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UN Inspector: Some Issues to Be Resolved Before Returning to Iraq - 2002-10-03

Chief United Nations arms inspector Hans Blix says there are what he calls a "few loose ends" in the arrangements to send weapons inspectors back into Iraq. Mr. Blix briefed the Security Council in New York Thursday on his talks this week with Iraqi officials. During those talks Iraq agreed to allow weapons inspections to resume their work after a four-year break.

Chief inspector Hans Blix said there are what he calls a few minor issues that have to be resolved before he sends inspectors back to Iraq. One is aerial protection for inspectors flying around the country. Iraq says it can guarantee their safety except in the U.S.-British patrolled "no-fly" zones in southern and northern Iraq.

Mr. Blix says he needs blanket protection for his teams. The U.N. official heads for talks in Washington Friday, where he is expected to raise the point with U.S. officials.

Another issue, Mr. Blix says, is the question of Saddam Hussein's presidential palaces. Existing arrangements permit inspectors to visit the palaces but not immediately upon request, as would be the case with other suspected weapons sites.

The U.N. weapons chief says he believes he has sufficient authority and means to do the job of disarming Iraq under earlier U.N. resolutions. But with the United States demanding new, tougher guidelines for the inspections, Mr. Blix indicated he is hesitant about resuming the inspections until he has what he calls absolute clarity about his mission.

"Of course there is also the question of whether the Council will work on the text of a new resolution," he said. "It would be awkward if we were doing inspections and then a new mandate, with new, changed directives were to arrive. It would be better to have those early. My impression is there is a good deal of intensity in the talks about that."

The United States, backed by Britain, does not want the inspections to resume without a new resolution. They have yet to convince the rest of the Council to make it as tough as they both would like it. But British ambassador Jeremy Greenstock said there is an urgent need for new guidelines.

"Many things have been made clear by the discussions this week, but not all necessary and relevant things have yet been made clear," noted Mr. Greenstock. "And therefore, in the view of the United Kingdom, he is going to need another resolution, a resolution that makes it unequivocally clear what the duties of Iraq are in meeting the requirement for complete disarmament."

Mr. Blix's original plan was to send an advance team into Baghdad around October 15.

Discussions are continuing in the Security Council, with key members, including France, Russia and China, still reluctant to endorse anything that would give any government automatic authorization for military action should Washington decide Iraq is not meeting demands.

Meanwhile, Baghdad has expressed displeasure with other coalition actions intended to prevent the smuggling in and out of Iraq goods banned under 12-year-old U.N. sanctions. Iraq sent a letter to New York this week accusing the U.S.-led multi-national interception force in the Gulf of committing what it described as acts of terrorism and aggression against Iraqi ships.

Baghdad gave as an example an incident last month when an Australian frigate stopped an Iraqi ferry that Iraq said was carrying wheat. Iraq said armed men boarded the ship, searched it and arrested its crew.

There was no immediate reaction to the Iraqi complaint at U.N. headquarters.