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Discovery of Iraq's Chemical Warheads Not a 'Smoking Gun,' says Blix - 2003-01-17

The chief U.N. weapons inspector, Hans Blix, says the discovery of chemical weapons warheads in Iraq is not the so-called "smoking gun" that would constitute a material breach of U.N. disarmament resolutions. Mr. Blix commented on the discovery as he arrived in Britain for talks with Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Upon landing at London's Heathrow airport, Mr. Blix praised the U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq for their diligence in finding the empty chemical weapons shells.

He said he will be checking an Iraqi claim that the shells were listed in a 12,000-page declaration Iraq gave to the U.N. in December on its weapons programs.

And Mr. Blix said, "it is not a smoking gun." That was an apparent reference to whether the discovery put Iraq in material breach of U.N. disarmament resolutions, thus increasing the likelihood of a U.S.-led war.

Mr. Blix then departed to the countryside retreat of Prime Minister Tony Blair for private talks on the Iraq crisis.

The British government is reacting cautiously to the news that warheads have been found in Iraq. The junior foreign minister, Mike O'Brien, told British radio it is too early to declare Iraq in material breach.

"Our response at this stage is cautious. We'll look at the detail of the evidence when Hans Blix, the senior inspector, provides it. There's no rush to judgment," he said. "The inspectors need time to look at this particular finding, and also to make a general assessment of how the inspections are going."

Mr. Blair's spokesman repeated those sentiments, telling reporters the discovery is interesting, but patience is required as the inspectors reach their own conclusions regarding what they have found.