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Resuming weapons inspections in Iraq, UN teams visit 3 sites outside Baghdad

Resuming weapons inspections in Iraq, UN teams visit 3 sites outside Baghdad

After a nearly four-year interruption, United Nations arms inspectors resumed their probe into Iraq's weapons programme today, visiting three sites outside Baghdad.

Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is responsible for investigating Iraq's nuclear programme, visited a science research centre in northern Baghdad and were able to complete their work as planned, with access to what they wanted to see and full cooperation from the Iraqis, according to a spokesman for the Agency.

"We're hopeful that today's cooperation reflects a future pattern on the part of Iraq," IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky told UN Radio.

The spokesman stressed that inspectors had the right to choose the days and times, as well as the sites, for inspections, and were not limiting themselves to those that were previously investigated during the 1990s.

"We're not excluding inspections at any site, and that means we will be visiting sites that we previously visited in the 1990s, plus new ones," Mr. Gwozdecky said. "Today, for example, the site we visited was not directly involved in the past nuclear weapons programme, so again, we're prepared to go anywhere at any time."

Meanwhile, the team of inspectors from the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) visited two sites - a graphite plant and a missile engine testing facility - at Al Rafah, approximately 130 kilometres southwest of Baghdad.

UNMOVIC inspection team leader Dimitri Perricos told reporters afterwards that the site his group visited today had been inspected in the past. Asked about the reason for his interest in graphite, Mr. Perricos said that graphite could be used for pencils as well as for missile batteries, and that it could be used in the cone of a missile during re-entry.