- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 8, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Feb. 8 (UPI) — Chief U.N. weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei on Saturday began talks to press Iraq to accept a much more intrusive look into the country's weapons resources.

Blix and ElBaradei, who arrived in Baghdad Saturday aboard a U.N. aircraft, are scheduled for two days of intensive discussions on Iraq's approval to allow inspectors to use U.S.-made U-2 surveillance aircraft over the country's skies and to hold more private interviews with Iraqi scientists with government monitors. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's presentation of evidence for Iraq's violations of disarmament agreements, given Wednesday to the U.N. Security Council, is also expected to come up.

Both men flew from Cyprus on a mission being closely watched by the United States for new signs of either Iraqi resistance or credible cooperation.

Blix and ElBaradei met with presidential adviser Gen. Amer al-Saadi and director of Iraq's National Monitoring Department, Gen. Hussam Amin, after ducking out of their hotel al-Rasheed Saturday morning to avoid questions from journalists.

Officials did not give a formal press briefing after the talks adjourned for the day, but analysts in Iraq described a general feeling in Baghdad that the two sides would reach a new agreement whereby Iraq would offer concessions such as greater transparency for weapons inspections and otherwise show flexibility to the U.N. demands. Whether any such progress would satisfy the hard-line U.S. stance would still be in question.

Also Saturday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned against a unilateral U.S. attack against Iraq. Speaking at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., where he received an honorary doctorate, Annan said a possible war is an issue "not for any one state, but for the international community as a whole."

"When states decide to use force, not in self-defense but to deal with broader threats to international peace and security, there is no substitute for the unique legitimacy provided by the United Nations Security Council," Annan said.

"States and peoples around the world attach fundamental importance to such legitimacy, and to the international rule of law."

In Jordan, Jordan's King Abdullah II and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak met in the Red Sea port city of Aqaba Saturday to discuss the Iraq crisis. An official statement said the two Arab leaders urged a peaceful solution to the Iraq crisis "to avert the ghost of war from the region."

The bilateral summit came one day before a similar high-level meeting is set to take place between Mubarak and Syrian President Bashar Assad in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh on Sunday. It also came as the foreign and defense ministers of the six Arab Gulf Cooperation Council member countries also opened in the Saudi Red Sea port city of Jeddah to discuss the growing tension in the region.

Meanwhile, a Babel daily newspaper run by President Saddam Hussein's eldest son, Uday, said that the outcome of Blix and ElBaradei's visit to Baghdad "depends on the level of their professionalism and their refusal to succumb to American blackmail and threats."

The paper said "this position" of Blix and ElBaradei "will be a great gain, not only to the two international officials, but to the international organization and the Security Council."

Earlier, the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission team Friday talked in Iraq with a senior scientist and a missile expert privately, without an Iraqi government overseer. At the same time the International Atomic Energy Agency team spoke privately with a chemical engineer.

On the heels of Thursday's first solo interview with an Iraqi arms expert by U.N. inspectors, the interviews suggested a change in Iraqi behavior that had been sought by inspectors.

"This evening, UNMOVIC conducted two separate private interviews with Iraqi individuals," said spokesman Hiro Ueki on Friday. "One was with a senior scientist and another with a missile expert. No Iraqi witness was present during the interviews." The interview with the senior scientist lasted approximately four hours and the interview with the missile expert lasted approximately two and a half hours, he added, and "a number of relevant issues were addressed."

Blix, UNMOVIC chairman, and IAEA Executive Director ElBaradei had been demanding such private interviews be allowed by the Baghdad government as well as the use of high-flying reconnaissance aircraft and Iraqi legislation forbidding Iraqi citizens to take part in weapons of mass destruction programs.

Both Blix and ElBaradei spent the night in Larnaca, Cyprus, before taking off for Baghdad Saturday morning for the two-day visit. They are scheduled to hold a news briefing Sunday at 7 p.m. local time and then depart Monday morning.

Blix and ElBaradei are to brief the U.N. Security Council Feb. 14 on what, if any, the government of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein promised.

Delivery of the experts minus their minders was regarded as a major accomplishment. As for U-2 overflights, a government spokesman said Thursday that Iraq might consider them if U.S. and British enforcement of the so-called no-fly zones were suspended.

Baghdad has been saying the U-2 high altitude surveillance aircraft in support of the inspectors were in danger because of ongoing U.S. and British airborne patrols and the exchange of fire between the fighters and Iraqi ground weapons. The no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq are intended to protect the Kurds and minority Shiite Muslims, respectively, from attack by Iraqi forces.


(Ghassan Al-Kadi contributed to this report from Baghdad.)

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