UN inspectors land in Iraq; Blix tells Security Council they will 'go anywhere, any time'

UN inspectors land in Iraq; Blix tells Security Council they will 'go anywhere, any time'

As 17 United Nations weapons inspectors arrived today in Baghdad, the senior UN official overseeing the arms probe told the Security Council that no site in the country would be immune to visits when operations begin on Wednesday.

In prepared remarks to a closed-door meeting of the Council, Hans Blix, Executive Chairman of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), stressed that inspectors would go anywhere at any time without prior notice. There are 11 inspectors from UNMOVIC and six from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) now in Iraq.

Some 100 inspectors plus support staff should be in place by Christmas, while logistics are being strengthened, he added, predicting that by the end of the week, the UN could have the first of eight helicopters in Iraq. A plane is already in place to ferry inspectors and equipment to Iraq from the field office in Larnaca, Cyprus.

Reporting on his recent talks with Iraqi officials, Mr. Blix said they had pledged full cooperation with the inspections process. The UN side had emphasized the importance of the declaration by Baghdad - due by 8 December - concerning its weapons of mass destruction, and the Iraqi delegation voiced uncertainty as to how to prepare the text. Mr. Blix, along with IAEA chief Mohammad ElBaradei, declined to interpret the Council resolution that mandated the declaration, but stressed that all proscribed items must be acknowledged.

The UNMOVIC chief also made a number of proposals during the talks, including calling for the adoption of laws prohibiting citizens from engaging in programmes related to weapons of mass destruction, according to the text. He also sought Iraqi assistance in setting up a field office in Mosul and in expanding UNMOVIC premises at the Canal Hotel in Baghdad.

Commenting on the heavy media interest in the UN's work in Iraq, Mr. Blix emphasized that no reporters would be allowed at inspection sites. The Iraqi side said it might invite the press to sites following inspections.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Mr. Blix was asked about Iraq's contention that it has no weapons of mass destruction. He replied that during talks with officials in Baghdad, he had suggested that "they should look into all their stores and stocks."

Pressed further on the question, he said, "The production of mustard gas is not exactly the same as the production of marmalade - you do expect those who produce chemical weapons to keep some track of what [they] have produced," he said. "That is in their own interest, and I'm sure they do." In order to be believed, Iraq must provide either the weapons that remain or full accounts, he stressed.

Concerning presidential sites, Mr. Blix said the UN had emphasized that it would inspect all locations on an equal basis. "The Iraqis said they are content to cooperate in all respects under the resolution; they did remark, however, that ministerial buildings and presidential sites are not the same as factories, and that is undeniable," he reported.

To a question as to whether UNMOVIC faces pressure from Washington, he said, "We get recommendations and advice from all countries, including the United States, but I'd like to say that we may not be the brightest in the world but I can tell you we are in nobody's pockets."