LONDON – U.N. arms inspectors are far from reaching a conclusion about the extent of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's weapons program, the top nuclear inspector said Sunday.
Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Authority, said that inspectors had so far been given unfettered access to sites in Iraq but there was a long road ahead.
"We are off to a good start but we are far from reaching a conclusion," ElBaradei said in an interview from Vienna with the British Broadcasting Corp. television program "Breakfast with Frost."
"I would like to avoid a war. War is not good for anybody but we have an important job to do and we have to do a thorough job. It really depends on absolute 100 percent Iraqi cooperation so the ball really very much is in the Iraqi court."
The inspectors, who returned to Iraq last Monday after a four-year break, are working under a U.N. Security Council mandate for Iraq to give up any remaining weapons of mass destruction or face "serious consequences." The United States supported the new U.N. inspections, but threatens war to disarm Iraq and says it will act alone if necessary.
ElBaradei said the team had found nothing untoward during its first four days of inspections at several sites.
Baghdad has a Dec. 8 deadline for filing a declaration listing all its military and civilian programs that could be involved in the production of weapons of mass destruction.
"So far we have been getting good Iraqi co-operation but it's a long road ahead of us and we are still waiting for the declaration that would come from Iraq on the eighth (of December)," ElBaradei said.
ElBaradei said it would take around a year to come to a reasonable conclusion about Iraq's nuclear capability.
"We still have a lot of inspections to do. We will be able to report progress as we go along, but we are not keen to rush to a conclusion," he sad.
"It is a serious issue and we would like to take our time and I hope the world will bear with us as we go through this difficult task."
ElBaradei said he impressed on Iraqi officials the need to "come clean" when he and chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix led an advance team to Baghdad to reopen offices and arrange logistics for the inspection teams. The first inspectors arrived in Baghdad on Monday.
"There is a light at the end of the tunnel for Iraq if it cooperates fully," ElBaradei said.
"War could be avoided, sanctions could be suspended, but if they don't come clean and we discover that there are omissions, there will be, as the Security Council says, grave consequences."