UNITED NATIONS – While welcoming Iraq's decision to destroy a key missile system, top U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix maintained Friday the country still has a long way to go in to prove it's serious about disarmament.
In a report to the Security Council the chief inspector called Iraq's disarmament efforts "very limited so far." The report was written before Iraq accepted "in principle" Blix's order to eliminate Iraq's Al Samoud 2 missiles.
The Blix report did not draw definitive conclusions on Iraq's compliance and made no recommendation on the future of inspections.
Instead, he stressed that he still needs documents, physical evidence or testimony by individuals who participated in Iraq's weapons programs to answer unresolved issues. A reference in the draft report that this was needed "to give confidence" that Iraq's claim to having no weapons of mass destruction is accurate was eliminated.
The final 13-page report was critical of Baghdad for missing a chance to clear up outstanding issues about its weapons programs in its 12,000-page declaration submitted Dec. 7. Blix said the declaration provided "little new substantive information."
Blix also said he didn't understand why Iraq waited until mid-January to take steps that could lead to the discovery of banned items or evidence about long-standing disarmament issues.
"If they had been taken earlier, they might have borne fruit by now," he said. "The results in terms of disarmament have been very limited so far."
A commission established by Iraq on Jan. 20 to find banned weapons has only turned up four empty 122 mm chemical munitions and "two complete R-400 aerial bombs" -- one of which may be filled with a biological agent, Blix said.
A second Iraqi commission charged with finding missing documentation has turned up some documents about the country's unilateral destruction of weapons, but more written evidence is needed, he said.
But while speaking to reporters, Blix said that Iraq could carry out "a very significant piece of real disarmament" by destroying the Al Samoud 2 missiles. If Iraq does follow demands to begin demolishing them Saturday, Blix said he would take note of it in his upcoming report to the council, expected late next week.
With the crisis over Iraq coming to a head, Iraq's cooperation is expected to be a key factor as the 15 nations on the deeply divided Security Council decide whether to back war or continued U.N. inspections.
The United States, Britain and Spain have cosponsored a resolution opening the door for war while France, Russia and Germany are have proposed strengthening inspections and continuing them at least into July.
Both sides have been lobbying undecided members of the council, who all want some kind of compromise that will unite the council and deliver a strong message to Hussein.
Iraq's U.N. Ambassador Mohammed Al-Douri expressed hope that the report would be "well balanced" so the United States and Britain couldn't use it to launch an attack.
"The Americans and the British try to use the U.N. as justification, as a cover for their war," he said. "We are doing utmost to avert this war through the United Nations, but at the same time we are preparing ourselves for such eventuality."
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Friday that Moscow was prepared, if necessary, to veto a resolution authorizing war.
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin wouldn't say whether France would use its veto but he praised the missile-destruction agreement, calling it "an important step" that "confirms that inspectors are getting results."
The Blix report will likely give ammunition to both sides of the issue.
The Bush administration is certain to welcome his complaint that inspectors still haven't been able to interview Iraqi scientists and disarmament officials privately "in circumstances that give satisfactory credibility." This has been a major U.S. demand.
Blix noted that inspectors are currently examining ways to conduct interviews outside Iraq -- another key U.S. demand.
On the other hand, Blix said Iraq has been helpful in arranging prompt access to sites and launching inspections. In an apparent reference to the French-Russian-German proposal, he said his inspection operation "could certainly further expand and strengthen its activity."
He also said he was finishing a list of key unresolved disarmament issues, which if adopted by the Security Council would continue inspections for at least four months.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.