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Top UN Weapons Inspectors Hold Talks in Baghdad - 2003-02-08

The top two United Nations weapons inspectors arrived in Baghdad Saturday for talks with Iraqi officials, in an effort to seek further concessions to avoid a possible war.

Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, were expected to urge Iraqi officials to allow the use of U-2 reconnaissance planes to support their inspections.

The inspectors were also expected to demand that Iraq fill in gaps in its December 7 declaration on its weapons programs, and to pledge to enact legislation banning weapons of mass destruction.

Mr. Blix said Iraq's new concession allowing inspectors to privately interview Iraqi scientists as mandated by the United Nations was a positive effort, but that more was needed.

Babel, a newspaper operated by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's son Uday, said in Saturday's edition that it hoped the weapons inspectors appreciated what the publication described as Iraq's sacrifices in its efforts to comply with their inspections.

The talks come ahead of a key report by the inspectors to the U.N. Security Council, due February 14. Iraq's level of cooperation in the near future could seriously impact that report, and set a path to war, or peace, in the region.

Mr. ElBaradei has said that quick progress needs to be made, as time is critical. He added that the inspections are an alternative to war and not a prelude to it.

At the same time tensions are increasing over the possibility of war. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah met Saturday to talk about the Iraq crisis.

Meanwhile, inspectors on the ground in Iraq pushed ahead with their search for banned weapons of mass destruction in and around Baghdad. On Saturday, they visited sites that included a water purification facility, an electrical installation and a technical institute.