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IAEA Chief to Request Extension of Iraq Weapons Inspections - 2003-01-16

International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei says he will formally ask the United Nations Security Council to extend the mandate of U.N. inspectors in Iraq by several months. He says they need the time to complete their search for banned weapons. Mr. ElBaradei also reiterated his call for Iraq to cooperate more fully with inspectors, as the time nears for his report to the U.N. Security Council.

Wrapping up three days of talks with Russian officials in Moscow, the IAEA chief urged Iraq to do more to dispel any and all doubts that it possesses banned weapons of mass destruction. Mr. ElBaradei says Iraq could end the doubts in a number of ways.

"There are still lots of open questions, particularly in the area of chemical and biological and missile weapons, and also some in the nuclear field," he said. "And we'd like Iraq to show cooperation by providing evidence that they no longer have weapons of mass destruction [and in]allowing us to interview scientists in private."

Mr. ElBaradei said Iraq should understand it is not in the nation's best interest if his team has to continue to report to the U.N. Security Council that questions still remain over Iraq's weapons program.

At the same time, Mr. ElBaradei said he plans to ask the Security Council to allow the inspectors a few more months to complete their work, saying much more work remains to be done.

The IAEA chief says he will urge Iraq to reconsider its level of cooperation when he and chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix visit Baghdad on Sunday. He reiterated the international community's growing impatience with Iraq and said it is time for Iraq to cooperate completely.

In Baghdad Thursday, a top Russian diplomat held talks with Iraq's Foreign Minister and stressed the importance of continued inspections. Russia launched the mission one day after President Bush expressed growing impatience with the inspections and, what he called, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's "games and deception."

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told reporters in Moscow Thursday he was concerned about the U.S. pressure on inspectors.

Meanwhile, in New York, the U.N. Security Council is expected to meet Thursday to discuss U.S. efforts to keep weapons inspectors on a tight timetable.

Mr. ElBaradei says as long as his team continues to show progress, he expects the Security Council to give inspectors the time needed.

Russia has also sent an envoy to Asia to try and defuse a nuclear standoff between the United States and North Korea. Mr. ElBaradei said if it appears diplomacy will not be able to resolve that issue, he expects the matter of North Korea to be brought before the U.N. Security Council very soon.

"Nuclear threats should not be the mode of conducting negotiations," he said. "The international community is ready to look favorably to North Korea's security concerns and economic needs, but not under nuclear blackmail."

Separately, Mr. ElBaradei told reporters he will travel to Iran on February 25 to ensure that Iran's nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes.

He says he also expects to examine the issue of nuclear cooperation between Russia and Iraq. Russia is pressing ahead with plans to develop a nuclear reactor at Bushehr, despite intense Western pressure. The United States fears Tehran might use the project to develop weapons of mass destruction. Iran has said its program is for peaceful purposes only.