UN, Iraq end two days of talks on practical arrangements for return of inspectors
Saying the discussions were held in a "business-like and focused manner," Hans Blix, the Executive Chairman of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), told reporters that Baghdad "accepts all the rights of inspection provided for in all the relevant Security Council resolutions."
Specifically, Mr. Blix said the talks "clarified that all sites are subject to immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access; however, the memorandum of understanding of 1998 establishes special procedures for access to eight presidential sites."
Questioned about objections by the United States and United Kingdom to preconditions regarding presidential compounds, Mr. Blix noted that the memorandum of understanding had been endorsed by the Security Council. [By its resolution 1154, adopted in March 1998, the Council commended the Secretary-General's initiative to secure commitments from Iraq on compliance with its obligations under the relevant resolutions, and endorsed the memorandum of understanding.]
"We are not changing the law that is adopted by the United Nations," Mr. Blix said. "The Security Council can take measures that they would like; we are a subsidiary organ of the Security Council and we will be bound by them."
The UNMOVIC chief noted that some past practical arrangements would be modified. "For improved efficiency, airplanes used by inspection staff arriving in Baghdad will land at Saddam International Airport rather than at Habbaniya, which is some 80 kilometres from Baghdad," he said. At the same time, he noted that "many practical arrangements followed between 1991 and 1998 remain viable and useful and could be applied."
On the question of the use of fixed-wing planes, as well as helicopters for inspection, the delegation from Baghdad declared that Iraq would take all steps within its control to ensure the safety of inspection air operations, but declined to provide full guarantees about safety in the no-fly zones, Mr. Blix added.
He also reported that the Iraqi delegation had handed over four CD-ROMs containing the backlog of semi-annual monitoring declarations for the sites and items covered by the ongoing monitoring and verification plans for June 1998 to July 2002.
Asked if he was afraid that resumed inspections would suffer the same failures of the past, Mr. Blix disputed the premise of the question. "Everybody recognizes that under the old inspection regime, more weapons of mass destruction were destroyed than during the Gulf War." At the same time, he acknowledged "severe shortcomings" and said doubts persisted about whether Iraq still retained weapons of mass destruction.
Mohammed ElBaradei, the Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) added that the IAEA and UNMOVIC now had assurances from the Iraqi side of unconditional access to all sites in Iraq, with the exception of the presidential sites. "That of course has to be tested when we go back to Iraq," he said.