The chief U.N. arms inspector, Hans Blix, told the U.N. Security Council Thursday he plans to resume at least limited inspections in Iraq by mid-October. Iraq this week said it would permit the weapons inspectors to return unconditionally, after a nearly four-year absence.
Mr. Blix hopes to get a small team of inspectors into Baghdad on or around October 15. The team will be an advance party. Most of its work will be preparatory, setting up the infrastructure for a larger group that will be coming in from about 45 countries. But Mr. Blix says the initial group will do some early inspecting.
"We will select some sites that we think will be interesting to go to in the early phases," he said. "So it is not that it will take two months before we send any guys into the field. No. There will be some much earlier than that."
Asked whether he expects a new resolution from the Security Council that would possibly tighten the schedule for inspections, Mr. Blix says his office right now is working on the basis of past resolutions.
The United States is pressing the Council to issue a tough resolution that would threaten Iraq with consequences if the inspections are not finished in a satisfactory manner within a specified time frame. But first it would have to persuade a few other governments on the Council, including Russia. Russia, thus far, says it sees no need to add anything else to the roster of resolutions already passed by the Council.
The Bush administration accuses Saddam Hussein of building weapons of mass destruction, in violation of U.N. resolutions, and says it is prepared to take military action against Iraq, if necessary.
Iraq's foreign minister Naji Sabri, in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly Thursday, denied Iraq has the banned weapons. But the White House rejected Iraq's declaration as another attempt to deceive the international community and was skeptical about Iraq's offer to let the inspectors back without conditions.
Mr. Blix is meeting with the Iraqis in Vienna the week of September 30 to make final arrangements for the inspectors' return and to make clear what procedures the U.N. plans to follow as it searches the country.