Signs Iraqis taking disarmament ‘more seriously,’ Blix says after talks in Baghdad

9 February 2003 –

The top United Nations weapons inspector, Hans Blix, today said he saw signs the Iraqi authorities were taking the disarmament issues “more seriously,” reporting that a number of documents concerning biological weapons and missiles have been turned over to UN officials for analysis.

“There are some good developments from these two days,” Mr. Blix said at a press conference this evening in Baghdad following the conclusion of talks he and the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei, had with the Iraqi delegation headed by Gen. Amir Al-Saadi, an adviser in the Presidential Office. The two UN officials also met with Iraqi Vice-President Taha Yassin Ramadan, as well as with Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad of South Africa, at his request.

UN officials added that two technical meetings were held, one between the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and Iraq on chemical, biological and missile files, and the other between the IAEA and Iraq to clarify issues regarding aluminium tubes, alleged uranium importation and the use of high explosives, as well as other outstanding issues.

Mr. Blix noted that Iraqi authorities turned over a number of papers on anthrax and the country’s missile programme in response to a point that was made at the last meeting between the two sides in Baghdad last month. “We’ve had talks with Iraqi colleagues where I’ve seen the beginning of taking these remaining disarmament issues more seriously,” he said.

He added that papers on VX, a potent chemical nerve agent, were also submitted to UN officials on Saturday, who examined the documents until 2 a.m. before meeting with their Iraqi counterparts this morning for further clarifications.

On the issue of the commission appointed to look into an earlier discovery of 12 empty chemical warheads, Mr. Blix said that panel now has a broader mandate and has been given authority to look for any weapons of mass destruction. “We welcome that,” he said, adding that one of the UN teams today found one more empty 122 millimetre chemical warhead at Tajir.

As for interviews of Iraqi personnel, Mr. Blix said the UN’s experience so far has been a “mixed bag.” He noted that some individuals have insisted on having Iraqi representatives present, while others have insisted on having a tape recorder. There have also been cases of interviewees who have accepted being alone with UN officials without any recorders. “We hope this practice will develop into something more relaxed,” he said.

Echoing Mr. Blix’s sentiments, Mr. ElBaradei said that he also saw signs the Iraqis were willing to be more forthcoming but stressed that UN inspectors needed such cooperation in order to do their job effectively. “I’m seeing a beginning of a change of heart on the part of Iraq,” he said. “I hope this new attitude will be tested in the next few days and weeks because time is of the essence.”

Mr. ElBaradei said that the IAEA was not looking for a “smoking gun” but rather a sustained pattern of cooperation on the part of Iraq “by which we can credibly report to the Security Council that there’s no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.”

The two important issues for the IAEA are the interviews with Iraqi individuals and the surveillance, Mr. ElBaradei said. “We are moving on one, the interviews, and we hope by Friday to move on the question of surveillance planes, because, there again, to show the Security Council that full cooperation.”

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