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Chief UN weapons inspector heads to Europe for talks on Iraq

Chief UN weapons inspector heads to Europe for talks on Iraq

Hans Blix, the chief United Nations weapons inspector, is leaving today for a series of meetings with senior European officials before heading to Baghdad this weekend for further talks with Iraqi authorities about the country's compliance with the inspection process, a UN spokesman said Wednesday.

On Thursday, Mr. Blix, Executive Chairman of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), is expected to meet with the European Union's High Representative for a Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, as well as the European Commission's External Relations Commissioner, Chris Patten.

Afterwards, Mr. Blix is slated to travel to Paris, where he is expected to meet with French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin. From Paris, the Executive Chairman will visit London for talks with senior officials of the British Government before stopping over in Cyprus on his way to Baghdad along with Mohamed ElBaradei, Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

"Clearly these consultations in Europe are important," UNMOVIC spokesman Ewen Buchanan told UN Radio. "It's useful for [him] to have spoken to Europe before he goes to Baghdad to begin to pass on the sentiments that the international community wants this job to be carried out and that Iraq should get on and give us more information to try and settle some of the issues. So it's useful in terms of the political message it sends."

As for the meetings in Baghdad, Mr. Buchanan said the UNMOVIC chief would use the visit to remind Iraq of its obligations and to ask again for more evidence about the gaps in the arms declaration. "Another issue is this list of Iraqi personnel, which we found inadequate, and we will hope to get more information from the Iraqis on all these issues," he said. "It's an opportunity for them to give us anything prior to Dr. Blix having to write this 27 January update on the 60 days of inspection. So it's an important timeline."