Iraq Inspections May Begin Nov. 27, Blix Says

The chief U.N. weapons inspector, on the eve of his departure to Baghdad, said Friday that inspections likely will resume Nov. 27 and urged Saddam Hussein to declare all his nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs.

If Iraq maintains — as it did in its letter accepting the return of inspectors — it has no weapons of mass destruction, Hans Blix said the United States or any country with evidence of secret Iraqi programs must produce it for inspectors.

"It will be the moment for those who claim they have evidence ... to put it on the table," Blix said at a news conference.

Security Council resolution 1441 requires Baghdad declare all its weapons of mass destruction programs and missiles to deliver them by Dec. 8.

The United States believes Iraq has been illegally rearming for several years. Inspectors, barred from Iraq since December 1998, have been unable to verify whether Iraq has such a program.

Blix said his team also will conduct searches to determine the accuracy of reports that Iraq has hidden banned weapons underground or on trucks. "It is a possibility and it has to be tested."

Blix said he will present the Security Council with any evidence of Iraqi weapons programs, and falsifications or omissions from a weapons declaration it must make by Dec. 8.

Once Blix reports on the inspectors' work, he said the council — not the inspectors — will determine if Iraqi actions merit a military response.

"We do not judge whether something constitutes a material breach," he said.

Blix said he hopes that Iraq's disarmament can be achieved peacefully — but that depends on the Iraqi government. He urged the country's leaders to be candid in the Dec. 8 declaration.

"Iraq's declaration is a very important document that we hope they take very seriously," he said.

The declaration, laid out in the terms of a tough new Security Council resolution adopted unanimously on Nov. 8, will be compared with previous data inspectors have on Iraq.

"We are not contending that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, we have a great many questions," he said.

In a letter Wednesday accepting the return of inspectors, Iraq's Foreign Minister Naji Sabri said his government will prove to the world that Iraq is free of weapons of mass destruction.

Blix encouraged Iraq to cooperate fully and said: "I think the United States government is determine that there should be no cat-and-mouse play."

Blix said inspectors would consider the potential Nov. 27 start date as their first day of work under the terms of the resolution which calls for him to report his findings 60 days later.

Blix heads to Paris for talks with French officials, then to Larnaca, Cyprus, on Sunday. He will be flying into Baghdad Monday together with Mohamed ElBaradei, his counterpart at the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is in charge of nuclear inspections, to "initiate this new chapter of inspections."

They will be accompanied by a small advance team of inspectors which prepare for the resumption of inspections. Blix said the team would reopen the office used by the previous inspections regime and would setup new secure phone lines, prepare transportation, and order helicopters.

The resolution adopted unanimously last Friday by the Security Council gives Iraq "a final opportunity" to eliminate its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and the long-range missiles to deliver them. Inspectors have the right to go anywhere, anytime, and it warns Iraq that it will face "serious consequences" if it fails to cooperate.

Blix said inspectors would try to pay some attention to Iraqi concerns that inspectors will be arriving during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, but, he stressed in response to a question, no sites, including mosques, are excluded from inspections.