The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency says his inspectors should return to Iraq when the fighting stops to fulfill their mandate to ensure that the country is free of nuclear weapons.

The head of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, says his agency is the only group with legal authority to verify Iraq's nuclear disarmament. In a written statement, Mr. ElBaradei said the agency's operations were disrupted because of the outbreak of hostilities. He expects the United Nations Security Council will want the agency to return to Iraq with full authority to resume its inspections after the war ends. Mr. ElBaradei said his teams made good progress after their inspections resumed last November.

Mr. ElBaradei also said any weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq will have to be verified by the United Nations to ensure that the discoveries are credible. Mr. ElBaradei's office issued the statement after he met with the president of the U.N. General Assembly, Jan Kavan, in Vienna on Tuesday.