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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

... and Inspections

As the chief nuclear inspector for ensuring Iraq's disarmament, I believe it is critical at this defining moment to make clear the purpose and value of weapons inspections in Iraq. Inspections by an impartial, credible third party have been a cornerstone of international nuclear arms control agreements for decades. Where the intent exists to develop a clandestine nuclear weapons program, inspections serve effectively as a means of both detection and deterrence.

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From 1991 through 1998, the International Atomic Energy Agency, empowered by the UN Security Council with broad rights of inspection, succeeded in thwarting Iraq's efforts to develop nuclear weapons -- the most lethal weapons of mass destruction. As President George W. Bush stated in Cincinnati on Oct. 7: "Before being barred from Iraq in 1998, the International Atomic Energy Agency dismantled extensive nuclear weapons-related facilities."

We neutralized Iraq's nuclear program. We confiscated its weapon-usable material. We destroyed, removed or rendered harmless all its facilities and equipment relevant to nuclear weapons production. And while we did not claim absolute certainty, we were confident that we had not missed any significant component of Iraq's nuclear program.

The problem arose in 1998, when all inspections were brought to a halt, with a military strike imminent. While satellite monitoring and analytical work have continued since then, no remote analysis can replace inspections, nor can it enable us to reach conclusions about what has occurred in relation to nuclear weapons development in Iraq in the intervening four years. The best way to establish the facts is through the return of inspectors to Iraq.

After four years, the door to inspections has finally reopened, and we should be taking advantage of that opportunity. The success of inspections in Iraq -- in eliminating not only nuclear weapons, but also biological and chemical ones -- will depend on five interrelated prerequisites:

1. Full and explicit authority for inspection, which means immediate and unfettered access to any location in Iraq -- including presidential sites -- and practical working arrangements for communication, transportation and other logistics to ensure that inspectors can operate safely and effectively.

2. Ready access to all sources of information, including the freedom to interview relevant Iraqi personnel without intimidation or threat of retribution to those individuals, and access to information from other states as well as information gained through aerial monitoring and other inspection activity.

3. Unified and robust support from the UN Security Council, with the affirmed resolve to deal promptly and energetically with any noncompliance or lack of cooperation on the part of Iraq. This is the best deterrence to ensure Iraq's compliance.

4. Preservation of integrity and objectivity in the inspection process. There must be a fair and impartial inspection regime, free of outside interference, to ensure that our conclusions are accepted as credible by all parties.

5. Active cooperation by Iraq, including a sustained demonstration by the government of its stated willingness to be transparent and to allow inspectors full access to carry out their mission. This effort could be further facilitated and the inspection process shortened if Iraq were to take the initiative -- not only with passive compliance, but also with active cooperation -- by, for example, coming forward with a full and "final" declaration of its weapons-related equipment and activities.

Concurrent with the inspections in Iraq, strong action should be taken worldwide to ensure the physical protection of nuclear material, with effective control of weapons-relevant exports and vigilant border monitoring to detect any attempts at illicit smuggling.

Regardless of how events unfold in the near future, inspections will be the key, over the long haul, to ensuring that clandestine efforts to develop nuclear weapons in Iraq or elsewhere are detected and thwarted. I would make a twofold appeal: to the government of Iraq, to provide the absolute cooperation that the world is demanding; and to the international community, to give inspections a chance before resorting to other alternatives.

Mohamed El Baradei is director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency. He contributed this comment to The Washington Post.