- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 11, 2002

NEW YORK The chief U.N. weapons inspector told the Security Council yesterday it will take as long as two months for him to get a team into Baghdad, assuming the Iraqi government extends a satisfactory invitation.

Several nations have reported indications that the United States is now ready to seek a Security Council resolution demanding a quick return of inspectors to Iraq before undertaking any military action.

But diplomats said Hans Blix warned them at a Security Council meeting yesterday that even if Saddam Hussein opened his doors unconditionally, it would take a minimum of two weeks to a month to assemble teams of inspectors and analysts.

Several more weeks would be needed to contract with laboratories, lease trucks and cars, and arrange for air transport, he said at the closed-door meeting.

"As soon as we have a green light from Iraq then we can set in motion a lot of things," Mr. Blix was quoted as saying. "Getting inspectors in takes a little while."

"I figure he meant at least two months at least," said one diplomat who heard the presentation.

Mr. Blix, a Swedish diplomat who used to run the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Austria, also told the council that his office has no evidence that Iraq is trying to acquire or make new weapons of mass destruction.

"If I had solid evidence that Iraq retained weapons of mass destruction or was constructing such weapons, I would take it to the Security Council," Mr. Blix said after the meeting. "However, there are many open questions."

The U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission has on its roster 220 experts from 44 countries. But weapons inspectors have not been in Iraq since December 1998, and officials say their first priority upon returning would be to assess what remains of their own capabilities.

Mr. Blix's remarks could complicate the Bush administration's efforts to convince the world that Saddam's weapons program makes him such a threat that pre-emptive military action is required.

President Bush will address the U.N. General Assembly tomorrow in a speech that is expected to outline Iraq's violations of past council resolutions.

The European Union and the Arab League are among those groups that have called on Iraq to again admit inspectors and comply with resolutions dating from its 1990 invasion of Kuwait. But there is little international support for unilateral military action to oust Saddam.

Saudi Arabia a pivotal U.S. ally during the Persian Gulf war joined the European Union and many Asian nations yesterday in demanding that the United States work through the Security Council before beginning a military campaign. The remarks subtly distance the kingdom from the rest of the Arab world, which opposes military action under any circumstances.

"If there is an operation, the decision has to be taken by the United Nations," Prince Saud al-Faisal said in Paris after a meeting with French President Jacques Chirac. He had issued a similar call for a U.N. role the previous day.

In Baghdad, a senior Iraqi official urged the Arab world to "confront" U.S. interests around the world in the event of military action.

"We call on all Arabs and good people to confront the interests of the aggressors, their materials and humans wherever they are because this is a human right," said Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan during a visit to Jordan. He said an attack on Iraq is an attack on all Arabs.

In the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian territory that is largely controlled by the terrorist group Hamas, thousands of Palestinians marched in support of Baghdad and denounced Israel as a terrorist state.

This is all being watched closely at the United Nations, where more than 160 world leaders or foreign ministers have begun to arrive for a two-week annual debate that will be overshadowed by Iraq.

The threat of war against Saddam is the single most divisive issue before the 15-member council, and diplomats yesterday described the atmosphere inside the chambers as tense.

"The mood is really restrained. It's tense under the surface," said one participant. "Once someone does start to speak [about political issues], everyone will."

He said that envoys were waiting to hear Mr. Bush's speech tomorrow before taking up any additional matters, such as strengthening the demands for Baghdad's compliance with existing resolutions or issuing an ultimatum that could lead to war.

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