- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 16, 2002

NEW YORK Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix urged Baghdad yesterday to take seriously its obligation to declare all its weapons programs next month, rather than continue to insist it has not tried to develop chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.

"They will have not quite one month to examine their archives, their stores and stocks, to see whether indeed there is something, or not," Mr. Blix told reporters just hours before departing for the region.

"Iraqi's declaration is a very important document and we hope that they take it very seriously."

A new U.N. Security Council resolution, accepted by Saddam Hussein, requires Iraq to provide by Dec. 8 a final, comprehensive accounting of its weapons programs. Iraqi officials have said repeatedly they have no weapons of mass destruction, a claim that Washington and many other governments dispute.

"This is one of the most important moments we foresee, this declaration by Iraq," said the Swedish lawyer. He said an omission could be "very serious," but he has repeatedly refused to judge whether any particular situation represents a "material breach" of U.N. resolutions that could justify a war.

Mr. Blix, the executive chairman of the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Observation Commission, is to arrive in Baghdad on Monday, along with Mohamed El Baradei of the International Atomic Energy Commission.

The two-day visit, including meetings with Iraqi officials, will mark the first time inspectors have been inside Iraq in four years.

Weapons inspectors are to start their work by Dec. 27, and report their findings to the U.N. Security Council no later than Jan. 27.

In Washington, the Pentagon announced that U.S. and British warplanes had bombed a radar site in southern Iraq yesterday after Iraq fired at warplanes patrolling a no-fly zone.

Coalition planes used precision-guided weapons to attack an "air-defense communications facility" near An Najaf about 85 miles southeast of Baghdad, a Pentagon statement said.

It marked the first coalition strike on Iraq since Saddam's government accepted the Security Council resolution. U.S. officials have said they believe that Iraq's firing on coalition planes patrolling the northern and southern no-fly zones would violate the resolution.

In his half-hour press conference yesterday, Mr. Blix was careful to strike a balanced tone, refusing to criticize the belligerent tone of Iraq's letter agreeing to inspections.

He also declined to criticize Russian and Iraqi charges that previous U.N. inspectors gathered intelligence for foreign governments, or Washington's repeated demands of an accelerated inspection schedule.

One area in which Mr. Blix clearly differs with Washington is on the value of interviewing Iraqi scientists and other experts outside the country.

The United States has said the scientists are unlikely to tell the inspectors what they know as long as they and their families remain in Iraq, where they are vulnerable to Saddam's retaliation.

"I can well understand the desirability of interviewing people abroad," Mr. Blix said yesterday. "Defectors have been a very important source of information and presumably will continue to be so."

But he refused to commit himself to taking the scientists out of Iraq to be interviewed, noting that the Security Council resolution leaves that decision in his hands.

"The question will be whether Iraqis, in the atmosphere, under the regime whether they would be willing to accept interviews alone," he said. "We don't know. We have the hunch that some Iraqis may not do so."

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