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Iraqi Cooperation Improved, Blix, ElBaradei Say

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 7, 2003 – Iraq has improved cooperation with U.N. weapons inspectors, but questions remain, the two men in charge of inspections reported to the U.N. Security Council today.

Chief weapons inspector Hans Blix said Iraq has accelerated cooperation with U.N. inspectors. Mohammad ElBaradei, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, reported his inspectors have found no evidence of Iraq restarting a nuclear program.

The increase in cooperation is probably a result of pressure put on Saddam Hussein, Blix said.

"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," he told the Security Council. "This is welcome, but the value of these measures must be judged by how many question marks they actually succeed in straightening out."

Iraq has not cooperated "immediately, unconditionally and actively" as called for in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441, he said. The Iraqis tried to attach conditions to the inspectors using helicopters and U-2 spy planes.

"(Iraq) has not, however, so far persisted in these or other conditions for the exercise of any of our inspection rights," he said.

While Iraqi cooperation is "active or even proactive, these initiatives three to four months into the new resolution cannot be said to constitute 'immediate' cooperation, nor do they necessarily cover all areas or relevance," he said.

Blix welcomed the Iraqi initiatives and said the inspectors would use the information to try to resolve unanswered disarmament issues. He said inspectors would need months to verify Iraqi disarmament.

"While cooperation can and needs to be immediate, disarmament of it and verification cannot be instant," he said. "Even with a proactive Iraqi attitude, it will still take some time to verify sites and items, analyze documents, interview relevant persons and draw conclusions. It will not take years nor weeks, but months."

Blix and ElBaradei said access to Iraqi sites has been prompt and relatively unhindered. Both men said interviews with Iraqi scientists have picked up in the last week and both said they intend to ask the Iraqis to allow them to perform the interviews out of the country to ensure the truth of the scientists' statements.

Iraq began destroying its proscribed al Samoud-2 missiles on March 1.

"The destruction undertaken constitutes a substantial measure of disarmament -- indeed the first since the middle of the 1990s," Blix said. "We are not watching the breaking of toothpicks: Lethal weapons are being destroyed."

Given Iraq's highly developed administrative system, he said, officials should be able to provide more documentary evidence about their proscribed programs.

"Only a few new such documents have come to light so far and been handed over since inspections," he said. "It was a disappointment that Iraq's declaration of seventh of December did not bring new documentary evidence."

Iraq has provided inspectors the names of many persons it says took part in various phases of the unilateral destruction of biological and chemical weapons and proscribed missiles in 1991, Blix said.

"With such detailed information existing regarding those who took part in the unilateral destruction, surely there must also remain records regarding the quantities and other data concerning the items destroyed," he said.

On the U.S. contention that Iraq has mobile missile labs, Blix said the Iraqis state such facilities do not exist. "No evidence of proscribed activities have so far been found," he said. The inspectors are working on a regime to conduct random checks of ground transportation, he added.

Blix also discussed some countries' calls to increase the number of inspectors. "I would rather have twice the amount of high-quality information about sites to inspect than twice the number of expert inspectors to send," he said.

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