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UN team inspects former chemical weapons facility in Iraq

UN team inspects former chemical weapons facility in Iraq

United Nations experts probing Iraq for weapons of mass destruction today visited Al-Mutanna, north of Baghdad, where Iraq once had a chemical weapons (CW) warfare programme.

During past visits to the site before the 1998 suspension of the UN arms probe, thousands of CW shells and agents had been destroyed by the UN. Dimitri Perricos, the leader of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspections Commission (UNMOVIC) inspection team, told reporters today that experts wanted to know if some shells containing mustard gas, which were left out at the site, were still stored there. Mr. Perricos said that in fact the team had found the shells stored at the site.

Speaking for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Jacques Baute said his team had conducted an inspection today at the Tuwaitha site run by the Iraqi Atomic Energy Agency. The experts inspected several major areas at the site for about five hours in order to review changes that had taken place since December 1998. Those changes included construction or rehabilitation of some buildings, movement of equipment, and changes in areas of responsibility for site personnel.

Most of the observed changes had been recorded in the backlog of Iraq's own semi-annual declarations that Baghdad submitted to the IAEA on 1 October. Mr. Baute added that the inspection team had been able to carry out all the activities it decided to conduct, with Iraqi cooperation.

Asked about a statement by the Iraqi Foreign Minister voicing concern about the attitude of UN weapons inspectors, Mr. Perricos said that Iraq had accepted Security Council resolution 1441, and therefore all sites in the country could be subject to inspection. This Presidential Palace was a presidential guesthouse and the team was looking for documents and other records used just for weapons of mass destruction.

In response to a question on the upcoming Iraqi declaration, Mr. Baute said that all Iraqi declarations were important. It would be one component of our knowledge. Other knowledge came from documents and additional information provided by others.

Responding to another question on the practicality of increasing the number of weapons inspectors, Mr. Perricos said that "we will be using a multiplicity of teams, utilizing multiple disciplines" to conduct weapons inspection in the coming weeks.

Asked about achievements so far, Mr. Perricos said that his team, which so far had conducted inspections for only one week, had implemented the original inspection plan. Mr. Baute added that his team now had better knowledge in the areas of their concern and would accelerate their activities with more inspectors.

In response to a question on reports that the United States is planning to compare the Iraqi declaration against its own intelligence, Mr. Perricos said that national intelligence had more information, and that his team had not used that type of information yet.

Meanwhile in New York, UNMOVIC’s quarterly report to the Security Council was issued today. The report notes that the first team of experts already in Iraq will be followed by additional groups of inspectors drawn from the Commission’s roster of trained professionals.

UNMOVIC chief Hans Blix is scheduled to present the report to the Council on Friday during consultations.