- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 23, 2003

BAGHDAD (AP) Iraq is not fully cooperating with the U.N. inspectors in their search for suspected weapons of mass destruction, the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency said yesterday.
"We have not finished our work in Iraq. We are not getting full cooperation from Iraq. but we hope to get it in the coming weeks," Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said at a news conference in the Iranian capital, Tehran.
"We'd also like to see active cooperation in freely interviewing Iraqi scientists," Mr. ElBaradei said.
However, he said there was still a chance to avoid war. "We still believe that war is not inevitable," he told reporters as he wrapped up a two-day visit to Iran, where he visited two nuclear plants to ensure the country's nuclear industry was limited to peaceful, civilian purposes.
Earlier this month, Mr. ElBaradei told the U.N. Security Council that inspectors had found no evidence that Iraq had resumed its nuclear weapons program. He also said they could do their job without Iraq's full cooperation.
In an interview to the German magazine Der Spiegel published yesterday, he said he sees no reason to halt weapons inspections and resort to war to disarm Iraq.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin dispatched former Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov on a confidential mission to Baghdad yesterday in a reprise of the role he played before the 1991 Persian Gulf war, Moscow media reported.
Mr. Primakov, a top member of the ruling Communist elite during Soviet days, sought in vain to avoid the first allied war in which a U.S.-led coalition drove invading Iraqi forces from neighboring Kuwait.
Mr. Primakov, an expert on the Middle East, has long-standing ties with the Iraqi leadership and has sought to mediate in previous conflicts between Baghdad and the United Nations.
Russia has long been pushing for a peaceful solution to the Iraq crisis and has supported letting U.N. weapons inspectors continue their work.
Yesterday, the weapons inspectors tagging Iraq's Al Samoud 2 missiles for destruction were met by an irate factory director, who pleaded with them to let Iraq keep its weapons so it can defend itself in the face of war.
Nine inspectors arrived at the Ibn al-Haithem company on the northern outskirts of Baghdad, which is involved in producing the missile and split into three groups to tag the missiles, according to Owayed Ahmed Ali, director of the factory.
Mr. Ali said he pleaded with them not to force Iraq to destroy the missiles, as chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix ordered it to do Friday. Mr. Blix said U.N.-supervised destruction of all Al Samoud 2 missiles, warheads, fuel, engines and other components must begin by March 1.
No Iraqi official has commented publicly on Mr. Blix's order to destroy the weapons, which exceed the 93-mile-range limit set by U.N. resolutions adopted at the end of the 1991 war.
An assistant to Gen. Hossam Mohamed Amin, chief Iraqi liaison to the U.N. inspectors, said yesterday he still hadn't seen the chief inspector's letter and couldn't comment.
In addition to Ibn al-Haitham, which conducts the final assembly of the Al Samoud 2, inspectors visited Al Nasser, which makes Al Samoud 2 components, and checked on an engine test stand, spokesman Hiro Ueki said.


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