On the eve of a new round of weapons inspections in Iraq, chief U.N. arms inspector Hans Blix says he plans to be an honest middleman between Baghdad and the Security Council. Mr. Blix arrives in Iraq Monday via Cyprus, where he will meet up with an advance team of technicians.
The chief U.N. arms inspector has been assigned the task of searching for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The Security Council gave Iraq this last opportunity to disarm or face serious consequences, a euphemism for possible war. The United States says it will make sure Iraq disarms, one way or another.
But Mr. Blix emphasizes that his inspectors will not determine the course of events in the region. He says they will visit suspected sites, conduct interviews with Iraqi scientists, ferret out information and report back to the Security Council for its members to decide.
"War and peace is not really in our hand. We can contribute to it. But it is not in our hand," Mr. Blix said. "I think, it lies in the hands of, on the one hand, the Iraqis - What do they do? What do they declare? How open are they? How much transparency will there be? and, on the other hand, the Security Council. We are in between, and we will try to carry out very effective, but correct, inspections, and report very factually to the Security Council."
As for U.S. and British intelligence reports, which the Bush administration says proves that Iraq has banned weapons, Mr. Blix says he is not going into Iraq with preconceived ideas of what is there.
"We on our side are not contending that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. We have a great many questions. We cannot exclude it, and we are not saying all the intelligence is wrong. It may be right. But we are not confirming it," he said.
The next test for Iraq will be December 8, the deadline for Iraq to present a full accounting of its weapons programs. If Iraq presents, in effect, a blank sheet, Mr. Blix says, he would expect the United States to put its evidence on the table, so it can be verified.
Iraq has persistently maintained it does not have the banned weapons. The latest such assertion came in a letter to the U.N. this week, in which Baghdad accepted the latest Security Council resolution setting out the parameters for what experts say will be the most intrusive inspections in Iraq, so far.
After the preliminary technical work starting Monday, Mr. Blix says, he expects the first wave of inspections to start November 27. Two months later, he is required to report to the Security Council on Iraq's performance.