- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 9, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Feb. 9 (UPI) — Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix said Sunday his weekend talks with Iraqi officials had been useful, adding he hoped Iraq now takes "disarmament issues more seriously."

Blix, chairman of the U.N. Monitoring Verification and Inspection Commission, and Mohamed ElBaradei, executive director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, resumed talks Sunday with top Iraqi officials, including Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan, on specific ways Iraq can increase its cooperation with the world body.

Blix described the two days of talks as "useful" and "substantial.

"Iraq has been helpful on (the) process," he said, "(but) cooperation of substance … that is resolution of disarmament issues is … less good."

Blix and ElBaradei, who arrived in Baghdad Saturday aboard a U.N. aircraft, were to return to U.N. headquarters Monday. The two men are to present their report on weapons inspections to the U.N. Security Council Friday.

At his news conference with ElBaradei Sunday in Baghdad, Blix said talks with the Iraqi side were good, adding: "I have seen I have seen … the beginning of (Iraq) taking these disarmament issues more seriously."

The United States says Iraq has a record of lying to the international community and is hiding proscribed weapons of mass destruction. It says Baghdad poses an immediate threat to global security and must be disarmed by force if necessary. It has urged the United Nations to disarm Iraq or says it will do so alone.

Blix said there had been a "beginning" in the talks, adding, "breakthrough is a strong word for what we are seeing."

But he cautioned against a military solution.

"I would much rather see inspections than some other solution," he said.

ElBaradei said he expected the U.N. Security Council to give the inspectors more time "as long as we are registering good progress."

Washington says inspectors have been given enough time to do their job, but ElBaradei said: "I would say I'm seeing the beginning of a change of heart for Iraq."

During their weekend talks, Blix and ElBaradei also met with Iraqi presidential adviser Gen. Amer al-Saadi and director of Iraq's National Monitoring Department, Gen. Hussam Amin. Talks covered new inspection tools, such as high-flying aircraft, as well as the objects of the inspections, chemical weapons and germ warfare agents. As the talks in Baghdad continued in the Foreign Ministry building, U.N. inspectors questioned Iraqi scientists without government supervisors present.

Blix and ElBaradei had been demanding such private interviews be allowed by the Baghdad government as well as the use of U-2 reconnaissance aircraft and Iraqi legislation forbidding Iraqi citizens to take part in weapons of mass destruction programs.

Blix said Sunday Iraq had assured him it would expand a commission to search for weapons and weapons programs and "relevant documents nationwide." There was no agreement, however, on the U-2s. Blix said he expected the Iraqis to respond to the issue by Friday.

He said the Iraq side had given them documents on anthrax and missiles and these papers would by studied by U.N. experts in New York Monday and Tuesday. Iraq had also appointed a new commission on documents, Blix said.

The two sides also discussed U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's accusations in the U.N. Security Council that Iraq was hiding contraband weapons from the international inspectors who returned to Iraq in late November after a four-year absence. Baghdad has denied the accusations, accusing the United States of "fabrications" to justify an American war on the country.

Meanwhile, the international inspection teams continued their search for weapons of mass destruction across the country.

Blix announced Sunday U.N. inspectors found an empty chemical rocket warhead at an ammunition depot north of Baghdad. None of the nearly 20 such warheads found have had chemical agents.

In its daily briefing, the Iraqi Information Ministry said eight teams visited different sites in the capital and its suburbs.

A ballistics team visited al-Maamoun Plant and al-Mutassem and al-Batani, all of which fall under the umbrella of Iraq's military industry. These plants and firms are involved in manufacturing short-range missiles, allowed under Security Council resolutions on Iraq.

A U.N biological weapons team visited an elementary school in al-Ghazaliya in northern Baghdad, as well as a dairy plant in al-Karradah in the capital's center. A group of ballistics, biological and chemical experts also visited Aya'a for Agricultural Research in Abu Ghraib west of Baghdad, in addition to Utad al-Taji Warehouse, a military site 20 miles north of the capital. A nuclear team visited the same site and took swab samples from the earth, water and tested the air to see the level of radiation in the area.

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(With reporting by Ghassan al-Kadi in Baghdad, Iraq)

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