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Blix: U.N. Inspectors Should Return to Iraq

Blix: U.N. Inspectors Should Return to Iraq

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- Chief weapons inspector Hans Blix says U.N. inspectors should return to Iraq to independently verify the discovery of any weapons of mass destruction.

The United States, however, said it sees no immediate role for his teams.

Russia has called for U.N. inspectors to complete their searches and certify that Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons have been eliminated along with the long-range missiles to deliver them.

On Tuesday, Blix was to brief the council on the U.N. inspectors' readiness to resume work. But the opposing U.S. and Russian views indicate the difficulties ahead as the council faces divisive issues on post-war Iraq.

These include not only Iraq's disarmament but the future of U.N. sanctions imposed after the country's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, the U.N. role in Iraq now that the fighting is over, control of Iraq's oil revenue, and lucrative reconstruction contracts.

Last week President Bush called for sanctions to be lifted quickly, so Iraq's oil revenue can be used to finance reconstruction. But under council resolutions, U.N. inspectors must first certify that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction.

The Bush administration, which accused Blix of hindering its drive for international support for the war, has already sent its own teams to Iraq to search for illegal weapons.

"We see no immediate role for Dr. Blix and his inspection teams," Richard Grenell, spokesman for U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte, said Monday.

But Blix told The Associated Press that the United States should let U.N. inspectors return to certify their work.

"I think it might be wise for them to get independent verification because it has high credibility," he said when asked about the reported discovery by U.S. teams of ingredients and equipment in Iraq that could be used to make a chemical weapon.

In an interview with BBC radio aired Tuesday, Blix said before the war, the U.S. and Britain appeared to have used "shaky" intelligence, including forged documents, in an effort to prove Iraq had banned weapons.

Blix said it was "very, very disturbing" that U.S. intelligence failed to identify as fakes documents suggesting Iraq tried to buy uranium from the West African nation of Niger.

He also said U.S. officials tried to undermine his inspection team by telling the media that he withheld information about an Iraqi drone from the Security Council.

"They felt that stories about these things would be useful to have and they let it out," he said. "It was not the case. It was a bit unfair and hurt us."

U.N. inspectors went back to Iraq for the first time in four years in late November. Secretary-General Kofi Annan ordered all U.N. international staff, including the inspectors, to leave Iraq just before the war began on March 20. He has said he expects them to return.

Annan also said Tuesday in Austria that Iraqis should be in charge of their own future and natural resources. He acknowledged that "the U.N. is being challenged" but said he expected an agreement on the U.N. role in Iraq in the "not too distant future."

Russia's deputy U.N. ambassador, Gennady Gatilov, said there is a need "for an objective international organ to certify the situation" in Iraq.

"In what form it can be done -- that can be discussed," he told the AP.

Before the war, Blix and ElBaradei said they might need several more months to determine whether Iraq was disarmed. "Now, when there is no regime of Saddam Hussein, it might be much easier to do this job," Gatilov said.

One council diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the aim of Tuesday's closed session with Blix was to try to connect what is happening in Iraq with U.N. inspections. It isn't clear how sanctions could be eliminated if U.N. inspectors can't return.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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