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Blix, ElBaradei Deliver Mixed Report on Iraqi Disarmament

The report welcomed increased levels of cooperation from Baghdad, but citing a continuing need for more information in order to achieve a thorough investigation.

Chief weapons inspector Hans Blix said Iraq’s recent destruction of 34 al-Samoud 2 missiles represented “a substantial measure of disarmament,” but criticized the rate at which Baghdad delivered documents crucial to his team’s assessment of Iraq’s weapons programs.

“Iraq, with a highly developed administrative system, should be able to provide more documentary evidence about its proscribed weapons programs,” Blix said. “Only a few new such documents have come to light so far and been handed over since we began inspections.”

Blix also noted that the destruction of the missiles had stopped as of Friday’s Security Council meeting, a situation he said he hoped was only “temporary break.”

He added: “One can hardly avoid the impression that after a period of somewhat reluctant cooperation, there has been an acceleration of initiatives from the Iraqi side since the end of January. This is welcome. But the value of these measures must be soberly judged by how many question marks they actually succeed in straightening out.”

Blix also stressed the continued importance of interviews with Iraqi scientists outside the presence of government minders or other impediments.

“While the Iraqi side seems to have encouraged interviewees not to request the presence of Iraqi officials, so-called minders, or the taping of the interviews, conditions ensuring the absence of undue influences are difficult to attain inside Iraq,” Blix said.

Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the nuclear watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency, offered his strongest statement to date in support of Iraq’s cooperation, saying that after three months of “intrusive” inspections, “we have to date found no evidence or plausible indications of the revival of a nuclear weapon program in Iraq.”

“I should note that in the past three weeks, possibly as a result of ever-increasing pressure by the international community, Iraq has been forthcoming in its cooperation, particularly with regard to the conduct of private interviews and in making available evidence that could contribute to the resolution of matters of IAEA concerns,” ElBaradei said.

ElBaradei also offered criticism of U.S. intelligence reports that Iraq was attempting to acquire aluminum tubes to enrich uranium for nuclear use, saying documents that had formed the basis for the reports of a uranium transfer between Iraq and Niger are “not authentic” and that the allegations are “unfounded.”

“Extensive field investigation and document analysis have failed to uncover any evidence that Iraq intended to use these 81mm tubes for any project other than the reverse engineering of rockets,” ElBaradei said.

On the matter of how much time the inspectors still require, Blix and ElBaradei offered differing perspectives.

“Even with a proactive Iraqi attitude induced by continued outside pressure, it will still take some time to verify sites and items, analyze documents, interview relevant persons, and draw conclusions,” Blix said. “It will not take years, nor weeks, but months.”

ElBaradei offered a less specific forecast saying, “the recently increased level of Iraqi cooperation should enable us in the near future to provide the Security Council with an objective and thorough assessment of Iraq nuclear-related capabilities.”

The 15 U.N. Security Council nations, most represented by their top diplomat, reacted to the inspectors’ report as well as the looming threat of a U.S.-led war with Iraq.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said that while the inspectors’ report showed piecemeal signs of progress, Iraq’s record still presents a “catalogue of non-cooperation” with weapons inspectors.

“I was pleased to hear from both of these distinguished gentlemen that there has been some continuing progress on process, and even some new activity with respect to substance,” Powell said of the report. “But I was sorry to learn that all of this still is coming in a grudging manner, that Iraq is still refusing to offer what was called for by 1441: immediate, active and unconditional cooperation.”

Powell answered ElBaradei’s criticism of U.S. reports of Iraq’s attempts to acquire aluminum tubes for the purpose of nuclear weapons development, saying Iraq had been shopping in an unnamed European country for aluminum tubes that had manufacturing properties 50 percent more exact than those used for rocket motor casings.

Powell also told the international body that it “must not walk away” from supporting the use of force in order to disarm Iraq, an issue that has created a deep and public divide between members of the Security Council.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said the inspectors’ report showed “essential progress” in the implementation of Resolution 1441.

“During the process of the inspections, qualitatively new changes have taken place in carrying out concrete tasks — qualitative changes, ” Ivanov said. “I repeat: For the first time in many years, in Iraq, there is a process of real disarmament underway.”

Ivanov called on the international body to actively support the inspectors and expressed optimism that possibilities for disarming Iraq through political means still exist.

“Now, we need no new Security Council resolutions. We have enough of those. We need now active support of the inspectors in carrying out their tasks,” Ivanov said.

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin also expressed his support for the inspection process while saying explicitly France would not support a new resolution that would allow the use of force.

“What conclusions can we draw?” de Villepin asked of the inspectors’ report. “That Iraq, according to the very terms used by the inspectors, represents less of a danger to the world than it did in 1991; that we can achieve our objective of effectively disarming that country. Let us keep the pressure on Baghdad.”

“To those who believe that war would be the quickest way of disarming Iraq, I can reply that it will drive wedges and create wounds that will be long in healing, ” de Villepin said.

British Foreign Minister Jack Straw, the staunchest U.S. ally in the campaign against Iraq, responded directly to the French minister and his nation’s position.

“Dominique [de Villepin] also said the choice before us was disarmament by peace or disarmament by war,” Straw said. “Dominique, that’s a false choice. I wish that it were that easy, because we wouldn’t be having to have this discussion. We could all put up our hands for disarmament by peace and go home.”

Straw said that the inspectors’ report did not reveal that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was “fully, unconditionally and actively” complying with Resolution 1441, and he blamed Saddam for distracting the international community from its 12-year-old objective of “complete disarmament of the Iraqi regime.”

“Gentlemen, we have been marking time for 12 years, and I have two questions to put to us that I think are fundamental for us all: Are we discharging our obligations as members of the Security Council? And, what message are we sending to the world?” Straw asked. “Because according to the charter of the United Nations, the mission of the Security Council is to maintain international peace and security; to identify when they are threatened, and to define action that must be adopted in that case.”

Straw went on to tell the council that Britain, along with the U.S. and Spain, would circulate an amendment to a new draft resolution that would give the Iraqi government, “the final opportunity to disarm and to bring themselves into compliance.”

Iraqi Ambassador to the U.N. Mohammed Aldouri responded sharply to the strong language put forth by Powell and Straw.

“[T]he U.S.-U.K. statements, in addition with some others today, show a state of confusion, because officials in the United States and the U.K. and those standing on their side are unable to provide any evidence proving the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq,” Aldouri said.

“This is an attempt to mix the issues. It is an attempt to mask the real agenda of the United States of America and the United Kingdom in Iraq,” Aldouri said. “It’s a very simple agenda. The objective is the complete takeover of Iraq’s oil, domination of the entire Arab region, politically and economically.”

Aldouri concluded with: “Let me add, Mr. President, that war against Iraq will not unearth any weapons of mass destruction, but it will reap destruction for a very simple reason: there are no such weapons, except in the imagination of some.”

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