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Blix: UN inspectors could be back in Iraq in weeks
By Reuters, 04/17/03
UNITED NATIONS -- Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix said Thursday his experts could be back in Iraq within two weeks of a green light from the Security Council and predicted Washington would one day welcome them back.
"We are ready to go in whenever the Security Council so decides," Blix told the British Broadcasting Corp. The inspectors "are still on our contracts, they are home in their countries, and it would take about two weeks to get them back to Baghdad," he said.
Most of the Security Council's 15 members are eager to see the inspectors return so they can close out their investigation of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, banned after Baghdad's 1990 invasion of oil rich neighbor Kuwait.
Certifying that Iraq no longer has any chemical, biological or nuclear weapons is a condition of lifting the comprehensive U.N. sanctions that have been weighing down the Iraqi economy for nearly 13 years.
But the United States does not want the U.N. inspectors back any time soon, saying it prefers to do the job itself. The Pentagon said Thursday it has enlisted about 10 former U.N. inspectors to help guide its own search for banned arms.
Blix nonetheless predicted Washington would need the U.N. teams back to ensure the credibility of their investigation.
"So far they have not found any weapons of mass destruction," he said. "I think at some stage they would like to have some credible international verification of what they find."
Asked if Iraq might have been telling the truth all along in denying it had any weapons of mass destruction, Blix said he was "perhaps a little more inclined to believe" Baghdad now than before the fighting began.
"I think it is too early to draw conclusions. They may have to look more closely at a lot of sites," he said.
"We have never claimed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, although we could not rule it out. Now we will see if London and Washington were right. I am very curious and can only wish them luck with their search," he told German magazine Der Spiegel in an interview to be published Friday.
Blix, whose inspectors were pulled out of Iraq shortly before the war began on March 20, said he did not expect he would be making any further trips to Baghdad.
"I am working on my final report to the Security Council and will return to my home in Sweden with the end of my contract in June," he told Der Spiegel.
He is due to appear before the Security Council Tuesday to offer his views on next steps for the U.N. inspection force in the post-war period. (Additional reporting by Philip Blenkinsop in Berlin)