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Heading for Iraq, chief UN weapons inspector says new probe will start on 27 November

Heading for Iraq, chief UN weapons inspector says new probe will start on 27 November

Hans Blix at press briefing in New York
Just before leaving New York for Iraq, the chief United Nations weapons inspector today predicted that a formal probe in the country would begin in less than two weeks.

Speaking to reporters at UN Headquarters before travelling to Cyprus this weekend ahead of his arrival in Baghdad on Monday, Hans Blix, the Executive Chairman of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), said the purpose of the advance trip "is to initiate this new chapter of inspections."

The main immediate task would be to set up the logistical arrangements needed to re-start inspections. "We had a centre there, but that has not been manned since the end of 1998, so we will have to make sure that the pigeons that have broken through the windows have been chased out, and that we will have new paint on the walls, and that the laboratories will be fixed with new equipment." Secure telecommunications and transportation were also crucial.

With the first group of inspectors set to arrive about a week after the advance team, Mr. Blix predicted that the first resumed inspections would take place on 27 November. The latest Security Council resolution provides 60 days from that point for a report. Iraq, meanwhile, is required to submit a declaration on its weapons programme on 8 December. "Once that comes in, there will be a lot of work for us to analyze that declaration," he said.

Asked what he would consider a “serious violation” by Iraq, Mr. Blix said the question was important as it related to the trigger for war. At the same time, he called for a “nuanced” approach to the issue. “You may have to take into account whether you can read an intention into something,” he said. “We still have to use our common sense in judging whether something is a way of preventing us – hindering us – in the inspection, or if it is not.” He stressed that the inspectors would not judge what constitutes a material breach; the Council would make it’s own judgement on that point.

The submission of Iraq's declaration would be "one of the most important moments we foresee" in the process, Mr. Blix said. He recalled that the original concept in 1991 had been that Iraq would declare what it had, and the UN would verify that information. "Some said this developed into 'they hide and we seek,'" he said, voicing hope that Iraq would take the declaration very seriously.

Asked about Baghdad's recent assertion that the country has no weapons of mass destruction, Mr. Blix said Iraq would have a month to examine its stocks "to see whether there is something or not." He added that Baghdad had changed its position on other matters, "so that could be changed also on this matter."

"If I have solid evidence that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction then I would put that on the table at the Security Council," Mr. Blix emphasized.

An omission in the declaration could "certainly be very serious," he said, recalling that in the past, this had been the case with Iraq's biological weapons programme. A denial of access, even for a relatively short time, would be "a very significant matter" that must be evaluated by the Security Council, which would take a decision on the question of material breach.

"Cosmetic inspections are worse than none," Mr. Blix said, repeating a theme he has long sounded. "And I think it is in the Iraqi interest too that there are effective inspections, because otherwise they would not be credible, and that would be of no use to Iraq or to anybody else."

Responding to a question on reports that Iraq is carrying out a covert arms programme, Mr. Blix said the UN team was concerned and would respond. "There are lots of reports that they are hiding things, that there are mobile units and there are underground units, and I think the Security Council wants us to try to get to them," he said. "We don't assume that there are but this is a possibility and it has to be tested."



- press conference by Hans Blix