U.N. nuclear expert- Saddam has done 'satisfactory' job

VIENNA, Austria -- The head of the U.N. nuclear agency will tell the Security Council on Monday that Saddam Hussein has done a "quite satisfactory" job of cooperating with inspectors in some areas but that they need more time to complete their search.

The White House dismissed the favorable assessment, but a senior U.S. official said the Bush administration was considering agreeing to let the inspections go on longer as a means of reassuring anxious European allies.

Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, will tell the Security Council that his inspectors have gotten generally good cooperation from the Iraqis in their hunt for weapons of mass destruction, spokesman Mark Gwozdecky told The Associated Press.

"Their report card will be a 'B' -- quite satisfactory," he said.

However, White House spokesman Sean McCormack said: "It's pass-fail. Iraq either is in compliance or not. And so far Iraq has failed to pass the test."

Later, seeking to qualify his report card comments, Gwozdecky said the "B" is only for responding to inspectors' questions and requests for information.

"We're not in the position of issuing grades -- that's for the Security Council to do," he said. "We just report the facts, and our goal is the disarmament of Iraq. They're not coming forward to help us. They're not bringing forward original documentation."

More time needed

In his remarks to the council, ElBaradei will repeat his contention that the inspectors need at least several more months to do their work, Gwozdecky said.

He will also say that the Iraqis "need to help themselves" by pointing the experts in the right direction.

ElBaradei will brief the council on nuclear issues. Chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix will brief the council on Iraq's biological, chemical and missile programs.

As the pair finalized their reports to the council, a senior official in Washington told AP that the Bush administration is considering extending the inspections in an effort to ward off mounting criticism at home and abroad that it is rushing toward war.

Some of that criticism has come from Germany, where Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said Friday there was "growing support" in Europe for his country's position. But Schroeder insisted that Germany's toughened stance against war "won't destroy the German-American relationship" as the country takes over the Security Council presidency on Feb. 1.

In Washington, two key lawmakers continued to urge President Bush to resolve the situation diplomatically. Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, a top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, warned Friday against a "rush to war in the absence of a strong multilateral coalition."

Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle said "we have yet to see any evidence that Saddam still has weapons of mass destruction."

A decision by the Bush administration on whether to support extended inspections -- and put off any military action -- will be based on whether the inspections are productive and whether Blix and ElBaradei offer new evidence to the council on Monday, said the senior U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Like ElBaradei, Blix is expected to praise the access Iraq has accorded inspectors. But he has increasingly criticized Baghdad over the past week for a number of failings, including blocking inspectors from using an American-made U-2 reconnaissance plane.

Blix will spend the weekend working on his presentation, which will build on an assessment he presented to the council on Jan. 9. In the earlier report, Blix said inspectors hadn't found any "smoking gun" in Iraq.

Since then, his teams have uncovered 16 warheads which he said Iraq didn't adequately account for in its 12,000-page arms declaration. Inspectors also uncovered some 3,000 pages of documents at the home of an Iraqi scientist, some of which Blix said should have been mentioned in the weapons declaration as well.

Blix said tests were still being conducted on some of the warheads. None of the results, however, will be detailed in Blix's report to the council Monday.

"This is far too technical a matter to bring up unless we find something sensational in a sample but I have not had such a report yet," Blix said.

The inspectors' reports could play a pivotal role in Washington's justification for swift military action.

Although Bush has accused Saddam of toying with the inspectors and the international community, France, Germany and Russia all have been urging the inspectors be given more time and have been arguing that any attack on Iraq be deferred.

In other developments Friday:

-- Germany started deploying the first of 2,600 soldiers at U.S. military installations to step up security ahead of possible war -- a move meant to offset Berlin's opposition to any military action. About 300 soldiers were in the first wave being sent out to U.S. bases and other complexes, strung across southern and western Germany, the Defense Ministry said.

-- The German chancellor and French President Jacques Chirac spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Chirac told Putin that U.N. inspectors should be allowed to assess for themselves whether they are making progress in disarming Iraq, his spokeswoman said.

-- NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson said in London that the United Nations will lose all credibility if it does not act to disarm Saddam.

Although Baghdad steadfastly denies it has weapons of mass destruction and has recently taken a harsher tone toward the inspectors' work, "access and cooperation are good," said Gwozdecky, the head IAEA spokesman.

"We've been getting where and when we want to get, and we've been generally successful in getting what we need," he said.

Gwozdecky said ElBaradei will make a case for additional pressure on Baghdad to encourage Iraqi scientists to consent to private interviews with the U.N. inspectors. So far, the scientists have refused.

Iraq said the United Nations had asked to interview three scientists on Saturday. At least six others have refused to be interviewed without an Iraqi official present.

At the White House, presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer said President Bush considers the failure of Iraq to make its scientists fully available to U.N. inspectors "unacceptable."

Fleischer said Saddam's conduct will make "the end of the line come even closer. His refusal is further evidence that Iraq has something to hide."

ElBaradei's main message to the council will be that the inspectors need more time, Gwozdecky said.

"He'll say we need several more months to come to conclusions," he said. "He'll say our team is not yet at capacity, and that some tools are not yet on the ground," such as high-tech equipment capable of detecting airborne gamma radiation.

After a four-year break, U.N. experts returned to Iraq in November to search for evidence of weapons of mass destruction under a Security Council resolution that created a tough new inspections regime.


Associated Press writers Dafna Linzer at the United Nations and Barry Schweid in Washington contributed to this report


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