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IAEA Chief Urges Patience, Says It Will Take Time to Assess Iraq's Nuclear Capability - 2002-12-09

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency has said it will take time to fully assess the accuracy of Iraq's declaration that it has no weapons of mass destruction.

Mohamed ElBaradei, Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said his agency has been analyzing Iraq's 12,000 page declaration on its nuclear weapons program, handed over to the IAEA headquarters in Vienna Sunday.

He said he believes that the new round of U.N. inspections of Iraq's suspected weapons sites, which began November 27, are off to a productive start and that should help with verification.

"The inspections so far have been a good beginning, and I hope full cooperation on the part of Iraq will continue throughout the inspection process, both in terms of access to sites and locations and in term of transparency and representation of evidence of its compliance with Security Council resolutions," he said. "Naturally, the agency will make every effort to effectively discharge its mandate, with the aim of bringing to full and verified compliance the disarmament process in Iraq."

Iraq has declared it possesses no banned chemical, biological or nuclear weapons and is challenging the United States to produce proof that it is lying.

Washington and Britain said they have intelligence information to the contrary and are trying to build global support for a possible war to forcibly disarm Iraq.

IAEA chief ElBaradei, in Tokyo for a non-proliferation conference, told reporters Monday that he knows the agency's conclusions could make a difference between war and peace and for this reason must be based firmly on fact.

He said it will take 10 days to make a preliminary report to the U.N. Security Council on Iraq's declaration. A final report is to be released on January 27.

However, Mr. ElBaradei, conceded it could take up to a year to assess whether Iraq possesses the ability to produce nuclear arms and asked nations around the world to be patient.

The director-general also raised the issue of North Korea's nuclear weapons program and its lack of compliance with international treaties on non-proliferation, which it has signed. He said that Pyongyang recently rejected the IAEA's requests to allow full inspections and to formally declare what nuclear materials it possesses.

"I sincerely hope DPRK will rethink its position and avail itself, through constructive interaction with the agency, of the many goodwill offers extended to it with the aim pursuing peace and stability in the Northeast Asia," he said.

The United States says North Korea admitted in October that it has a secret program to enrich uranium, a key ingredient in nuclear weapons. The admission shocked many nations, and the United States, South Korea and Japan, along with the IAEA have repeatedly urged it to halt this illegal program.