The top United Nations weapons inspectors today said there were still many unanswered questions in Iraq's arms declaration although investigations on the ground so far have not uncovered any "smoking guns."
Speaking to reporters after briefing the Security Council, Hans Blix, Executive Chairman of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), said that he told the 15-nation body that UN investigators were getting prompt access from the Iraqi side and that the inspections were covering "ever-wider areas and ever-more sites."
"In the course of these inspections we have not found any smoking gun," Mr. Blix said. "However we are getting more and more information, better knowledge about the situation. [But] the declaration, regrettably, has not helped very much to clarify any question marks of the past."
Mohamed ElBaradei, Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), echoed the comments of Mr. Blix, saying that his inspectors were "inching forward" with implementation of their tasks and gaining access to all the sites.
"However, both of us indicated that we need more proactive support on the part of Iraq to move quickly to implement our mandate," he said. "We also indicated that we need more actionable information on the part of governments and we committed ourselves to intensify the process so we can achieve the result that is intended as soon as we can."
Both officials pointed to another briefing of the Council scheduled for 27 January as another opportunity to provide more information on the progress of inspections as well as Iraqi cooperation with the process. "That report, we should emphasize, is an update report," Mr. ElBaradei said. "It is not a final report, it is work in progress and this is simply to register where we are on the 27th of January. But obviously we'll continue our work afterward and we still have a lot of work to do."
Asked about the possibility of conducting interviews with Iraqi scientists outside the country, Mr. Blix said under the Council's resolution 1441, UNMOVIC and the IAEA had that option and were ready to pursue that with those who were ready to accept that alternative. "At the same time we cannot force any individual to speak if he doesn't accept that," he said. "We cannot force anyone to go abroad or force them to defect."
Mr. ElBaradei noted that both agencies have not been able to carry out interviews in private, and that did not indicate the proactive cooperation they expected from Iraq. "I made it clear that if Iraq is willing to show cooperation, we should be allowed to do private interviews inside Iraq," he said. "We are also of the view that should we identify people who we would like to interview out of Iraq we will exercise that right."
of Blix and ElBaradei press encounter