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Blix: Inspectors have not found any weapons of mass destruction, but banned materials unaccounted for

Updated:

UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix told the Security Council in a crucial report Friday his teams have not found any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq but that Saddam Hussein has not accounted for many banned weapons.

Blix's counterpart, nuclear chief Mohamed ElBaradei, told the council that inspectors found no evidence Iraq had resumed its nuclear weapons program and said inspectors do not need Iraq's full cooperation to complete their work.

After the presentations, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said U.N. inspections, which resumed in November after a four-year break, ``are producing results'' and should continue. His address was greeted with applause, rare for Security Council speeches.

Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan said inspections were working and should continue.

With Secretary of State Colin Powell listening from his seat across a round table, Blix cast doubt on evidence Powell provided to the council last week claiming that Iraq had cleaned-up suspect sites before inspectors arrived.

The inspectors spoke at a council meeting that could determine whether the United States gets U.N. backing for military action against Iraq for failing to disarm. Powell and other foreign ministers and ambassadors of the 15 council nations were to speak publicly at the meeting before heading into a private session.

The United States and Britain are gearing up for war and will almost certainly spotlight an Iraqi missile program which exceeds U.N. limits and questions about nerve agents and anthrax. They were to argue at the meeting that Iraq has no intention of disarming peacefully.

On the other side, France, Russia, China and Germany had been expected to emphasize new signs of Iraqi cooperation, including its decision to allow U-2 reconnaissance flights and private interviews with scientists, and to establish commissions to search for weapons and documents.

Regarding weapons of mass destruction, Blix said the inspection team ``has not found any such weapons, only a small number of empty chemical munitions, which should have been declared and destroyed,'' he said.

He said a finding ``of great significance'' was that many proscribed weapons ``are not accounted for. One must not jump to the conclusion that they exist.

``However, that possibility is also not excluded. If they exist, they should be presented for destruction. If they do not exist, credible evidence to that effect should be presented.''

``In no case have we seen convincing evidence that the Iraqi side knew in advance that the inspectors were coming,'' Blix said.

Blix also questioned evidence that Powell provided to the council in his presentation Feb. 5.

Pointing to one case Powell highlighted using satellite photos of a munitions depot, Blix said: ``The reported movement of munitions at the site could just as easily have been a routine activity'' as one designed to hide banned materials before inspections.

Blix also reported findings by a panel of experts that one of Iraq's new missile systems exceeds the range limit set by Security Council resolutions.

``The experts concluded that, based on the data provided by Iraq, the two declared variants of the Al Samoud 2 missile were capable of exceeding 150 kilometers (93 miles) in range. This missile system is therefore proscribed for Iraq,'' Blix said.

Blix said additional information was needed on a second missile, the Al Fatah, before deciding if it was in violation.

Blix said private interviews with three Iraqi scientists ``proved informative,'' but since the interviews conducted in Baghdad on Feb. 8-9 no more had been done in private _ ``on our terms.''

``I hope this will change,'' he said. ``We feel that interviews conducted without any third party present and without tape recording would provide the greatest credibility.''

Under intense pressure, Iraq agreed earlier this month to prod scientists to agree to private interviews. Previously, all scientists insisted on being accompanied by an Iraqi official or having their interview tape recorded.

Blix said there were 250 U.N. personnel now in Iraq, including about 115 inspectors. He said there had been more than 400 inspections at 300 sites since the process began in November.

In his report, ElBaradei said, as he did in the previous report, that inspectors found no evidence Iraq had restarted its nuclear weapons program.

In addition, he said, inspectors did not need Iraqi cooperation.

``The IAEA's experience in nuclear verification shows that it is possible, particularly with an intrusive verification system, to assess the presence or absence of a nuclear weapons program in a state even without the full co-operation of the inspected state,'' ElBaradei said.

ElBaradei said the matter of high-strength aluminum tubes which Iraq tried to import had not been closed. He has said previously that the IAEA believes Iraq intended to use the tubing for conventional rockets.

On Friday he said Iraq provided new documentation on the tubes, a reported attempt to import uranium, the procurement of magnets and magnet production capabilities and the use of the explosive HMX.

``The IAEA has verified that Iraq had indeed been manufacturing such rockets. However, we are still exploring whether the tubes were intended rather for the manufacture of centrifuges for uranium enrichment,'' he said.

The United States and Britain were waiting to hear from the inspectors before deciding when to present a draft resolution that would either authorize military action or find Iraq in ``material breach'' of its obligations _ a term that Washington and London believe would be enough to justify an attack, according to diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity.

British diplomats had said a draft could be introduced as early as Saturday. Powell and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw were scheduled to meet Friday afternoon with the three other veto-holding permanent council members _ France, Russia and China _ and then with the 10 elected members.

``There are a number of options,'' said Britain's U.N. Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock. ``I think there will be a last-minute decision.''

France could also decide to submit its proposal to triple the number of inspectors, diplomats said.

After the 1991 Gulf War, inspectors oversaw the destruction of the bulk of Iraq's chemical and biological weapons and dismantled the country's program to develop nuclear weapons.
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