BAGHDAD, Iraq – The Iraqi government has accepted without protest the right of U.N. weapons inspectors to make unannounced checks on ``special'' sites belonging to President Saddam Hussein, an issue that helped derail the inspections in the 1990s, U.N. officials said Wednesday.
``That is settled by the resolution. It wasn't even discussed,'' chief weapons inspector Hans Blix said after departing Baghdad at the end of a two-day visit inaugurating a new U.N. oversight program, four years after the last inspections.
The Swedish ex-diplomat was referring to the new U.N. Security Council resolution describing the inspections as a ``final opportunity'' for Iraq to meet its post-Gulf War obligations to give up any weapons of mass destruction. In accepting the resolution, Iraq accepted full and unfettered inspections.
President Bush has threatened military action if the Iraqis don't disarm.
In their Baghdad meetings, Blix and chief U.N. nuclear watchdog Mohamed ElBaradei urged Iraqi officials to look again in their nuclear, chemical and biological ``stocks and stores'' to ensure they have no weapons-making to report.
Iraq's position that it has no weapons of mass destruction ``must be convincingly shown by documentation, by evidence,'' Blix told reporters late Tuesday in Baghdad. ``We don't think that has yet been convincingly done.''
Earlier Tuesday, Iraqi officials confirmed they would meet a U.N. deadline and file by Dec. 8 a comprehensive list of nuclear, chemical and biological programs. The Security Council resolution demands the Iraqis include any work in weapons development.
The two U.N. officials said that if the Baghdad government cooperates fully with their inspections, they might be able to report in about one year that it has complied with Security Council requirements and U.N. economic sanctions on Iraq should be lifted.
Blix and ElBaradei left Iraq on Wednesday as scheduled, leaving behind most of the two dozen inspectors and other U.N. staff who had accompanied them. Additional inspectors arrive next Monday, and the first field operations are expected by Nov. 27.
ElBaradei, speaking to reporters on arrival in Cyprus hours after leaving Baghdad, said that the work that begins Nov. 27 will be ``the real test'' of the Iraqis' pledges of cooperation.
``We hope their words and commitments will translate on the ground into real, full cooperation,'' he said.
In the 1990s, the Iraqis had obstructed U.N. efforts to inspect a handful of sprawling sites designated as presidential compounds, until a compromise arrangement allowed inspections with advance notice and a diplomatic escort. The new council resolution ignores those arrangements and prescribes full, unfettered access to all sites.
``They accept that,'' Blix said when in Cyprus asked whether the issue had arisen in his Baghdad talks.
The seven-year inspection regime in the 1990s dismantled Iraq's nuclear program before it could build a bomb, and destroyed large amounts of chemical and biological weapons and longer-range missiles forbidden by postwar U.N. resolutions.
But some chemical weapons in particular were believed never destroyed, and U.S. intelligence reports suggest the Iraqis may have rebuilt some weapons programs since the inspectors pulled out in 1998.
The most senior official on the Blix-ElBaradei schedule of meetings here was Foreign Minister Naji Sabri.
Blix said the Iraqis had agreed in their discussions to open a U.N. inspectors office in the northern city of Mosul, and to expand their Baghdad office to accommodate the hundreds of international weapons experts who will come and go in coming months.
Blix, chairman of the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, reaffirmed the importance of Iraq's upcoming Dec. 8 list. It is the standard by which the international community will judge whether President Saddam Hussein's government is telling the truth about its interest in the most advanced weapons.
In Cyprus Wednesday, ElBaradei said the Iraqis had assured his team ``that they'd do everything possible to make sure that the declaration would cover all activities, both nuclear weapons as well as even activities in their civil sector ....''
ElBaradei and Blix will leave the day-to-day inspections to their teams, supervising from Vienna and New York respectively unless developments here require high-level intervention.
``We hope we will not have to go next week,'' ElBaradei said in Cyprus. ``We will obviously go if there is a crisis, but if things are moving smoothly we will go (only) periodically.''
Tuesday, Iraqi presidential adviser Amir al-Saadi told reporters Iraq would meet the Dec. 8 deadline. But he gave no indication whether it will contain anything beyond an inventory of Iraqi work in peaceful uses of nuclear, chemical and biological materials.
Al-Saadi also was asked whether Iraq would grant inspectors unfettered access.
``Yes,'' he said, ``as stipulated in the resolution and as we have agreed with them.''
Monday, when Blix and ElBaradei arrived here to begin the historic new round of inspections, U.S. warplanes bombed Iraqi air defense systems in the northern ``no-fly zone.'' The U.S. military said the attack was launched after Iraqi gunners fired on the jets during routine patrols.
In Washington, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the Iraqi anti-aircraft fire ``appears to be a violation'' of the latest U.N. Security Council resolution.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has disagreed with that interpretation.
The 15-member council has never specifically approved the flights over northern and southern Iraq, which Baghdad considers violations of its sovereignty.