U.N. reports 'some progress' with Iraq
Monday, January 20, 2003
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Top U.N. officials said Baghdad disclosed it found four more empty chemical warheads like a dozen others discovered last week, and said there had been "some progress" Sunday in talks to win greater Iraqi cooperation with arms inspectors.
U.N. chief weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei were in Baghdad Sunday for the first of two days of talks whose outcome could determine whether the United States, which disputes Iraq's claims that it has no banned weapons, mounts a military attack to disarm Iraq by force.
After more than two hours of talks, ElBaradei said, "I think we are making some progress. It was a constructive meeting."
"We are saying in no uncertain terms that time is running out," ElBaradei told Associated Press Television News after the first round of talks. "We cannot, the international community cannot, just wait for things to happen in the pace it has been happening in the past few weeks since we started inspections. And I think that message has been registered with the Iraqi authorities."
As a sign that Baghdad might be more forthcoming, Blix said that the Iraqis told them during the talks that they had found four more empty chemical weapons warheads similar to 12 others discovered by U.N. inspectors Thursday at an ammunition dump south of Baghdad.
Blix also said the Iraqis offered three or four of 11 documents requested by the United Nations.
Blix did not say when or where the additional warheads were found.
In Washington, White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said the Iraqi declaration of the four warheads "should not be mistaken for genuine cooperation in an effort to disarm."
He said inspectors have said Iraq has failed to account for nearly 30,000 shells and "bringing forward four is hardly evidence of a good faith effort."
Stanzel then included the 12 shells found earlier when he said, "Four down, 29,984 to go."
The Iraqi news agency also reported that the top U.N. inspectors met Sunday with Iraq's vice president, Taha Yassin Ramadan, who urged them to devote their activities in Iraq to "finding the truth and being in good faith."
Ramadan has been openly critical of the weapons inspectors, frequently calling them spies.
Blix and ElBaradei meet again with Iraqi officials Monday before departing for Athens, Greece.
"We have to ask, is this one find or are there weapons hidden all over the country?" Blix said.
The White House termed Thursday's discovery of the warheads "troubling and serious" because the Iraqis had not reported the munitions in their 12,000-page declaration to the United Nations last month.
"Of course, they should have been properly declared, and in fact destroyed," Blix said in an interview with CNN. "The Iraqis claimed it was an oversight and they are looking for more of them. In fact, they said they found four more of them and they might find even further in the future."
'Can't keep this up'
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell underlined growing American impatience with Iraq, warning that "I think time is running out" for the Iraqis to come clean.
"We can't keep this up forever," he told CNN's "Late Edition."
Powell said Iraq still has not accounted for stocks of biological and chemical warfare agents "that we know they had."
U.N. inspectors returned to Iraq in November to search for evidence of the weapons of mass destruction that the United States insists Saddam is hiding. On Sunday, inspectors visited an ammunition plant and a university south of Baghdad, a missile factory west of the capital, a chemical plant and another university campus here in Baghdad.
The talks in Iraq are in preparation for a Jan. 27 progress report weapons inspectors will make to the U.N. Security Council. Both officials have left no doubt that Iraq must show greater cooperation if it wants to avoid war.
The United States and Britain have sent tens of thousands of troops as well as naval ships and combat aircraft to the Gulf to pressure the Iraqis.
Airstrikes in no-fly zone
On Sunday, allied jets struck eight unmanned Iraqi communications relay stations in the southern "no-fly zone," the U.S. Central Command said. It was the first attack since Friday in the southern zone, which was set up more than a decade ago to prevent Iraq's army from attacking restive Shiite Muslims.
"We do not think that war is inevitable," Blix told reporters Sunday. "We think that the inspection process that we are conducting is the peaceful alternative. It requires comprehensive inspections and it requires a very active Iraqi cooperation."
America's European allies, particularly France and Germany, have urged the Bush administration to give the inspectors more time to complete their work and avoid war.
Meanwhile, Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrived Sunday at the southern Turkish air base of Incirlik before talks Monday with Turkish military officials.
The United States is urging Turkey to allow the United States to station ground troops in the country for a possible attack on Iraq.