Published October 04, 2002
UNITED NATIONS – U.N. inspectors indicated Thursday they will not resume their search for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction until the Security Council decides whether to adopt a resolution that could give them broad powers.
Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix said he hoped council members would make up their minds quickly. If the rules changed while he was in Iraq, he said, "it would be awkward."
In the meantime, Blix is moving ahead with plans to send an advance team to Baghdad in mid-October following an agreement he reached with Iraq earlier this week on logistics for resuming inspections after nearly four years.
"The readiness is there to go. We hope it won't be a long delay. We are ready to go at the earliest practical opportunity," he told reporters after briefing the council.
Mohamed ElBaradei, whose International Atomic Energy Agency is in charge of nuclear inspections, indicated inspectors would wait for a decision.
"We need to align our date with the deliberation of the council," ElBaradei said.
Blix and ElBaradei are heading to Washington Friday for meetings with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.
"I hope to hear something of what their planning is, and we'll tell them what our planning is," Blix said with a grin.
The 15-member council is divided over how to proceed on Iraq.
The United States says a new mandate is critical to the disarmament of Saddam Hussein, but Russia says it is not needed and would cause unnecessary delay to a resumption of inspections.
Council members also disagree over whether Blix could go to Baghdad before a decision is made on a new resolution. The United States and Britain are demanding that Blix wait, but Syria and Russia want them to go.
Blix said that many issues had been solved during his talks with the Iraqis in Vienna, "but there are some minor matters and some loose ends before we go to Baghdad."
The United States leaped on Blix's reference to "loose ends," saying it reinforced the need for a resolution providing inspectors will new powers.
The five permanent veto-wielding council members -- the United States, Britain, Russia, China and France -- met with Blix after he briefed the council.
One council diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, called the meeting constructive and said "it's understood that the inspectors are not going anywhere before there's a resolution."
President Bush, meanwhile, stepped up his pressure on the United Nations to stand with the United States against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
"The choice is up [to] the United Nations to show its resolve. The choice is up to Saddam Hussein to fulfill his word," Bush said. "And if neither of them acts, the United States in deliberate fashion will lead a coalition to take away the worlds worst weapons from one of the world's worst leader."
Secretary-General Kofi Annan told reporters it is "up to the council today or in the coming week to determine what the next stage would be."
Washington wants one resolution that would include approval for military action if Iraq fails to comply. Russia, China and France oppose the U.S. demand that any new resolution authorize the use of force if Iraq fails to comply with inspectors.
France has proposed a middle ground which would strengthen inspections but give Iraq a chance to cooperate before authorizing any military action.
Blix, who heads the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, said still to be resolved is whether Saddam's network of presidential palaces would remain off-limits to surprise inspections. Also unresolved were security arrangements for inspectors and flights within Iraq to reach suspected weapons sites.
Washington wants a complete overhaul of the rules under which the inspections would be carried out, including immediate and unfettered access to the eight presidential complexes which cover about 12 square miles.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair said there was no point sending inspectors without access to Saddam Hussein's palaces.
"It is no good allowing inspectors access to 99 percent of Iraq, if the weapons of mass destruction are actually located and stored and worked on in the remaining 1 percent of Iraq," Blair said at a news conference Thursday after his Labor Party's annual gathering in Blackpool, England.
Iraqi Ambassador Mohamed al-Douri suggested Thursday that Iraq was flexible on the issue of presidential palaces, saying they "should not be an issue."
"We can overcome that if there is any problem," he told The Associated Press, but he vehemently opposed the U.S. draft proposal, calling it "a declaration of war."
In its first reaction to the U.S. draft, Russia, which is Iraq's closest council ally, said there was no need to strengthen inspections.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer played down Russia's reaction. "It's not going to surprise anybody that from day to day you're going to see different statements from different leaders."