With just a few days left before Iraq must decide whether to cooperate with the United Nations, the chief nuclear inspector told Iraq Monday it's time to cooperate and urged Saddam Hussein to come clean on weapons of mass destruction.
Mohamed ElBaradei delivered the message during an animated 30-minute meeting with Iraq's U.N. Ambassador Mohammed Al-Douri, who said afterwards that he doesn't know whether his government's decision will be positive or negative.
The two spoke in Arabic in a lounge near the General Assembly hall as Iraq's parliament met in Baghdad and denounced the resolution. Al-Douri echoed the view of parliamentarians, declaring: "This is a very humiliating resolution which affects all our dignity, sovereignty and independence. This is a cover for war."
Nonetheless, despite the "negative" discussion in the National Assembly, the ambassador said it's up to the Revolutionary Command Council, Iraq's top executive body headed by Saddam, to decide whether to accept the resolution by the Friday deadline.
"I am very much hoping that the decision will be positive because the alternative is definitely not a good one," said ElBaradei, an Egptian who heads the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency.
The resolution adopted unanimously on Friday by the U.N. Security Council demands that Iraq cooperate fully with U.N. weapons inspectors, who can go anywhere at any time to search for nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. It warns that Iraq faces "serious consequences" if it doesn't comply — and the United States has made clear that an Iraqi failure to cooperate will almost certainly mean a new war.
ElBaradei said he told Al-Douri it is in Iraq's interest to move forward with inspections, which could lead to the suspension of sanctions imposed after Saddam's forces invaded Kuwait in 1990.
"What I was trying to impress on him is that it should be a completely new phase with demonstration of full cooperation and full transparency," ElBaradei told The Associated Press.
ElBaradei said he also urged Al-Douri to be candid about the declaration Iraq must make by Dec. 8 of any programs related to weapons of mass destruction.
"I said this is very important. Try to come with a declaration which is comprehensive, accurate, complete, because that's again part of this new phase," he said.
"We need to establish credibility. ... If they still have anything that needs to be declared, they ought to declare it now," he said.
ElBaradei and U.N. chief inspector Hans Blix, who is in charge of chemical and biological inspections, are expected to arrive in Baghdad on Nov. 18 with an advance team to start preparing for a resumption of inspections after nearly four years.
"We need at least two to three months to put ourselves fully in operation and have our system to be fully operational," ElBaradei said.
In the meantime, nuclear inspectors will do some inspections, take some photos, look around, and conduct some surprise searches, he said.
"But we need a few months. And again, it depends on what we see. ... It's like probing surgery. We just have to probe first and see what we find out when we go," ElBaradei said.
Blix said in an MSNBC interview that he expects inspectors to be in Iraq "within two weeks from now, or a little more than that ... and what they carry out will be inspections."
"The goal is not inspection per se. ... The goal is disarmament." he said. "In the longer run, I think we want a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, not just Iraq."
ElBaradei and Al-Douri met privately after the IAEA chief presented his annual report to the 191-nation General Assembly.
In the report, ElBaradei said the success of new inspections will depend on five prerequisites: immediate and unfettered access to all sites; access to all sources of information including all information given to U.N. member states; continued support from a unified Security Council; an impartial inspection process free from outside interference; and "active cooperation from Iraq" to assist inspectors and be transparent.
At a meeting this weekend in Cairo, foreign ministers of the Arab League predicted Iraqi compliance, rejected war on Iraq, and demanded Arab experts be involved in the inspections.
Blix's office said it has trained inspectors from 49 countries, including six Jordanians, one Moroccan and five Turks.