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Weapons Inspectors Begin Interviewing Iraqi Scientists - 2002-12-24

While weapons inspectors in Iraq spent Christmas Eve looking for weapons of mass destruction, consideration is being given to interviewing some Iraqi scientists outside the country.

U.N. weapons inspectors have begun interviewing Iraqi scientists and are making preparations to possibly take some of them, and their families, out of the country for further questioning. Speaking in Vienna, the chief spokesman for the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mark Gwozdecky, said several issues must first be addressed before any scientist is taken out of Iraq.

"There are three issues. One is identifying people with something to say. Second issue is getting consent to leave the country. We don't abduct people and they would have to agree to leave the country, presumably with their families. And the third issue is getting countries to step forward and say, yes, we will offer protection to these people, and ultimately even asylum, for them and their families. And all of these things aren't necessarily within our control," Mr. Gwozdecky said.

The U.N. Security Council resolution governing the inspections allows the inspectors to take scientists and their families out of the country to ensure that they feel free to tell all they know about Iraq's weapons programs.

On Tuesday, Iraq's chief representative to the U.N. inspection commission said the Iraqi government would not threaten any Iraqi scientist who accepts an invitation to leave the country to be interviewed.

The weapons inspectors spent their 25th day of inspections at several locations, and drove about five hours to an undisclosed location near Basra in southern Iraq. It was their longest trip outside Baghdad since resuming their inspections November 7.

Other teams of inspectors checked a food preparation facility, a veterinary school, an electronics company, a military base and the Technology University in Baghdad.

The inspectors plan to continue their work on Christmas day.