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Chief Weapons Inspector Pleads with Iraq to Cooperate Proactively - 2003-02-05

One day before the U.S. presents information to the U.N. Security Council on Iraq's alleged weapons, chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix told reporters Iraq still has time to cooperate in the search for weapons of mass destruction.

In his presentation of intelligence information on Iraq, U.S. Secretary of State Powell will try to sway a Security Council divided over whether to declare Iraq in material breach of a U.N. resolution or give the inspectors more time to look for banned weapons.

Weeks of intensive diplomatic efforts in Europe and Washington have so far failed to resolve the disagreement, which was underscored by a critical report by chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix and his counterpart in the International Atomic Energy Agency Mohammed ElBaradei.

But even as the United States and Great Britain warn that "time is running out" to end the crisis diplomatically, the chief inspectors have accepted an invitation to travel to Baghdad later this week, prior to their report to the Security Council on February 14.

Mr. Blix again told reporters Tuesday that they are giving Iraq another chance to cooperate proactively and take the inspection process seriously.

"The principle issue remains, in my view, in my assessment, weapons of mass destruction and their existence and they [can] either present these if they exist and I do not say they do, or [present] evidence that convinces the world," he said.

Mr. Blix noted that since he presented his conclusions to the council late last month, focus has centered on two key shortfalls: Iraq's barring inspectors' use of U-2 surveillance planes and not allowing private interviews with scientists without government monitors.

But Mr. Blix said these are minor points. He called on Iraq to create a "viable mechanism," such as a commission of inquiry, which has already been appointed, for providing evidence to inspectors.

Washington hopes that the information presented by Mr. Powell will provide the 11 council members, including veto-bearing permanent members France, Russia and China, and the current president of the council, Germany, with the facts they say they need to declare Iraq in "material breach" of U.N. resolution 1441, which threatens Iraq with "serious consequences" for failing to disarm.

Mr. Blix, who reports to the council as the head of UNMOVIC, the U.N. mission to disarm Iraq, predicts that even then, the debate could continue.

"Even at a higher level, what conclusions do they draw from a material breach? Do they all, in consensus, declare that now it is open to attack Iraq or do they come to some other conclusions?" he asked.

Germany's U.N. ambassador told reporters Monday that if Iraq is declared in "material breach" then the 15-member Security Council will hold another meeting to decide their next step.

Whether or not the Council will debate a new resolution authorizing military force is unclear. Meanwhile, the United States, which is mobilizing its forces to the Persian Gulf, says it is willing to disarm Iraq militarily on its own.