- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 24, 2002

VIENNA, Austria The U.N. inspection team that dismantled most of Iraq's nuclear-weapons program in the 1990s said yesterday it was ready to resume its work under the old conditions and, barring a red light from the Security Council, planned to return to Baghdad as early as Oct. 15.
Officials at the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which created its Iraq Action Team after the 1991 Gulf war, said the numerous existing U.N. resolutions demanding Baghdad's cooperation provided it with sufficient mandate to send the inspectors back without a new resolution.
"We have an existing mandate to do inspections, which were interrupted in 1998, but Iraq's recent invitation has opened the door to go back in, and we are planning to do so," one senior IAEA official said. "We can resume under the existing resolutions or under the terms of a new one; either way, we are ready to go."
The Bush administration, however, has made it clear that it strongly objects to the inspectors' return unless the Security Council adopts a new, toughly worded resolution whose requirements most likely would be difficult for Iraq to satisfy. The council is expected to discuss the draft document this week.
The Oct. 15 date appeared last week in an internal U.N. timeline circulated by Hans Blix, chief of the organization's arm in charge of Iraq's biological, chemical and missile capabilities. An IAEA advance party would arrive in Baghdad that day for "preparatory work," but "some early inspections" are also likely, the document said.
"We are going in well-prepared, with a plan, and we never take anything at face value," said Jacques Baute, the Iraq Action Team's leader. "We are thorough and suspicious. We expect that the Iraqis have learned lessons from the 1990s and will do things differently. But we will try a few new things as well."
Mark Gwozdecky, the IAEA's chief spokesman, said the first group to return to Baghdad would include a half-dozen Iraq Action Team members and about a dozen representatives from Mr. Blix's commission in New York. The two groups would fly to Bahrain separately and then take a charter flight to Iraq together. It could take up to six weeks for full inspections to begin, he said.
"We could be learning things from day one, and the level of cooperation the Iraqis give us on logistical and other practical matters would be an important factor," Mr. Gwozdecky said. "We have new technology that would allow us, for example, to sniff around metals and find out whether they have been involved in nuclear applications."
But the plans to proceed with the October trip would be jeopardized if Iraqi officials, during a planned meeting in Vienna on Monday, do not "demonstrate that they will provide enough information" to the inspectors.
The IAEA team was forced to leave Baghdad in December 1998, along with members of the U.N. Special Commission for disarming Iraq, known as Unscom, the predecessor of Mr. Blix's organization. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein expelled the inspectors just before joint U.S.-British military strikes.
Former Unscom members, including its chairman, Richard Butler, repeatedly complained about a lack of full access to various facilities and ill relations with the Iraqis. Baghdad, in turn, accused the commission of spying for the United States.
Things were much different for the IAEA team, which never faced espionage charges, Mr. Gwozdecky said. By 1995, the nuclear specialists achieved "better cooperation" with Baghdad and maintained it until late 1998, he said. He explained that the team would inform the Iraqis the night before an inspection but would keep the location secret until vehicles headed to a specific site.
"That allowed us to neutralize Iraq's nuclear-weapons capabilities, and we were confident we hadn't missed any major component of the program," he said. "Of course, you can't eliminate hundreds of Iraqi scientists and their skills."
Since the inspectors were satisfied with the working conditions and their accomplishments, they were happy to continue from where they stopped nearly four years ago, Mr. Gwozdecky said. He dismissed regular claims in the West that all inspections in Iraq so far have proved ineffective.
"At the end of the day, we obtained good results in terms of disarming their nuclear program. That message somehow got lost amid the constant refrain about the ineffectiveness of inspections," he said.
In contrast to the Bush administration's assertion that sending the inspectors back to Iraq would achieve little and only waste precious time, IAEA officials say their specialists would be able to detect traces of nuclear activity.
They also noted that in any future inspections they would "jealously guard" the agency's reputation and independence a hint it would object to any attempts to politicize its work.
"We are a technical organization, and we are trying to provide authoritative and substantive information to the United Nations," Mr. Gwozdecky said. "We are a neutral third party."
President Bush and other U.S. officials have cited two IAEA reports as evidence of Saddam's continued efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction: one based on satellite images showing new buildings and another stating that the Iraqi leader is six months away from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
Mr. Gwozdecky said such reports do not exist. The IAEA's specialists have seen new buildings, including at sites previously used by Iraq for nuclear activities, but there is "no solid evidence of what's happening in those buildings," he said.
"We use commercially available technology," he said, "and even the best technology doesn't tell you what's underneath that roof."

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