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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Blix: Iraq Offers Access, Not Substance

UNITED NATIONS -- Top UN weapons inspector Hans Blix on Monday said Baghdad had not genuinely accepted UN resolutions demanding that it disarm, while his counterpart Mohamed ElBaradei said there was no evidence so far that Iraq was reviving its nuclear program and asked for a "few months" to complete the search.

The White House dismissed Iraq cooperation as inadequate, and U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said he had heard nothing that gave "any hope that Iraq will disarm" voluntarily.

Asked whether the threat from Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was imminent, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said, "From the president's point of view, it remains a very grave threat."

Other Security Council members with the same veto power as the United States disagreed.

Russian Ambassador Sergei Lavrov said Moscow strongly supported calls "for inspections to continue."

"The job has not been completed. We share the view of many that this process has not been completed and more time is needed," said China's deputy UN ambassador, Zhang Yishan.

France's UN ambassador, Jean-Marc de la Sabliere, also supported the need for inspections "to go forward ... with the objective of Iraq's verifiable disarmament," adding that it could be "several weeks" or "a few months." He said there was strong backing in the 15-member council for additional time.

But Negroponte said the issue was no longer the inspections process. "The purpose of this exercise is not inspections but the disarmament of Iraq. Our quarrel is with Iraq's behavior in this process," he said.

In closed-door consultations after the reports, Negroponte pointedly asked Blix and ElBaradei how much time they needed to conclusively determine whether Iraq was complying with its obligations, diplomats told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. The inspectors agreed to return to the council later Monday with answers to questions from several ambassadors, although they said some information may have to wait until Wednesday's meeting.

The differing views on the inspectors' reports could make or break international support for military intervention in Iraq.

Iraqi Ambassador Mohammed al-Douri defended his country's actions. "We open all doors to Mr. Blix and his team. If there is something, he will find it. We have no hidden reports at all."

ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said nuclear inspections of 106 sites had turned up nothing. "We have to date found no evidence that Iraq has revived its nuclear program since the elimination of the program in the 1990s," he said. "However, our work is steadily progressing and should be allowed to run its natural course."

In a toughly worded assessment of Iraq's cooperation with 60 days of inspections, Blix chided the Iraqis for failing to cooperate on substance "in order to bring the disarmament task to completion, through the peaceful process of inspection, and to bring the monitoring task on a firm course."

So far, he said: "Iraq appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance, not even today, of the disarmament that was demanded of it." He did not specifically call for more time but made clear that inspectors have only just begun their work.

Both Blix and ElBaradei complained that Iraqi scientists were not submitting to private interviews. But ElBaradei said the Iraqis were cooperating with his questions and said the process shouldn't be hampered by deadlines.

Under Security Council Resolution 1441, crafted by Washington and adopted by an unanimous council in November, inspectors don't need to prove Iraq is rearming.

Any false statements or omissions in Iraq's arms declaration, coupled with a failure to comply with and cooperate fully in the implementation of the resolution, would place Baghdad in "material breach" of its obligations -- a finding that could open the door for war.

Most of the Security Council believes that's a determination they must make based on the inspectors' assessments. The 15 members of the Security Council will reconvene Wednesday to discuss the inspectors' reports and begin debate on Iraq. In the meantime, Blix and ElBaradei will update the council again on Feb. 14.

Blix said three questions remain unanswered:

How much illicit weapons material might remain undeclared and intact from before the Persian Gulf War in 1991 and possible thereafter.

What, if anything, was illegally procured or produced.

How the world can prevent any weapons of mass destruction from being produced or procured in the future.

He said his teams now believe Iraq's claims that it was unsuccessful in producing the VX nerve agent were untrue.

ElBaradei said his teams had concluded that aluminum tubes Iraq had tried to import were earmarked for missile programs and not for a nuclear program, as U.S. officials claimed last fall. But he said the investigation continued.

In Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Yury Fedotov said the reports presented to the UN suggest that conditions are favorable for continuing the inspections.

Earlier Monday, before the reports by Blix and ElBaradei, President Vladimir Putin emphasized the need to continue weapons inspections in Iraq during a telephone conversation with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the Kremlin said.

 Putin will visit Germany and France next month, the Kremlin said Monday, for talks certain to focus on the Iraqi crisis, Reuters reported.

Putin will meet Chancellor Gerhard Schr?der on a working visit to Berlin from Feb. 9 to 10 and will then go to Paris for an official visit until Feb. 12.