- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 6, 2003

UNITED NATIONS, Feb. 6 (UPI) — U.N. inspectors gained a long-sought achievement in Iraq on Thursday night with the private interview of a "biological scientist, alone," said spokeswoman Hua Jiang, adding that the session lasted just over three and a half hours.

She neither could confirm the location, believed in Baghdad, nor whether the scientist was on the list of scientists requested for interviews, minus minders, by the U.N. inspection regime. However, it was the first — since inspectors returned to Iraq on Nov. 27 — of what they had hoped would be a series of such sessions, although there were no promises of more interviews.

"This evening a private interview was conducted with an Iraqi biological scientist, alone," said Hua, reading a terse statement sent by the spokesman for the joint U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission and International Atomic Energy Agency operation in Baghdad. "The interview lasted three hours, 32 minutes."

Throughout the day, diplomats at the United Nations studied U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's Security Council presentation of Wednesday concerning Iraq's weapons. They awaited formal instructions from their capitals while keeping sights sharpened for early responses from colleagues and ears perked for progress during the top inspectors' Baghdad visit this weekend.

The interview was what the optimistic sought. The United States, however, was not among the optimistic.

"You are going to see a lot — the Iraqis are going to do a number of things — of these little token gestures of so-called cooperation," said a U.S. official. "That's not what we're talking about in terms of compliance under (Security) Council Resolution 1441 (of Nov. 8 authorizing return of inspectors).

"What the Iraqis need to do is a fundamental change in their approach to disarmament," he said. "To date they haven't done that."

Russian Ambassador Sergei Lavrov said earlier, "When he (UNMOVIC head Hans Blix) comes, we will see whether his hands are empty or full."

"I hope the inspectors come back to New York with something really in their hands to be able to feed in what is missing right now," Ambassador Ismael Gaspar Martins of Guinea, another council member, echoed, also earlier.

He said the panel of 15 members was awaiting reports from Blix and IAEA Director Mohammed ElBaradei "to come to the council and say, 'Look, based on this,'" and lay out the facts.

"Then the council will be much better equipped to make decisions," he said. "That's the arrangement; that's how we go," Gaspar Martins said.

Another council diplomat, who asked not to be further identified, explained: "The dynamics here are not individual. It's people that are carrying out instructions. What you heard as a reaction, in different levels and tones, has been said in the past. It's basically that."

"Obviously he (Powell) made a persuasive argument, which will make people think about this," the envoy said. "Because it brought home what could have been simply theoretical considerations, how he's (Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's) hiding the weapons, things of that nature. But obviously it will make people reflect on it," the veteran envoy said.

"But, (was there) kind of an epiphany in the room as a consequence?" he asked. "That's not how it works. It's not that it doesn't happen, it's that it doesn't work that way, you see? We're not here in individual capacities. I relate back to (his capital) and they'll listen to it — they must have seen it — they'll ponder about it, and then they'll come back and say, look, this is how we feel."

Asked about the latest excursion of the two top inspectors to Baghdad and what would happen if they return with nothing, he said, "I don't know if (it would be) the last straw, but I think it's what my Marxist friends used to call, 'It's an objective change of circumstances,'" said the diplomat. "That's what I think. But yes, in the sense that how people are reading this, he (Powell) made a persuasive argument. He made a good presentation and then there'll be an evaluation. We'll see how the Iraqis are going to react. Remember in the '90s, every time there was a situation? Iraq sort of kind of 'found' things."

He pointed out how they suddenly remembered a chicken farm worth seeing, "this (last) time they made that 10-point agreement. So, there's this progressive situation where push comes to shove. So I don't know. I think you've got to wait a few days to see how this thing runs out."

Another veteran diplomat, albeit a bit more senior, was not afraid to speak out using his name.

Ambassador Inocencio Arias of Spain said he found Powell's presentation "quite convincing" and "made a solid and serious case."

"But," he admitted, "I was more or less convinced, and I think he has convinced some of the lukewarm because he presented a good case. The point is, has he convinced those who don't believe in this approach, those who believe that the continuation of the inspections is the solution to the problem, which we don't believe, but I found that he was quite serious and he made a good case."

Asked if Blix and ElBaradei come back empty-handed would that force a majority to vote for a resolution authorizing force against Iraq, he replied, "It should. For those like me that believe that he (Saddam) is a liar and that he should know by now that he cannot keep lying because a lot is at stake."

So is this weekend Saddam's last chance under Resolution 1441, which called it his "last opportunity"? was the question posed to Arias.

"If the Security Council believes in what we approved, he must get a message through Mr. Blix, through a high mission composed of (U.N. Secretary-General) Kofi Annan, the president of Egypt, the pope, I don't know who. I'm joking, but I'm not joking.

"He (Saddam) must know that he is playing with the Security Council of the international community, and that's not done," the excited Arias said, thrusting his hands to underscore his points. "Because, a lot is at stake. A military intervention is costly in human lives in what happens in the area.

"This is a very serious matter. And the Security Council gave him what we call … the last warning, and three months later we have to give him another last warning?" Madrid's envoy said. "I think there should be another try to tell him, because the (military) intervention is the last resort, but I am quite skeptical."

As for Feb. 14 when Blix and ElBaradei are next to report to the council, Arias said, "I think it's a very important date, but we'll see. It's not a question of the inspectors finding anything, because in the short run, in two months, in three months, in four months, they cannot find anything, in my opinion. It's a question of changing the mind of the attitude of the regime of Saddam Hussein. Blix said it very clearly."

Said Arias, quoting Blix, who did not specifically ask the council for more time to inspect, "I stop short of asking for the continuation unless there is a change of attitude of this man."

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