VIENNA, Austria – An Iraqi scientist's decision to be interviewed by U.N. inspectors suggests that Baghdad is "making an effort" to cooperate, chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix said Friday ahead of a key visit to Iraq.
Asked about Thursday's interview with an Iraqi biologist, Blix said: "I think it seems as they are making an effort." But he added: "We want to see a lot more this weekend," when he and head nuclear inspector Mohamed ElBaradei meet with senior Iraqi officials.
Blix spoke to reporters on his way to address 59 new inspectors from 22 countries being trained at the United Nations complex in Vienna, where ElBaradei's International Atomic Energy Agency is headquartered.
The United Nations confirmed that a private, 3 1/2-hour interview had taken place with a biologist at the hotel in Baghdad where the inspectors reside, a senior U.N. official said. The biologist was the first scientist who has consented to be interviewed by experts searching for weapons of mass destruction.
Weapons inspectors have said Iraqi scientists' refusal to be interviewed alone is was a major concern and showed the country was not fully cooperating.
The interview came after ElBaradei said in London that he expected a "drastic change" in Iraq's cooperation.
The two top weapons inspectors were heading to Cyprus on Friday en route back to Baghdad, where their talks will begin Saturday. They intend to press Iraq to cooperate fully and provide evidence about their weapons of mass destruction.
"I think everybody would like to see effective inspection to be the way to disarmament. It is certainly the wish of the Arab world, the Europeans and, I am convinced also, of President Bush and Mr. Blair," Blix said.
"It requires, as we know, cooperation by Iraq - and active cooperation, both on process and on substance," Blix said. "Without active cooperation by the Iraqi side, it is difficult to achieve an effective inspection."
The inspectors' reports on Iraq's cooperation will be critical in determining Security Council support for possible military action. ElBaradei, contending that war is not inevitable, said this weekend's talks with the Iraqis would be "crucial."
A British diplomat at the United Nations said Thursday that Britain will probably introduce a new resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq. The measure is likely to meet resistance from most of the U.N. Security Council.
The Iraqis invited the top inspectors to Baghdad last week ahead of their next formal briefing to the council on Feb. 14. In Iraq, they will press the Iraqis to agree to a U.N. plan to use American U-2 reconnaissance planes in support of the inspections, and to enact legislation banning weapons of mass destruction.
Even so, Blix sounded a conciliatory tone Friday, telling the trainees "we are not in Iraq to humiliate the Iraqis."
"We are there to perform effective inspection, to be correct and professional. It is the most intrusive inspection system we have in the world. But the purpose is not to humiliate," he said.
ElBaradei, who is leading the hunt for nuclear weapons in Iraq, and Blix, whose team is searching for chemical and biological agents, also will press anew for Iraq to fill gaps in the weapons declaration it presented to the United Nations on Dec. 7.
Among other things, the dossier made no mention of stocks of the deadly chemical agent VX and the biological toxin anthrax, which Iraq was known to have before the last round of U.N. inspections stopped in December 1998.
The current inspection program began in November under a tough new Security Council resolution that gave Iraq a final opportunity to disarm and threatened serious consequences if it didn't.
In eight years of inspections in the 1990s, U.N. experts oversaw the destruction of the bulk of Iraqi chemical and biological weapons and dismantled Baghdad's unsuccessful program to build nuclear bombs.
This time, Blix said, "we would like to have a disarmament that is quicker than that. The world is not going to wait another eight years."