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UN Chief Weapons Inspectors to Visit Baghdad Saturday - 2003-02-07

United Nations weapons inspectors continued searching sites in Iraq Friday, a day before top U.N. inspectors are due in Baghdad for talks with Iraqi officials.

The weapons inspectors visited sites in Baghdad and in the southern part of the country, including a military depot, a pesticide store and a water treatment plant.

Hans Blix, the chief U.N. weapons inspector, and Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, are on their way to Iraq to press for more cooperation from Iraqi officials.

Speaking in Vienna Friday, before leaving for Baghdad, Mr. Blix said the weapons inspectors had been allowed to interview an Iraqi scientist in private for the first time. Such interviews are one of the key demands that the Security Council has insisted Iraq must meet.

Mr. Blix also said that to be successful, the inspection process must have support from Iraq, as well as other countries. One of the reasons cooperation is essential, Mr. Blix added, is that the inspectors don't have that much time to do their work. "It requires cooperation by Iraq and active cooperation both on process and on substance," he said. "It requires support by member states, and we do get a lot of support. But without active cooperation by the Iraqi side, it is difficult to achieve an effective inspection. We had eight years there, and a lot was achieved but the world is not going to wait another eight years."

While in Baghdad, Mr. Blix and Mr. ElBaradei are expected to press senior Iraqi officials to disclose any evidence about weapons programs in existence. The U.N. officials are to report on their findings to the Security Council February 14.

Mr. Blix said Iraq's level of cooperation in the near future would seriously affect the contents of that report.