- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 9, 2003

BAGHDAD U.N. disarmament chiefs went face to face with top Iraqi officials yesterday in "useful" and "very substantial" talks to find out what Baghdad did with stores of anthrax, nerve gas and other forbidden arms.
After more than four hours of meetings, U.N. nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei reported the Iraqis had presented unspecified "explanations on some of the issues." The discussions resume today.
The talks were pivotal, but they were "not the last chance" for peace, Mr. ElBaradei said, apparently trying to counter talk in Washington that the time for diplomacy had all but run out.
Mr. ElBaradei and chief U.N. arms inspector Hans Blix were looking for quick Iraqi concessions on practical matters in the disarmament effort here, such as clearance to fly American U-2 reconnaissance planes in support of their inspections.
They also were hoping to ensure that meetings continue with weapons scientists in private. Another scientist submitted to a private interview yesterday the fifth in three days signaling a possible breakthrough on this issue.
But they also wanted more: documents, testimony or other evidence to clear up discrepancies in Iraq's accounting for weapons of mass destruction produced and weapons destroyed over a decade ago.
"If they don't have the orders [to destroy weapons], if they don't have the paper, give us the people who were involved, to talk to," one U.N. delegate said before the first meeting, in a Foreign Ministry conference room above a boulevard dotted with heroic statues of President Saddam Hussein.
The first round of talks opened just after 4 p.m. yesterday with a scheduled hour of high-level discussion including Mr. Blix, Mr. ElBaradei and Lt. Gen. Amer al-Saadi, a Saddam adviser and head of the Iraqi delegation. More than three hours of a full meeting between delegations followed.
Afterward, Mr. Blix told reporters, "It is useful discussions we are having. … It was a very substantial discussion." But neither he nor Mr. ElBaradei provided any details of what "explanations" the Iraqis offered.
Another senior U.N. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the Iraqis had presented documents, but they would have to be studied before inspectors could determine their value.
The two days of Baghdad talks will shape the reports the chief inspectors must present next Friday to the U.N. Security Council, whose member nations are searching for unanimity on the next step in the explosive crisis. The council majority wants something short of a U.N. authorization for war against Iraq, sought by President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
The U.S. and British governments contend that Iraq retains chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs prohibited by U.N. resolutions, and threaten a military strike if not satisfied Saddam has disarmed. American military units, meanwhile, continue to converge on the Persian Gulf region, more than 100,000 personnel thus far to back up the U.S. threat.

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