January 27, 2003
By DAFNA LINZER, Associated Press Writer
UNITED NATIONS – U.N. weapons inspection chief Hans Blix on Monday issued a toughly worded assessment of Iraq’s performance over the past two months, saying Baghdad had not genuinely accepted the U.N. resolution demanding that it disarm. He said Baghdad was cooperating on access but needs to do more on substance.
“Iraq appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance, not even today, of the disarmament that was demanded of it,” Blix said at the beginning of a crucial assessment on 60 days of weapons inspections.
The reports by Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei will be key to Washington’s efforts to bolster international support for a war on Iraq and to efforts by skeptics to avert one.
In sharp contrast to the administration’s stance that inspections have run their course, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Monday inspectors should be given more time to their jobs.
“They should be given the time to do their work and all of us, the council and the assembly, must realize that time will be necessary, a reasonable amount of time, I’m not saying forever, but they do need time to get their work done and I suspect the council will allow that to be done,” Annan told reporters.
Annan said he remained hopeful that Iraq could be disarmed peacefully and he praised Blix and ElBaradei, whom he called “determined and independent-minded.”
The White House reacted with skepticism.
“When people say give them more time, the more time they get the more time they get the runaround,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. “Iraq is giving the inspectors the runaround.” the open council meeting first. He spent much of the weekend personally writing his 16-page report which will deal with Iraq’s failure to address key questions on the fate of chemical and biological agents such as VX and anthrax that it succeeded in weaponizing on the eve of the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
“I have been working very hard and very carefully on the details,” Blix told The Associated Press. His staff said the speech would be stronger than originally anticipated because the Iraqis have failed to be forthcoming about information long sought by inspectors.
On Monday, Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri said that his nation has cooperated fully with weapons inspectors and he accused the United States and Britain of setting the stage for an unjustified attack.
He said accusations against Iraq by U.S. officials were “all lies to hide America’s true intentions” which he said were to take control of his nation’s oil resources and protect “America’s interests in Israel.”
Despite assurances from Iraq that it would encourage its scientists to submit to private interviews, no such interviews have taken place and Baghdad continues to block inspectors from using a U-2 reconnaissance plane that could be helpful in the hunt for weapons of mass destruction.
In addition, U.N. teams found thousands of pertinent documents hidden in the home of an Iraqi scientist, at least 16 empty and undeclared chemical warheads and illegally imported parts for its missile program.
ElBaradei, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, has prepared a 20-page report in which he intends to make the case for continued inspections.
“We’re just in mid-course and we still need to exhaust the option of inspections before we think of any alternatives,” ElBaradei told AP on Sunday. “We still need more time and that depends obviously on how intensive our work is and how cooperative Iraq is.”
The administration, convinced that Iraq has already failed to meet its obligations in Security Council Resolution 1441, drafted by Washington and adopted in November, is playing close attention to the speeches.
U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte is expected to respond to the reports once Monday’s session moves behind closed-doors. An administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the ambassador would focus more on Iraq’s obligations than on the inspectors’ findings.
“He will remind the council that they all agreed in November that this would be Iraq’s last opportunity to comply and that two months is more than enough time to test Saddam’s intentions to cooperate,” the official told AP.
Under Resolution 1441 inspectors don’t need to prove Iraq is rearming.
Any false statements or omissions in Iraq’s arms declaration, coupled with a failure to comply with and cooperate fully in the implementation of the resolution, would place Baghdad in “material breach” of its obligations – a finding that could open the door for war.
In Davos, Switzerland, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday that he believed the inspections had run their course, though he did not explicitly call for their end.
Most of the Security Council believes that’s a determination they must make based on the inspectors’ assessments. The 15 members of the Security Council will reconvene Wednesday, a day after President Bush delivers the State of the Union address, to discuss the inspectors’ reports and begin debate on Iraq.
In Brussels, Belgium, the European Union on Monday urged Baghdad to cooperate more fully with United Nations arms inspectors but remained deeply divided over how to solve the overall crisis.
The 15 EU foreign ministers issued a short statement urging “Iraqi authorities to engage in full and active cooperation” with the arms inspections that began two months ago.
Still, the EU remained split into two camps, with Britain siding with Washington in advocating military action sooner rather than later. Italy, Spain, Portugal, Denmark and the Netherlands largely agree.
But France and Germany, joined by Austria, Belgium, Sweden and Luxembourg, insist war can only come after a fresh UN. Security Council resolution. Britain fears a second resolution may be vetoed and thus let Saddam Hussein off the hook.
Notably, British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Sunday said he agreed inspectors should be given more time if needed.
His EU representative backed that position Monday in the joint declaration with all bloc members. The EU “stands ready to engage all necessary efforts to answer the needs of” the arms inspectors to enable them to complete their work, the ministers’ statement said.
While Blix and ElBaradei have criticized Iraq over the past 60 days, they have also praised the access inspectors were given at hundreds of sites, including presidential palaces, as well as Iraq’s cooperation in the areas of logistics and supplies.
Blix’s report will focus on Iraq’s biological, chemical and missile programs but what inspectors have learned so far is far less than they had hoped to know by now.
Unanswered is whether Iraq really destroyed all of its deadly chemical and biological agents.
Iraq’s 12,000-page arms declaration has been of little help. Two weeks after he received the dossier in December, Blix slammed the Iraqis for submitting a report filled with inconsistencies, contradictions and old material.