Security Council asks Blix for briefing

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

UNITED NATIONS -- The Security Council asked chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix on Tuesday to brief members next week, as the United States fielded its own disarmament teams inside Iraq.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan wants inspections in Iraq to resume as quickly as possible. But the return of arms experts is sensitive for the council -- bitterly divided before the war and now divided over what role the United Nations should play once the fighting ends. Blix was invited to a council meeting April 22.

Most of the council including Britain, the closest U.S. ally, support the inspectors' return.

But Washington, which blamed Blix for hurting its drive for international support in the run-up to the war, has not invited U.N. inspectors to take part in the disarmament process.

Instead, the United States has tried to hire away some U.N. experts and has sent its own teams to search for weapons of mass destruction.

Under Security Council resolutions imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, U.N. inspectors must certify that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs have been dismantled before sanctions can be lifted.

Annan ordered all U.N. international staff to leave Baghdad shortly before the war began. But last week, he stressed that the inspectors' mandate is still valid "and when the situation permits they should go back to resume their work."

On Monday, U.N. deputy spokeswoman Hua Jiang went further by saying that Annan "did say that as soon as the security situation allows, the inspectors will go back, and that's what he plans to do."

Blix has said his teams, which are responsible for inspecting Iraq's chemical, biological and long-range missile programs, are ready to return on short notice. And while the inspectors' work is only suspended, Blix would like the backing of the Security Council for their return, his spokesman Ewan Buchanan said.

U.N. inspectors went back to Iraq for the first time in four years in late November.

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