- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 7, 2002

NEW YORK Iraq is expected to hand over its long-awaited "complete" declaration of any weapons-of-mass-destruction programs to U.N. inspectors in Baghdad at noon today, with war and peace riding on the outcome of the accounting.

Tomorrow the data will be sent to U.N. headquarters.

But chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix said yesterday that the United States and other countries will not see the raw copy until after his staff has translated it from Arabic and removed sensitive information on mass-destruction-weapons processes.

Mr. Blix said the declaration expected to exceed 10,000 pages could contain information that violates international treaties against the proliferation of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. After such information has been "redacted," he said, it will be distributed, but "no member of the council will get it Monday."

"All the governments in the council are aware that they should not have access to anything that anyone else does not have access to. If any parts relate to nuclear proliferation, none of them would like to have it [distributed]," he said.

After such information has been trimmed out, he said, it will be circulated. That process is estimated to take about a week.

U.S. officials said they had no problem with the U.N. translators and analysts getting the sprawling document first.

But they were unhappy with the continued resistance of the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (Unmovic) to taking Iraqi scientists outside the country for thorough questioning on weapons programs.

The Bush administration has been adamant that key scientists and their families should be taken to a safe place where they can be debriefed by weapons inspectors fully and without Baghdad's interference.

National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice traveled to New York earlier this week to press the point with Mr. Blix, while various administration officials have stressed its importance daily.

"History in dealing with Iraq has shown that one of the most valuable ways to get information about what is really going on with Iraq's weapons programs is to talk to the scientists and the weapons people inside Iraq who really know the facts about what's going on," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

He said they were afraid to speak openly because "they're vulnerable to the brutalities of Saddam Hussein's regime."

But Mr. Blix said, "We are not going to abduct anybody, and we're not serving as a defection agency."

He told reporters yesterday that Unmovic had not yet tried to interview scientists.

The U.N. inspector noted mildly that Security Council Resolution 1441 gives him the right to interview experts inside or outside Iraq, but Unmovic had not yet begun to work on that aspect of the program.

Mr. Blix said inspectors had lists of names from the previous inspection regime, but they have not sought to meet them or seek new names.

Mr. Blix has consistently rebuffed U.S. pressure to take experts outside the country for questioning.

The International Atomic Energy Commission and Unmovic "will decide the modalities and the place for interviews," he said in a news conference reported by The Washington Times on Nov. 15.

"The question will be whether Iraqis, in the atmosphere whether they would be willing to accept interviews alone. We don't know."

"We do believe that conducting interviews is a critical tool for the inspectors to carry out their mandate and determine if Iraq has decided to take the final opportunity to comply with its international obligations to disarm," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said yesterday.

Mr. Blix briefed the council yesterday on the inspectors' work, which began Nov. 27 and has been progressing amid intense scrutiny and speculation.

Inspection teams have toured one of Saddam Hussein's Baghdad palaces, a distillery, a nuclear power plant and several sites that had already been identified before 1998 as factories for nerve gas and long-range missiles.

The palace visit drew an angry retort from a top Iraqi official, who charged that its only purpose was to humiliate Iraq and compromise its sovereignty.

They have made no significant discoveries, aside from shells loaded with previously declared mustard gas.

Diplomats said Mr. Blix expected to have 100 inspectors on the ground by next week and that the pace would pick up as offices are established in Mosul and Basra, significantly extending their reach beyond Baghdad.

U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham, who attended the meeting early yesterday, made no criticism or demands of Unmovic, according to diplomats present.

Iraq's declaration is likely to comprise 2,000 pages on its nuclear power program, and 8,000 pages devoted to its biological, chemical and missile work, according to diplomats. Those files will be sent to inspection headquarters, while a composite document is to be transmitted by Monday to Security Council President Alfonso Valdiviezo, the ambassador of Colombia.

The whole manifesto estimated to weigh 130 pounds may or may not provide the road map the United Nations is desperately hoping for.

But the Bush administration warned that an avalanche of information does not signal a new willingness to be forthcoming.

"Iraq turns over a phone book to the United Nations [but it] doesn't mean that nobody inside Iraq has an unlisted phone number," Mr. Fleischer said.

Iraq's U.N. ambassador, Mohammed al-Douri, said the declaration "will answer all the questions" of the weapons inspectors. And he repeated Baghdad's frequent assertion that it has no prohibited weapons.

"We have no more destruction weapons at all," he told reporters slowly and emphatically. "Everything has been destroyed, and we have no intention to do that again. So Iraq is clean of any kind of destruction weapons." He told reporters yesterday that U.N. inspectors "will find nothing."

The declaration is a crucial requirement that Iraq must meet and Security Council members and weapons experts will be combing it to assess whether Baghdad is telling the truth. Omissions or false statements, coupled with any Iraqi failure to cooperate with weapons inspectors, could trigger war.

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