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Iraq: chief of UN inspectors rejects claim that they cannot seek immediate access

Iraq: chief of UN inspectors rejects claim that they cannot seek immediate access

The head of the United Nations body set up to take over the unfinished work of verifying the elimination of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction has said that contrary to recent allegations in the press, his team can demand immediate access to suspected sites in the country.

In a statement released in New York today, Hans Blix, the Executive Chairman of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), rejects claims made in an op-ed article by Khidhir Hamza published by The New York Times on Monday. Mr. Hamza had alleged that "new protocols" of UNMOVIC, which succeeded the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM), "do not allow inspectors to demand immediate access after finding a site."

"This is erroneous," said Mr. Blix. He recalled that the Security Council resolution establishing UNMOVIC stresses the demand that Iraq must grant "immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access" for the inspection of sites.

"Far from suggesting that immediate access to a site would not be demanded, I, as Executive Chairman of UNMOVIC, have repeatedly and explicitly stressed that we will not give any discounts on the Security Council's requirements," Mr. Blix emphasized.

Noting that the right of immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access was central to UNMOVIC's function, Mr. Blix said Baghdad must grant such right-of-entry if Iraq was to provide the "cooperation in all respects," which was a condition for the suspension of sanctions imposed by the Security Council.

UNMOVIC was created by Security Council resolution 1284, adopted in 1999, to continue with UNSCOM's mandate to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction, and to operate a system of ongoing monitoring and verification. To date, UNMOVIC has been unable to operate in Iraq.