- The Washington Times - Monday, January 13, 2003

PARIS, Jan. 13 (UPI) — The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency on Monday floated the possibility that Iraq could someday be free of U.N. sanctions, if the country fully cooperates with U.N. Security Council weapons requirements.

Mohammed ElBaradei said, however, the matter was separate from the standoff between the United Nations and Iraq regarding whether Saddam Hussein's government is harboring weapons of mass destruction.

"If Iraq cooperates in all respects we can, in a year, report that conditions are met for the suspension of sanctions," ElBaradei said following a meeting with French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin. "But that is something different from our conclusion that Iraq no longer has weapons of mass destruction or nuclear programs."

In an interview published Sunday, ElBaradei told Time Magazine the intelligence community was in near consensus that "there are still chemical and biological weapons programs going on in Iraq." But in Paris Monday, he said Security Council members were making strides in sharing their intelligence information with U.N. weapons inspectors.

ElBaradei also said Security Council members also understood a new progress report on Iraq, set for Jan. 27, "is not a cut-off date." The IAEA chief presumably included the United States, which has a permanent seat on the Security Council. The other permanent members are Russia, Britain, China and France.

Washington is eager to speed up the weapons inspections in Baghdad presumably to gear up for war before hot weather hits the Middle East, if Iraq is deemed in non-compliance.

ElBaradei reiterated, however, his call for time and for Baghdad to cooperate actively with U.N. weapons inspectors who are in the country in line with Security Council Resolution 1441.

"We still need a few months to achieve our mission," he said. "How long would it take depends on the cooperation we get from Iraq in terms of documents, in terms of interviews with Iraqi scientists. In terms of physical evidence that has been destroyed."

Separately, ElBaradei described the North Korean standoff as a matter of equal concern as Iraq, but suggested the world's only Stalinist country may be awarded for good behavior.

During visits in a number of capitals "everybody is willing to look sympathetically to North Korea's security concerns and economic assistance, but once North Korea has come back into compliance," he said.

Both ElBaradei and U.N. weapons inspections head, Hans Blix, are due to visit Baghdad this weekend. Both are passing beforehand through France, which holds the Security Council presidency this month.

The French government has stepped up calls — repeated by de Villepin Monday — for a diplomatic solution to the Iraqi crisis. And several polls, including one published Sunday, show the majority of French opposed to military action against Iraq.

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