ElBaradei Supports 'Benchmark' Plan

The chief U.N. nuclear inspector urged the Security Council on Thursday to compromise on proposed disarmament conditions for Iraq, with staggered deadlines and no ultimatum for war.

"I think there's a keen desire globally to do everything before resorting to war," Mohamed ElBaradei said in an Associated Press interview at his agency's headquarters along the Danube River in Vienna. He offered to return to Baghdad himself to help see a timetable of tasks carried out.

ElBaradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, also dismissed the U.S. contention that Iraq intends to use imported aluminum tubes to eventually help make nuclear bombs.

ElBaradei reported to the Security Council last Friday that his investigation concluded the tubes were unrelated to nuclear work. Secretary of State Colin Powell has since said "more information from a European country" suggested they were, indeed, meant for that purpose.

"We have got this information," ElBaradei said, "and it doesn't change our assessment."

The IAEA chief spoke as divisions deepened at the United Nations in New York over the next steps in the crisis.

In the latest version of a British resolution, London proposes listing six disarmament requirements Baghdad would have to meet or face "serious consequences." France, which opposes setting ultimatums and has veto power in the council, flatly rejected the plan.

ElBaradei, who with chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix has been at the center of the disarmament effort in Iraq, said he supports the idea of setting "tasks" for the Baghdad government.

"We haven't really told them specifically what they need to do," he said of the Iraqis.

He approved of some requirements on the British list, such as its call for interviews abroad of Iraqi scientists and a commitment to destruction of all al-Samoud 2 missiles, recently declared illegal by U.N. inspectors.

But he questioned Britain's demand for a televised statement by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein that banned weapons are hidden in Iraq.

"We have no clear evidence he has things he is hiding for him to admit," ElBaradei said.

ElBaradei, an international lawyer from Egypt, said he regretted the schisms in the Security Council.

"You need the U.N. for (fighting) terrorism, for the Middle East," he told the AP. "The fact the Security Council is being split is very counterproductive."

He called on the Security Council to fashion a compromise resolution with disarmament benchmarks, with deadline dates assigned to certain tasks.

"You need to give them (Iraq) adequate time, and the time obviously is linked to the task you're asking them to do," ElBaradei said.

Then, he said, he would go to Baghdad if necessary.

"If as part of the implementation of this benchmark we are asked to go to Iraq, I obviously would not see any reason not to go," he said.

But missed deadlines must not automatically lead to war, he said: "It's a deadline to evaluate, to take stock, not a deadline to automatically say I'm going to war."