Blix: Let Inspectors Back Into Iraq

UN weapons inspectors resume their inspection work after a two day break for the Muslim holiday Eid al-Fitr Saturday, Dec. 7, 2002 inside the al-Quds General Company for Mechanical Industries, in Iskandariya, 25 miles south of Baghdad, Iraq. The inspection came as Iraq prepared to hand over a huge report detailing its past and current arsenal.
Chief weapons inspector Hans Blix said Tuesday that U.N. inspectors are ready to return to Iraq to independently and objectively verify the discovery of any weapons of mass destruction.

The United States said it sees no immediate role for his teams. But Russia insisted that U.N. inspectors must return to certify that Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons have been eliminated along with the long-range missiles to deliver them.

Blix spoke to reporters Tuesday before briefing the U.N. Security Council, which faces difficult decisions in the weeks ahead on divisive issues stemming from the U.S.-led war against Iraq.

These include not only Iraq's disarmament but the future of U.N. sanctions imposed after the country's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, the U.N. role in Iraq now that the fighting is over, control of Iraq's oil revenue, and lucrative reconstruction contracts.

In an interview with BBC radio aired Tuesday, Blix said before the war, the U.S. and Britain appeared to have used "shaky" intelligence, including forged documents, in an effort to prove Iraq had banned weapons.

Blix said it was "very, very disturbing" that U.S. intelligence failed to identify as fakes documents suggesting Iraq tried to buy uranium from the West African nation of Niger. He told reporters at the United Nations on Tuesday that the contract about "yellow cake" uranium "was more than shaky, it was a fake."

He also told the BBC that U.S. officials tried to undermine his inspection team by telling the media that he withheld information about an Iraqi drone from the Security Council.

"They felt that stories about these things would be useful to have and they let it out," he said. "It was not the case. It was a bit unfair and hurt us."

While declining to respond directly to the Blix charges, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer made it clear that the Bush administration feels U.N. weapons inspectors are not needed back in Iraq, reports CBS News Correspondent Mark Knoller. The U.S.-led coalition has taken on the responsibility of searching for and dismantling weapons of mass destruction.

However, President Bush wants the U.N. to lift its sanctions against Iraq, and that requires U.N. inspectors certify Iraq is free of such weapons.

Speaking of the readiness of U.N. inspectors to return to Iraq, Blix said Tuesday "there have been considerations of security which are evident and which are correct."

But he also stressed that council resolutions call for U.N. inspectors to have access to all sites and people in Iraq.

"We may not be the only ones in the world who have credibility but I think we do have credibility for being objective and independent," he said.

U.N. inspectors went back to Iraq for the first time in four years in late November and discovered no weapons of mass destruction during 3½ months of searching. Secretary-General Kofi Annan ordered all U.N. international staff, including the inspectors, to leave Iraq just before the war began on March 20. He has said he expects them to return.

Annan also said Tuesday in Austria that Iraqis should be in charge of their own future and natural resources. He acknowledged that "the U.N. is being challenged" but said he expected an agreement on the U.N. role in Iraq in the "not too distant future."

Russian Ambassador Sergey Lavrov said Tuesday all council nations want assurance that there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq "and the only way to verify is to have (U.N.) inspectors in Iraq to see for themselves and to report back to the Security Council."

"As soon as they deliver the report, the sanctions could be lifted, I'm sure," he said.

France's U.N. Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere said the council "must take into account the new realities on the ground" and take "a very pragmatic approach" to combine the work of the American teams and the U.N. inspectors.

"That should be complementary," he said. "I think it's doable — I hope it's doable."