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Iraq Weapons Inspections Just Beginning, says IAEA - 2002-12-01

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency says weapons inspections in Iraq are off to a good start. But Mohamed ElBaradei stresses, it is far too early to predict the outcome.

In a series of appearances on American and British television, Mr. ElBaradei spoke of the great task before the weapons inspectors. He said so far, so good. "I think we are getting cooperation from the Iraqis, but we still have a lot of work ahead of us," he said.

Several interviewers asked him if inspectors have found any evidence yet that Iraq is developing weapons of mass destruction. The director-general of the IAEA told ABC's This Week that there is no hard evidence to date, but added the inspections have just begun. "We still have to build a capacity in Iraq; we still have to use different parts of our inspection system, such as environmental sampling, aerial surveillance, no-notice of inspection. So it is too early to come to a conclusion, but the short answer to your question is, we have not yet seen any indication of a weapons program going on," he said.

Mr. ElBaradei's agency is the nuclear monitoring arm of the U.N. and keeps watch on nuclear programs around the world. On CNN's Late Edition, he talked about the search for possible nuclear weapons in Iraq, saying the nuclear inspection team is already hard at work.

"Yesterday, for example, we went to an industrial complex, which used to be the site for producing centrifuge for enriching uranium. We went also to a large machine tool factory, which again was contributing to the weapon program. We are very much on the ground," he said.

Iraq has until December 8 to make a full accounting to the United Nations of any weapons of mass destruction. U.S. officials have made clear they do not expect Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to declare his weapons. And U.S. President George W. Bush has said numerous times that, if Iraq refuses to disarm peacefully, it will be disarmed by force.

Some American lawmakers with special insight into the war on terrorism acknowledge they are concerned that, if Saddam Hussein feels an American attack is imminent, he may take pre-emptive action. Florida Senator Bob Graham, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told the Fox News Sunday program that there could be a surge in terrorist attacks on American targets.

"Frankly, we are facing a possible extreme spike in the vulnerability to attack inside the United States, which will coincide with the time that Saddam Hussein feels as if he is about to lose power in Iraq, and will begin to unleash his agents in the United States and those with whom he has an affiliation," Senator Graham said.

Senator Graham went on to say that the United States must take stronger action to track down agents of terrorist groups, crack down on foreign governments that might be assisting them, and push the fight against the al-Qaida terrorist network outside Afghanistan to places like Yemen and Indonesia.