- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 26, 2003

BAGHDAD Three Iraqi scientists rejected a request by U.N. weapons inspectors to undergo private interviews to aid the U.N. search for evidence of forbidden arms programs, a senior Iraqi official said yesterday.
Both the United Nations and the United States have pressed Iraq to persuade its scientists to speak privately to the inspectors, hoping the absence of Iraqi officials would encourage them to be more candid about the nature of their work.
The Iraqi government maintains it is doing everything it can to "encourage" the scientists but says they are refusing because of fears their information could be distorted.
The Iraqi Foreign Ministry had said late Friday that three scientists the U.N. inspectors wanted to question in private yesterday were "encouraged" to do so. But in the end all three refused, insisting government officials must be present, a senior Iraqi official said.
He said the inspectors interviewed one of the three yesterday, but with Iraqi officials sitting in on the meeting. The identities of the three scientists were not revealed.
Hiro Ueki, spokesman for the U.N. inspectors in Baghdad, confirmed the Iraqi account. He said two scientists refused to be questioned without Iraqi officials present, so the inspectors canceled the interviews altogether.
A team from the International Atomic Energy Agency flew by helicopter to the Kurdish region in northern Iraq to interview the third scientist privately, but he would not agree, Mr. Ueki's statement said.
The interview was then conducted with a representative of Iraq's National Monitoring Directorate present, the statement said, adding that the inspectors "will continue to seek interviews in private."
The interview took place inside the northern no-fly zone enforced by the United States and Britain since the 1991 Persian Gulf war to protect Iraqi Kurds from Iraq's army.
Mr. Ueki's statement said officials from the Iraqi directorate flew on the same helicopter. The United Nations last week canceled an inspection in the no-fly zone when the Iraqi side insisted on following in their own helicopters. Yesterday's trip, with the Iraqis on board the U.N. aircraft, was in line with an agreement reached last week to settle the problem.
At the inspectors' compound on Baghdad's outskirts, two men were detained yesterday after trying separately to enter the compound.
The first man, armed with three knives and a piece of metal, was apprehended as he tried to get through the front gate and was taken away by Iraqi police.
About 45 minutes later, a young man ran in front of inspectors' vehicles, shouting "Save me," and was allowed to enter one vehicle. He was carrying a notebook, which U.N. officials said was empty. Mr. Ueki said the man was turned over to Iraqi authorities.
The subject of private interviews has become a major issue in advance of a report to the U.N. Security Council tomorrow by chief inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei on Iraq's compliance with U.N. Resolution 1441 giving arms inspectors the right to search for biological, chemical and nuclear weapons anywhere in Iraq.
Washington, which accuses Iraq of hiding such weapons, has taken a hard line on the interview issue.
Ken Lisaius, a White House spokesman, said yesterday the Iraqis' rejection of private interviews is "further evidence that Iraq has something to hide." Iraq's government must let such interviews happen, as required by the U.N. resolution, "without delay and without debate," he said.
Meanwhile, for the second time in 24 hours, U.S. warplanes attacked an Iraqi military target inside the no-fly zone in southern Iraq, the U.S. Central Command said.
The command said allied warplanes were responding to "hostile acts" by Iraqi air defenses. It said bombs were dropped on an anti-aircraft site near Tallil, about 170 miles southeast of Baghdad.
Iraq's official news agency said U.S. and British warplanes attacked "civilian and military installations" in the southern Babil province, injuring three people.
As the United States continued assembling the biggest ground, naval and air force since the 1991 Persian Gulf war, Saadoun Hammadi, speaker of Iraq's parliament, said that if war comes, Iraqis "will fight fiercely until the end" and use "every method to inflict heavy damages on the enemy."

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