- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 3, 2002

NEW YORK U.N. weapons monitors yesterday scrambled to explain why Iraq had been notified in advance of at least two visits to weapons sites in apparent violation of the surprise inspection regime outlined by the Security Council.
U.N. officials in New York and Baghdad said the forays were not inspections, but technical visits to replace equipment left behind four years ago.
"If you need a 100-foot ladder," said Ewen Buchanan, a spokesman for the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), "there's no point in arriving and waiting six hours while they find one."
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher yesterday indicated that Washington found the explanation satisfactory.
"The inspectors have assured us that they are conducting inspections on a no-notice basis," he told reporters. "They weren't conducting inspections. They were picking up equipment."
At one site, inspectors replaced an air-monitoring machine, and at the other site they replaced a video monitor.
In another development yesterday, U.N. inspectors hit their first snag on a visit to a missile-production facility outside Baghdad, where they failed to find several pieces of machinery that had been there four years ago.
They also found that surveillance equipment was not in place.
The compound had produced the long-range al-Hussein missiles that are now forbidden to Iraq and was the site of frequent visits by the former inspection regime.
"In 1998, the site contained a number of pieces of equipment tagged by the United Nations Special Commission and several monitoring cameras," said spokesman Hiro Ueki after the inspection of the al-Karoma facility north of Baghdad.
"None of these was currently present at the facility. It was claimed that some had been destroyed by the bombing of the site, some had been transferred to other sites," Mr. Ueki said.
The United Nations Special Commission was the name used by the previous team of inspectors, who were expelled from the country in December 1998. Days after they left, the al-Karoma facility was targeted by U.S. air strikes.
Mr. Ueki said the Iraqis had told inspectors where to find the missing equipment and that the inspectors would look for it later.
Earlier in the day, Brig. Mohammed Saleh Mohammed, commander of the al-Karoma compound, told reporters that the facility is involved in the design and production of missiles with a range of 90 miles or less which are permitted by the Security Council.
He said inspections had gone "without a hitch."
The U.N. Security Council imposed sanctions against Iraq after its troops invaded Kuwait, and the economic blockade cannot be lifted until the country is certified as having abandoned all weapons of mass destruction.
A 1996 program to bring humanitarian relief to the Iraqi people allows Baghdad to export oil and buy with the proceeds anything it needs except goods that could be used in the production of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.
That program was to have been extended last week for another six months, but the Americans have demanded that the list of prohibited items be expanded.
Unable to reach accord with the council's other 14 members, Washington is likely to agree tomorrow to another brief extension, instead of a formal renewal of the program.

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