- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 8, 2003

NEW YORK The chief U.N. weapons inspectors reported to the Security Council yesterday that Iraq is providing "proactive" cooperation with their teams and that there is no indication it has revived its nuclear program.

Although the inspectors, Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, told the 15-member council of "numerous initiatives" Iraq has undertaken recently to resolve some long-standing issues, they said such activity months after it was called for by Resolution 1441 "cannot be said to constitute 'immediate' cooperation."

Mr. Blix called Baghdad's destruction of its banned al Samoud 2 missiles, which begun a week ago, a "substantial measure of disarmament," although he did not declare Iraq free of weapons of mass destruction. He said, however, that the inspectors could complete their work in months, provided Iraqi cooperation continues to improve.

"Even with a proactive Iraqi attitude, induced by continued outside pressure, it would still take some time to verify sites and items, analyze documents, interview relevant persons and draw conclusions," he said. "It would not take years, not weeks, but months."

Mr. ElBaradei, who is in charge of nuclear inspections, gave Baghdad his most positive assessment to date, saying his team had found "no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons program in Iraq."

Mr. ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, also said yesterday that the documents backing U.S. and British charges that Iraq attempted to import uranium from Niger are "not authentic."

"Based on thorough analysis, the IAEA has concluded … that these documents, which formed the basis for the reports of recent uranium transactions between Iraq and Niger, are in fact not authentic," he said in his report to the Security Council.

"We have therefore concluded that these specific allegations are unfounded," he said.

Britain and the United States have said Iraq tried to revive an ambitious atomic weapons program that was neutralized by the United Nations before inspectors left in December 1998.

The assertion that Iraq attempted to import the uranium was vital to the U.S. accusation because it would not have needed the uranium for anything other than a nuclear weapons program.

"After three months of intrusive inspections, we have to date found no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons program in Iraq," Mr. ElBaradei said.

The IAEA's inspectors have carried out 218 inspections at 141 sites, he said.

Mr. ElBaradei also said extensive investigations of high-strength aluminum tubes that Iraq attempted to purchase confirmed that they were not suitable for a uranium-enrichment centrifuge program, as the United States had said.

Weakening another U.S. assertion, Mr. ElBaradei said IAEA experts concluded that none of Iraq's declared high-strength magnets could be used directly to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons.

But, he added, "Iraq possesses the expertise to manufacture high-strength permanent magnets suitable for use in enrichment centrifuges."

For this reason, the IAEA will continue to investigate and monitor equipment and materials that could be used to enrich uranium, he said.

Baghdad has consistently denied that it has attempted to revive its nuclear weapons program.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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