewhere between six and 12 months” for the inspections.

“We need to take a few months,” IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei said Monday in Paris. “How long depends on the cooperation of Iraq.”

When asked if the time frame of one year given by Gwozdecky was conservatively lengthy, ElBaradei replied “yes,” according to Reuters.

The first major report from U.N. arms experts is expected on Jan. 27. Reuters also quoted Gwozdecky as saying that while inspectors are scheduled to report on this date, the inspection team is not required to “have all the answers at that point.”

Gwozdecky told CNN in a separate interview that ElBaradei and fellow top U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix made it “very clear” that “this is an operation that could take in the vicinity of a year, and frankly we think it is worth to wait to get a sustainable and long term peaceful solution.”

Despite the U.N.’s call for increased inspection time, the U.S. is continuing to send troops to the Gulf region, although the current deployment does not yet match the 250,000 troops dispatched for the 1991 Gulf War.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld signed new orders on Jan. 11, which activated thousands of Marines, an army airborne infantry brigade, a squadron of air force stealth fighters and two squadrons of radar-jamming fighters. The order took the total number of troops mobilized since Jan. 10 to about 62,000.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Monday that President Bush has set no strict timetable by which U.N. arms inspectors must complete their search for banned Iraqi weapons.

“The president thinks it remains important for the inspectors to do their job and have time to do their job,” Fleischer said. “The president has not put an exact timetable on it.”

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, President Bush’s closest ally in the campaign against Iraq, reiterated in a Monday news conference his position that Iraq must be disarmed by force if it does not eliminate its weapons of mass destruction.

“I passionately believe that we must disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, we must uphold the … United Nations, we must show rogue states … that when we say we intend to deal with the issue, we mean it,” Blair told reporters.

“Even now, Saddam should take the peaceful route and disarm,” Blair added in reference to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. “If he does not, however, he will be disarmed by force.”

Blair also said there was no point in putting an “arbitrary timescale” on the work of U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq, saying, “Let the inspectors do their task.”

President Bush and Mr. Blair are scheduled to meet soon after the submission of the Jan. 27 U.N. report to discuss the next move on Iraq.

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