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Inspectors Offer Mixed Review of Iraqi Disarmament Efforts

The report renewed debate within the council over the continuation of inspections versus possible military action.

Hans Blix, the executive director of the U.N. inspection agency, said his teams had conducted 400 inspections at more than 300 sites since arriving in Iraq 11 weeks ago. During that time, the inspectors have not found any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Blix reported, however Saddam Hussein has not accounted for many banned weapons.

“So far, UNMOVIC has not found any such weapons, only a small number of empty chemical munitions, which should have been declared and destroyed,” Blix told the council. “Another matter, and one of great significance, is that many proscribed weapons and items are not accounted for.”

Although Blix did announce that Iraq’s al-Samoud 2 missile program violates a 150-kilometer range limit, he also said last weekend’s meeting in Baghdad, during which Iraq offered more information on the state of its anthrax and VX nerve agents, “could be indicative of a more active attitude” towards inspections.

Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said his inspectors had found no conclusive evidence that Iraq has attempted to reconstitute its nuclear program, but said his inspectors were beginning the “investigative” part of their work.

The IAEA is investigating reports of uranium imports from an African nation and Iraq’s efforts to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes that may be used in a nuclear program, ElBaradei told the ambassadors.

ElBaradei also said his agency could continue inspections with or without Iraqi compliance.

“The IAEA’s experience in nuclear verification shows that it is possible, particularly with an intrusive verification system, to assess the presence or absence of a nuclear weapons program in a state even without the full co-operation of the inspected state,” ElBaradei said.

Ambassadors welcomed the reports, but differed sharply on what they indicated.

“We have just learned that the inspections are producing results,” French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said.

“Real progress is emerging,” he added, citing the Iraqi decision to allow U-2 flights and private interviews with scientists.

France addressed the issue of military action directly, saying it would not guarantee peace and would require years of occupation to ensure regional stability.

“No one today can claim the path of war will be shorter than the path of inspections,” de Villepin said.

The comments of the French foreign minister were met with applause in the chamber. France was joined by China, Syria, Russia and others in arguing for further inspection efforts.

“We must do our best and use all possible means to avert war,” Tang Jiaxuan, China’s foreign minister, told the 15-nation council. “It is necessary for the inspection work in Iraq to continue.”

But not all members saw the presentation as a sign of progress.

“I am pleased that there have been improvements in regards to process,” U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said. “[But] these are all tricks being played on us.”

“[T]he questions, despite all the lovely rhetoric… remain,” he added.

Powell also warned that the Security Council needed to continue to consider all options and be ready to discuss possible military actions.

“Force must always be a last resort… but it must be a resort,” Powell said. “[Iraq] cannot get away with it again.”

But some states, lead by Germany, said there was no need to even consider military options yet.

“Why should we now turn away from this path? Why should we now halt the inspections? On the contrary, the inspectors must be given the time they need to successfully complete their tasks,” German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said. “The diplomacy has not yet reached the end of the road.”

Others expressed skepticism that continued inspections would lead to Iraqi cooperation.

“[Iraqis] have not been forthcoming,” Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio. “Above all what we see is a long list of areas of non-compliance.”

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Iraq has had more than 11 years to comply with calls for disarmament, but instead, “they’ve lied. They’ve concealed.”

” I hope and believe that a peaceful solution to this crisis may still be possible,” Straw said. “But… this will only be achieved if we, the Security Council, hold our nerve in the face of this tyrant, give meaning to our words and to the decisions which we’ve already collectively taken and make ourselves ready to ensure that Iraq will face the serious consequences which we all decided would have to happen if Iraq’s defiance did not end.”

The meeting ended with Iraqi Ambassador to the U.N. Mohammed Aldouri accusing the U.S. and Britain of orchestrating a “symphony of propaganda.”

“They are hammering us. One day it’s al-Qaida, a link that we know does not exist. The next day it is with interviews. The other day it is with missiles, etc.,” he said. “Each day we have a new symphony of propaganda. New music. New words, even.”

The council then ended its public session and met privately to discuss possible next steps to deal with the continuing standoff.

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