UNITED NATIONS – U.N. inspectors have discovered that weapons-related smuggling is going on in Iraq in violation of Security Council resolutions, chief weapons inspector Hans Blix told the BBC late Monday.
Blix stressed that there was no clear evidence that the smuggled goods were weapons of mass destruction or materials used to create those weapons.
"We have found several cases where it is clear that Iraq has imported weapons-related material in violation of the prohibitions of the Security Council," Blix said. "There has been a considerable amount of import in the weapons sector, which clearly is smuggling, and in violation, and they are in fact large quantities."
Blix said the U.N. inspectors were increasing the scope of their searches after receiving new Western intelligence -- but he said they need more concrete information on the location of suspect sites. Last month, Blix complained that the United States and Britain had not been providing needed intelligence to the inspectors.
Earlier Monday, Blix told the Associated Press that war is likely soon if Iraq fails to prove that it doesn't have weapons of mass destruction.
"I think they only need look around their borders and they should realize the seriousness" of the situation, Blix said.
The U.S. has been steadily building up its forces in the Persian Gulf for the past few weeks, and urban-warfare exercises took place in Kuwait Monday just a few miles south of the Iraqi border.
Blix stressed that the weapons inspectors will need several more months to finish searching Iraq, but admitted that they might not get that time if the Security Council votes to cut off the process or the U.S. and Britain take military action.
The world wants Iraq to disarm peacefully, Blix said. But to do that it must provide documents, allow U.N. inspectors to interview Iraqi scientists in private, and show physical evidence of what facilities and weapons have been destroyed.
"What the show of force demonstrates to Iraq is that here is the other alternative," he said.
Blix said the key message that he and Mohamed ElBaradei, chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, will deliver to Iraqi officials when they visit Baghdad on Sunday and Monday is that Iraq's 12,000-page weapons declaration submitted to inspectors last month did not contain any new evidence to verify its claim that its weapons of mass destruction have been destroyed.
"We need to have more evidence supplied to us. There are a great many open questions as to their possession of weapons of mass destruction and the Security Council and the world would like to be assured that these questions be sorted out," Blix said.
In remarks aired late Monday, Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri said Baghdad is ready to answer any questions by U.N. inspectors, but insisted the arms report was comprehensive.
"The declaration answers everything, but ... if they have any questions they would like to present to Iraq or issues that they want clarified from the Iraqi side, we welcome them in the meetings that will be held in Iraq," Sabri said.
Blix stressed that a peaceful solution is far less costly than war.
"We are perhaps 250 or 300 people on the inspection side. We cost about $80 million a year. If you take the armed path, you are talking about $100 billion, you're talking about 250,000 men, you're talking about a lot of people killed and injured, a lot of damage. So I think the whole world prefers a peaceful solution if you can have one that is credible," he said.
Iraq's "active cooperation" in answering outstanding questions is the most critical issue now, he said.
"We think they have more evidence," Blix said. "In the situation in which they find themselves, I think they should make a very strong effort to produce this."
Blix had complained that the United States and Britain kept saying they had evidence of Iraqi weapons programs, but weren't handing over the information. But U.N. officials said inspectors have started receiving intelligence from Britain and the United States and others, and expect further information.
"We are getting much more information from several sources, and we do want to have it from several sources because that increases our credibility and the number of places we can go to," Blix said. "So I'm more optimistic on this score today."
The United States has also been pressing inspectors to take scientists outside Iraq for interviews. But Blix said such interviews still pose challenges.
"We don't think we should be a mechanism for defection," Blix said.
In the meantime, he said, inspectors will conduct some interviews with scientists in Baghdad this week. There were no immediate plans for interviews outside Iraq.
Blix and ElBaradei stressed that their Jan. 27 report to the Security Council would be an update - not a final report on the inspections that resumed in November after four years.
"We can see a lot of work ahead of us beyond that date if we are allowed to do so," Blix said, but the decision on whether inspections continue is up to the Security Council.
He said he did not know how long the American government was willing to wait for his team to complete its searches.
"It could be that one day they will say, 'Move aside boys, we are coming in,'" he told the British Broadcasting Corp. on Monday. "That's possible, but I think a great many people and a great many governments would prefer to have disarmament through peaceful means."
If the council does not take any action on Jan. 27, Blix told APTN that inspectors will go ahead with plans to identify by late March the key disarmament tasks that Iraq must fulfill before sanctions imposed after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait can be suspended.
These are likely to include detailed information about its anthrax and deadly VX nerve agent production, he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.