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Iraq Told Its Cooperation Is Falling Short

Time is running out, U.N. officials warn. Inspectors find papers on uranium enrichment at Baghdad home of an ex-government scientist.

January 19, 2003|Esther Schrader | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Against a backdrop of intensified weapons inspections and growing U.S. impatience with Saddam Hussein, top U.N. officials warned Iraq on Saturday that it is running out of time to cooperate with inspectors and avoid war.

The warning came from senior inspector Hans Blix as he and Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, were traveling to Baghdad to push for more help from the Iraqi regime.

Blix and ElBaradei's visit begins eight days before they are scheduled to give their first report to the U.N. Security Council on Iraq's cooperation since the hunt for banned weapons resumed in November after a four-year hiatus.

In an interview with CNN in Cyprus, ElBaradei said he and Blix would be "making a last-ditch effort" to persuade Iraq "to give us what we need" before Jan. 27, when their report is due.

"Iraq has not cooperated sufficiently with the United Nations weapons inspectors, and we will impress the seriousness of the situation to them," Blix said in Cyprus. "The world would like to be assured that Iraq is rid of weapons of mass destruction. Until we, the inspectors, have been convinced of that, we cannot so report to the Security Council."

In a transcript of an interview with foreign reporters released by the State Department on Friday, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said the U.S. believes it will be able to make a "persuasive" case that Iraq has not cooperated with inspectors.

But America's top general said Saturday that there's still time for Iraq to provide information about its alleged weapons programs and avoid an attack.

"Certainly there has been no decision on the U.S. part for conflict in Iraq," Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters in Italy, where he stopped on his way to talks with officials in the Turkish capital, Ankara. The U.S. has been seeking permission from Turkey to send thousands of troops through its territory in the event of a war with Iraq.

Myers repeated the U.S. assertion that Iraq continues to develop banned weapons, a charge Iraq denies.

"There is no doubt Iraq still has chemical and biological weapons and a great interest in nuclear weapons," he said.

In an interview with CBS on Saturday, Blix said the United Nations has determined that 11 warheads found by inspectors Thursday in an Iraqi warehouse did not contain chemicals, adding that "these were intended to be filled but had not been filled and ... had been there since the end of the '90s." Nevertheless, Blix said, "they should have been declared, and we will have to destroy them."

Inspectors Check Labs

In Iraq, U.N. inspection teams visited at least five sites Saturday, including Trade Ministry food warehouses in central Baghdad, the capital. The teams examined at least two refrigerator trucks and a trailer, which the site manager said were mobile food testing labs.

Such labs are of particular interest because a U.S. intelligence report said an Iraqi document showed that Baghdad "was interested in developing mobile fermentation units" for biological weapons. The mobility of the labs is thought to make them particularly difficult to detect.

Other teams visited Baghdad University's science college and the University of Kufa, about 125 miles south of the capital, according to witnesses and Iraqi Information Ministry officials.

Inspectors also visited the Tuwaitha complex, south of Baghdad, which was the heart of Iraq's former nuclear program, and the QaQa Co., a chemical and explosives manufacturer 16 miles south of Baghdad.

ElBaradei said Saturday that documents found Thursday at the home of an Iraqi scientist appear to outline high-tech attempts in the 1980s to enrich uranium. Enriched uranium can be used to build nuclear bombs.

Other senior agency experts, however, said the method proved too sophisticated for the Iraqis to exploit at the time.

ElBaradei, who oversees the U.N. review of Iraq's nuclear program, said in an interview with Associated Press that the research outlined in the documents -- found at the Baghdad home of 55-year-old physicist Faleh Hassan, once associated with his government's nuclear program -- had "something to do with laser enrichment."

U.N. officials have said that Iraq's attempt at "laser isotope separation," begun in the 1970s, was a failure and was largely abandoned by 1987 in favor of more promising approaches to enriching uranium.

But ElBaradei said the more important issue appears to be whether the Iraqis included the information found in the documents in a 12,000-page declaration they submitted to the United Nations last month.

According to the U.N. resolution passed in November authorizing the current inspections, any Iraqi omission could be considered a "material breach" by Baghdad.

"If it's something we did not know about, it obviously doesn't show the transparency we've been preaching," ElBaradei said, alluding to U.N. demands that Baghdad be more forthcoming with inspectors.

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