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UN Weapons Inspectors Meet for Second Day With Iraqi Officials - 2003-02-09

U.N. weapons inspectors are meeting for the second day with Iraqi officials in Baghdad in the continuing effort to determine whether Iraq possesses any weapons of mass destruction.

The second and final day of scheduled meetings in Baghdad got underway Sunday morning between the chief U.N. arms inspectors and Iraqi officials, including Iraqi presidential scientific adviser Amer al-Saadi.

The inspectors are looking for Iraqi concessions on several issues including the use of U-2 surveillance planes over suspected weapons sites. They are also demanding documents or witnesses to explain what happened to missing supplies of anthrax and VX nerve agent produced more than ten years ago.

Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix described Saturday's talks as "useful." His counterpart Mohamed ElBaradei, who heads the International Atomic Energy Agency, said it was a "very substantial discussion."

Both officials had complained that, among other things, inspectors had been unable to interview Iraqi scientists in private. But, since Thursday, five scientists have been interviewed without the presence of Iraqi officials.

With the U.N. Security Council due to receive a briefing this Friday on Iraq's compliance with the inspectors, the current meetings in Baghdad are widely seen as being crucial if Iraq is to avoid war. However, Saturday Mr. ElBaradei said while the current talks are an "important chance for peace" he said it is not the last chance.

The inspectors are looking for Iraq to come forward with substantial disarmament information and show a genuine acceptance of the inspection process, something Mr. Blix told the Security Council last month Baghdad had failed to do. Mr. Blix indicated Saturday Iraq had handed over additional, undisclosed, documents.

U.N. arms inspectors resumed weapons their work last November 27 after a four-year absence in Iraq. So far, they have not reported any major finds of illegal weapons of mass destruction or any evidence Iraq is currently attempting to build such weapons.

President Bush contends Baghdad is actively hiding banned weapons, including chemical and biological agents and is threatening to wage war, unilaterally if need be, unless Baghdad fully disarms.

Mr. Blix and Mr. ElBaradei are scheduled to leave Iraq Monday morning.