- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 5, 2003

UNITED NATIONS, March 5 (UPI) — Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix said Wednesday that Iraq was "taking quite a lot of steps" toward disarmament — but there were still "a lot of question marks" about disclosures it had given his inspectors.

In what many regard as a preview to his scheduled oral update this Friday to last Friday's written report, the executive chairman of the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission met with the U.N. Correspondent Association at U.N. Headquarters in New York.

Among the disarmament activities he mentioned: destruction of al-Samoud 2 missiles, the release by Baghdad of previously unseen documents, greater cooperation in interviewing Iraqi scientists, dumping of toxic material and the digging up of R-400 biological bombs on which Iraq took the initiative.

"Now that is real disarmament," Blix said.

"I think one could also characterize these efforts as very fine disarmament, because the actual disarmament, if it took place, was the pouring of the material into the ground," he said of the dumping. "There will be lots of question marks attached to many things in the past and here, then, is the verification. If we can straighten out the question marks, and there we have to examine each of the things they are doing and the Iraqis are undertaking quite a lot of steps in this direction" of disarmament.

"There are greater efforts made, and I think that responds to some demands in the Security Council that Iraq should be active and we should verify," Blix said. One verification problem he cited was the dumping of chemical weapons. As an example, he said, how can you determine 10 years after the fact if one or 100 liters of milk were poured into the ground as was the case in verifying the dumping of the VX nerve agent.

While welcoming additional time for inspections, he said they could not go on indefinitely.

"I have said, however, if we were to be given more months, I would welcome it," Blix told the reporters, "because there were eight years of inspections and four years of non-inspection and now we have had a couple of months of inspections. So it seems to me to be a rather short time to just close the door and say 'This is it.'"

The chief inspector said he wouldn't ask for a specific amount of time because he couldn't guarantee Iraq would continue the current line of cooperation in which his job could be completed because of its past "track record."

Indicating another disagreement with the British-U.S. push for military conflict and an end to inspections, he said, "At the time the Security Council adopted the resolution (1441 in November), they thought of an update at the end of February, Feb. 23. Well that suggests to me that the end of history was not thought to be March 1."

He agreed the resolution "injects an element of urgency," but added, "I don't agree with those who say it is all about disarmament and not about inspection. It was indeed about inspection and that is why we welcomed it.

"It was talked about as an enhancement of the inspection regime," the chief inspector said. "They (the council) strengthened our hands enormously and allowed us to go into the presidential sites and I think it essentially, as I saw it, it wanted to do away with the cat and mouse play and did so very forcefully.

"At the time the council adopted the resolution, as I interpreted it, it meant to give us a very much stronger hand, not necessarily finishing at March 1," Blix said.

Blix was expected to release later in the week a list of remaining issues that Iraq needs to resolve in order to be in compliance with U.N. disarmament demands. The working paper "contains 29 clusters of issues and each cluster ends with a number of questions as to what Iraq could do in order to solve the issue," he said.

Release of the document comes almost three weeks before a council-imposed deadline for inspectors to provide a program of work containing what it considers the key remaining disarmament tasks and indicating what it plans to do in these tasks and what it would demand that the Iraqis do.

"There is a great deal more of cooperation now and the threat (of serious consequences) certainly has brought it there — I hope it is not too late," Blix said of another threat looming, that of a U.S. military attack on Iraq. "Certainly, the chopping up of the missiles is the most spectacular, the most important and tangible" examples of Iraq cooperation.

A spokesman for UNMOVIC said the destruction of nine more al-Samoud missiles was supervised Wednesday, bringing the total to 28 missiles, five engines, two warheads, one launcher and two engine casting chambers destroyed since Saturday.

Commission experts determined the missiles could exceed the 150-kilometer-range (92-mile) limit mandated by earlier council resolutions.

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