- The Washington Times - Monday, November 18, 2002

LARNACA, Cyprus The chief U.N. weapons inspector landed in Cyprus yesterday to assemble his team for a return to Baghdad and said the "question of war and peace" awaits an answer from Saddam Hussein.
President Bush has warned that Saddam faces military action if he fails to cooperate fully with the inspectors, who will fly to Iraq today. Saddam faces a three-week deadline to reveal weapons of mass destruction or provide convincing evidence he no longer has any.
Chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix and Mohammed El Baradei, overseeing the International Atomic Energy Agency's search for nuclear arms, flew to Cyprus from Vienna. They joined about two dozen other members of the advance team assembling here to prepare for a resumption of inspections after a nearly four-year absence.
"The question of war and peace remains first of all in the hands of Iraq, the Security Council and the members of the Security Council," Mr. Blix said.
Mr. Blix, who will lead the overall mission, said his team was prepared to meet the challenge of ensuring Iraqi compliance. But he said he hoped Iraq would not try to hide anything.
The 74-year-old Swedish diplomat said inspectors would be taking along much more sophisticated equipment than was available when the inspection program was suspended in December 1998.
"We do of course expect to get tips from the [U.N.] member states," Mr. Blix said. "We also have modern equipment that is superior to what we had in the past. But we would like the Iraqis to declare, and this is an opportunity for them to do so and we hope that they will seize that opportunity."
Mr. Bush is insisting on "zero tolerance" of the Iraqi delaying tactics and deceit that marked the previous inspection effort.
Mr. El Baradei, an Egyptian, said there was a need for "intrusive verifications," meaning inspectors "will use every means at our disposal to make sure that Iraq does not have weapons of mass destruction."
Also, Iraqis with key information may be interviewed outside the country if it were necessary to protect their safety. But, he acknowledged, "if people do not want to talk, we obviously will not be able to force them to talk."
Mr. Blix favors cooperation instead of confrontation with the Iraqis, and the differences in approach could create tension between the inspectors and the Bush administration, U.N. officials said yesterday on the condition of anonymity.
One official said the Americans are eager to beef up the mission with staff and equipment that Mr. Blix may not consider necessary.
"We're happy for the handshake, but we don't want the hug," said the official, referring to Mr. Blix's interest in U.S. support but also in avoiding the appearance that Americans are running the show.
Mr. El Baradei spoke of "second-guessing" when asked about pressure from Security Council members. Mr. Blix acknowledged input from different governments, but said, "It is we who will decide what to do."
Although Mr. Blix has urged the United States to provide more intelligence support for his mission, he also warned over the weekend of the pitfalls of such cooperation, saying in Paris that the previous inspection mission failed in part because of its close association with government intelligence agencies and Western states.
The last inspectors left Baghdad in December 1998 amid Iraqi charges that some were spying for the United States and countercharges that Iraq was not cooperating with the teams. Their departure was followed by four days of punishing U.S. and British air strikes on Iraq.
Mr. Blix and Mr. El Baradei said yesterday they would not tolerate attempts to coerce their staff into surreptitiously sharing information with governments.
"I can never guarantee that everyone will be 100 percent in my service," Mr. Blix said. "But if we find anyone doing anything else, it's bye-bye."


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