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UN Inspectors Conduct Private Interviews with Iraqi Scientists - 2003-02-06

Iraqi officials announced Thursday that U.N. weapons inspectors are conducting private interviews with Iraqi scientists. The information came during a news conference in Baghdad in which Iraqi officials responded to Secretary of State Colin Powell's presentation Wednesday to the Security Council. U.N. officials confirm a three-and-a-half-hour private interview was held in Baghdad Thursday with an Iraqi scientist.

Iraq says private interviews are taking place between U.N. weapons inspectors and a Iraqi scientist. General Amer al-Saadi, President Saddam Hussein's science adviser and liaison to the weapons inspectors, said an Iraqi scientist decided to agree to be interviewed in private because of increasing international pressure on Baghdad.

Weapons inspectors had complained that every Iraqi scientist they interviewed requested that Iraqi officials be present during the interviews. It was an issue cited by chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix when he told the Security Council last month that Iraq was not fully cooperating with the inspectors.

Revelation of the private interview came Thursday during an Iraqi response to Secretary of State Colin Powell's presentation to the Security Council.

General al-Saadi said Iraq also intended to issue a detailed letter of rebuttal to the Security Council.

Among the issues addressed by the general included Mr. Powell's comments that Iraq's 12,000-page weapons declaration was intended to overwhelm the inspectors with useless information. General al-Saadi said resolution 1441 required Iraq to file all information available. "Including any activity which Iraq claims had nothing to do with its past programs," he said. "It is in the resolution and we did that as required by the resolution. So to claim that we intended to overwhelm the inspectors with useless information, well, who asked for the useless information? The resolution itself."

Responding to other charges made by Mr. Powell, General al-Saadi said Iraq possesses no mobile biological laboratories, has no anthrax and VX nerve agent, has no ties to the terror group al-Qaida, and is not testing missiles with a range greater than is allowed.

As part of his presentation to the Security Council on Wednesday, Mr. Powell played tape recordings of what he said were Iraqi military officers discussing ways of hiding banned materials from inspectors and the need to remove references to nerve gas weapons from official orders. The Iraqi official dismissed the recordings as fabrications. "One can concoct anything and fabricate anything in this regard and there [is] no evidence at all," said General al-Saadi.

General al-Saadi said Mr. Powell's presentation was intended for uninformed people with the aim of preparing them for war and to undermine the work of the weapons inspectors.