Top United Nations weapons inspector Hans Blix told the Security Council today that over the past month Iraq has displayed "active" or even "proactive" cooperation, which has allowed the inspection process to make significant progress, although a number of key disarmament tasks remained to be resolved.
Addressing a ministerial-level meeting of the Council, Mr. Blix cited in particular Baghdad's move to begin UN-supervised destruction of the Al Samoud 2 missiles, which had been declared by Iraq last year, but were later found to be outside the permissible range by UN experts.
"The destruction undertaken constitutes a substantial measure of disarmament - indeed the first since the middle of the 1990's," Mr. Blix said. "We are not watching the breaking of toothpicks. Lethal weapons are being destroyed."
But at the same time Mr. Blix, Executive Chairman of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), said that the recent acceleration of initiatives from Iraq, while welcome, should be judged by how many questions marks they had actually succeeded in straightening out. He also noted that Baghdad should be able to provide more documentary evidence about its proscribed weapons programmes, and expressed hope that the appointment of a government commission would help to produce results.
Turning to biological and chemical weapons, Mr. Blix said there was a significant Iraqi effort under way to clarify a major source of uncertainty as to the quantities of those arms, which were unilaterally destroyed in 1991. As part of that effort, a disposal site was being now re-excavated, unearthing bombs and fragments, which could allow the determination of the number of bombs destroyed at that site.
Mr. Blix emphasized that no evidence had so far been found of weapons of mass destruction being moved around by truck, of mobile production units for biological weapons or of underground facilities for chemical or biological production or storage, as claimed by intelligence authorities. He added that for further monitoring such claims, UNMOVIC would need increased staff. "I am not talking about a doubling of staff," he said. "I would rather have twice the amount of high quality information about sites to inspect than twice the number of expert inspectors to send."
Mr. Blix said more papers on anthrax, VX nerve gas and missiles had recently been provided but many were found to restate what Iraq had already declared, and some would require further study. He said Iraq had proposed an investigation using advanced technology to quantify the amount of unilaterally destroyed anthrax dumped at a site.
"However, even if the use of advanced technology could quantify the amount of anthrax said to be dumped at the site, the results would still be open to interpretation," he added. "Defining the quantity of anthrax destroyed must, of course, be followed by efforts to establish what quantity was actually produced…
"Against this background, the question is now asked whether Iraq has cooperated 'immediately, unconditionally and actively' with UNMOVIC, as is required under paragraph 9 of resolution 1441 (2002)," Mr. Blix said.
"It is obvious that, while the numerous initiatives, which are now taken by the Iraqi side with a view to resolving some long-standing open disarmament issues, can be seen as 'active,' or even 'proactive,' these initiatives 3-4 months into the new resolution cannot be said to constitute 'immediate' cooperation. Nor do they necessarily cover all areas of relevance."
"They are nevertheless welcome and UNMOVIC is responding to them in the hope of solving presently unresolved disarmament issues," he stressed, adding that with a proactive Iraqi stance it would take "not years, nor weeks, but months" to resolve the key remaining disarmament tasks, which he said he would present to the Council before the end of this month.
He also said that UNMOVIC would soon request interviews outside Iraq with Iraqi scientists and others who may have knowledge of banned weapons programmes since "conditions ensuring the absence of undue influences are difficult to attain inside Iraq."