Iraq Plays To Mixed Reviews At U.N.

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The top United Nations weapons inspectors Monday demanded Baghdad provide more cooperation to the hunt for illegal arms, listing evasive behavior that the Bush administration quickly seized upon as a challenge to the Security Council's authority.

However, chief nuclear inspector Mohamed ElBaradei said he had found no evidence of illegal activity by Iraq and asked for inspectors to be given months more to complete their task.

"These few months, in my view, would be a valuable investment in peace," he said.

ElBaradei and his counterpart, chief weapons inspector Hans Blix, noted that Iraq has granted access to all sites, usually promptly. But both said Iraq had not done enough to convince them it is free of weapons of mass destruction.

"Iraq appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance, not even today, of the disarmament that was demanded of it," Blix told the council. "It is not enough to open doors. Inspection is not a game of catch-as-catch-can."

After the presentations, Russian and Chinese diplomats supported extending the inspection mission. Hours ahead of the inspectors' crucial report, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan and the European Union both said the inspectors needed more time in Iraq.

The White House didn't reject calls for additional time, but questioned their purpose.

"When people say give them more time, the more time they get the more time they get the run-around," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "The president has not put a period of time on it. The president has said, though, that time is running out."

Fleischer repeated allegations of a link between Iraq and al Qaeda, but provided few details.

In the White House view, reports CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller, unless Iraq is cooperating in all regards with the inspection regime, it is not complying with U.N. demands.

Immediately after the reports, U.S. ambassador John Negroponte said nothing that inspectors told the council "gives us any hope that Iraq will disarm."

"They are not cooperating unconditionally," Negroponte said. "In the days ahead, we believe the council and its member governments must face its responsibilities and consider what message council irresolution sends to Iraq and other proliferators."

In the two presentations, Blix took a harder line, listing the gaps in its weapons report and slamming Baghdad's failure to produce documents and allow private interviews with scientists.

Blix repeated his complaint that Iraq's 12,000-page report provided little new information, especially about stockpiles of the nerve agent VX and anthrax.

He said Iraq had provided new data on missiles in the report. However, he said that as recently as last month, Iraq — in violation of sanctions — imported items that may be intended for illegal missile programs. Blix said he would ask the Iraqis to stop tests of two types of missiles while inspectors determine the actual range and capabilities of the missiles.

Blix said the 16 empty chemical warheads found recently raised more questions than they resolved. He said Iraq shouldn't have moved the warheads to a new bunker and said they illustrated the need for a full accounting of thousands of possibly missing warheads.

ElBaradei's speech was more technical. To date, he said, inspectors have checked all suspect buildings constructed over the past five years. "No prohibited nuclear activities have been identified during these inspections," he said.

ElBaradei also addressed worries about Iraq's attempts to import high-strength aluminum tubes, which the United States has said could be used for nuclear processing. Iraq says it wanted the tubes for its rocket program. So far, said ElBaradei, it looks like Iraq is telling the truth, but the matter is still under investigation.

ElBaradei said his team had interviewed scientists during visits, but both men faulted the Iraqi government's failure to arrange private interviews.

Blix said the recent discovery of some 3,000 pages of sensitive documents in a scientist's home "support(s) a concern that has long existed that documents might be distributed to the private homes of scientists."

"Any further sign of the concealment of documents would be serious," Blix said. However, ElBaradei said the documents did not appear to relate to current activities.

Both men asked Iraq to take a more proactive approach, hunting out weapons and destroying them. "It's a window of opportunity that may not remain open very much longer," ElBaradei warned.

However, the two top inspectors also contended that their teams were getting more and more adept at monitoring Iraqi activity.

Foreign Minister Naji Sabri said Monday that Iraq has cooperated fully with U.N. weapons inspectors.
  • Brian Dakss

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