There has been heated international debate about the agreement on renewed weapons inspections in Iraq which was reached Tuesday in Vienna between Iraqi and U.N. officials. But the U.N. weapons inspectors are poised to carry out the agreement and return to Iraq perhaps within two weeks.
U.N. weapons inspectors say the two days of talks that produced the agreement laid the groundwork for their return to Iraq. Officials say the talks settled arrangements for communications, accommodations, security and other practical matters. But they acknowledge that diplomatic developments could change things.
The United States is presenting a draft resolution at the United Nations Security Council that would change the operating rules for inspections, and would also threaten military action if Iraq does not comply. International Atomic Energy Agency spokesman Mark Gwozdecky says the weapons inspectors are watching the situation.
"It's also an exercise where you have to have one eye open on a very important track of activity taking place in New York and particularly the Security Council. So while we are working to resume inspections on the one hand, we also are very aware of the fact that there is some other activity there that could change things," Mr. Gwozdecky said.
The weapons inspectors have made their plans on the basis of existing U.N. resolutions on Iraq. Mr. Gwozdecky says it is not clear what delays, if any, there would be if a new resolution is passed. "No, we can't estimate the delays until we see the content of the resolution. But I can say that we've done a lot of good work here in the last two days which will minimize the amount of delay," he said.
One reason there is some international support for a new U.N. resolution is the restriction on inspections of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's presidential palaces, under an existing agreement with Iraq. That accord, in a memorandum of understanding or MOU, requires inspectors to give notice before visiting a palace. Critics question the effectiveness of this procedure, which provides time to move or conceal materials. Mr. Gwozdecky acknowledges the procedure results in delays, but says it is not for the inspectors to judge just how serious an issue that is.
"That MOU does effect the immediacy of the site visits, and certainly there would be some delays. And the implications of those delays is something that will have to be assessed by higher authorities," he said.
Mr. Gwozdecky says that during the past two days of talks, the Iraqis provided everything that was on the inspectors' agenda and there was a satisfactory conclusion.
He says a plan is ready that could have an advance inspector team in Baghdad by mid-October. But he acknowledges that plan is subject to alteration based on any new resolution that might come out of the Security Council. Chief inspector Hans Blix reports to the Council on Thursday.