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U.N. Inspectors Say Questions Still Remain, Call for More Time in Iraq

Nuclear watchdog head Mohamed ElBaradei said that inspectors still need a “few months” to provide credible assurances about Iraq’s nuclear program

Blix said the 12,000-page Iraqi weapons declaration submitted last month appears to “regrettably” be a “reprint of earlier documents” and does not seem to contain any new evidence that will “eliminate the questions or reduce their number.”

The inspection chief said while the environment in Iraq has been “workable” and that access had been provided to necessary locations, Iraq needed to do more to answer the substance of U.N. demands.

“It is not enough to open doors,” Blix said, adding that “inspection is not a game of ‘catch as catch can.’

“Iraq appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance, not even today, of the disarmament that was demanded of it,” Blix explained.

Blix outlined specific questions and findings about Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons programs, including a discrepancy of some 6,500 chemical warfare bombs Baghdad inventoried in the late 1980s and the absence of concrete evidence that Iraq has destroyed its previous anthrax stockpiles.

“There are strong indications that Iraq produced more anthrax than it declared and that at least some of this was retained after the declared destruction date,” Blix said. “It might still exist.”

Blix told the council that the discovery this month of some empty chemical weapons warheads “could be the tip of a submerged iceberg.”

Blix did not specifically call on the Security Council to give inspectors more time to complete their work, but spoke instead to the continuing efforts of his team to build a presence in Baghdad after a four-year absence and the commencement of new training for inspectors in Vienna.

“We have now an inspection apparatus that permits us to send multiple inspection teams every day all over Iraq, by road or by air,” Blix said. “That capability which has been built up in a short time and which is now operating, is at the disposal of the Security Council.”

ElBaradei, chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, provided the Security Council with what he termed a “two-month progress report” of his team’s inspections.

“We have to date found no evidence that Iraq has revived its nuclear weapons program since the elimination of the program in the 1990s,” ElBaradei said.

ElBaradei expressed a need for more time for the inspectors to complete a thorough investigation on the ground in Iraq.

“Our work is steadily progressing and should be allowed to run its natural course,” he said. “These few months would be a valuable investment because they could help us avoid a war.”

ElBaradei urged Iraq to be proactive in providing information to inspectors, saying, “It is urgent and essential, therefore, that Iraq, on its own initiative, identify and provide any additional evidence that would assist the inspectors in carrying out their mandate.”

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters at a State Department press conference later Monday that “the inspectors’ findings came as no surprise.

“The Iraq regime has responded to [Resolution] 1441 with empty claims, empty declarations and empty gestures,” Powell said. “It has not given the inspectors and the international community any concrete information in answer to a host of key questions.”

Powell also warned that the credibility of the Security Council could suffer as “Iraq’s defiance” continues to challenge the 15-member U.N. body.

He said that the issue was “not how much more time the inspectors need to search in the dark, it is how much more time Iraq should be given to turn on the lights and come clean. … Iraq’s time for choosing peaceful disarmament is coming to an end.”

Before Powell spoke, Iraqi U.N. Ambassador Mohammed Aldouri said in New York that Baghdad has complied with all U.N. disarmament demands and that it has cooperated fully with weapons inspectors.

“Iraq has fully complied with all its obligations according to Resolution 1441,” Aldouri told reporters. “We open all doors to Mr. Blix and his team. If there is something, he will find it. We have no hidden reports at all. They have to read carefully this report.”

Earlier Monday, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan urged the Security Council to give the inspectors “a reasonable amount of time” to do their work.

“If they do need time, they should be given the time to do their work,” Annan told reporters ahead of the Security Council meeting.

Annan also said that he expected Iraq to cooperate fully with the inspection process.

“They expect a more proactive engagement, and I hope the Iraqis will do what the inspectors have asked them to do,” he said.

Blix and ElBaradei were required to present the Security Council with an update of their progress 60 days after the resumption of inspections, as outlined in Security Council resolution 1441 adopted in November 2002.

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