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Signs Iraqis taking disarmament ‘more seriously’

Signs Iraqis taking disarmament ‘more seriously,’ Blix says after talks in Baghdad

The top United Nations weapons inspector, Hans Blix, today said he saw signs the Iraqi authorities were taking the disarmament issues “more seriously,” reporting that a number of documents concerning biological weapons and missiles have been turned over to UN officials for analysis.

“There are some good developments from these two days,” Mr. Blix said at a press conference this evening in Baghdad following the conclusion of talks he and the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei, had with their Iraqi counterparts Saturday and Sunday.

Mr. Blix noted that Iraqi authorities turned over a number of papers on anthrax and the country’s missile programme in response to a point that was made at the last meeting between the two sides in Baghdad last month. “We’ve had talks with Iraqi colleagues where I’ve seen the beginning of taking these remaining disarmament issues more seriously,” he said.

He added that papers on VX, a potent chemical nerve agent, were also submitted to UN officials on Saturday, who examined the documents until 2 a.m. before meeting with their Iraqi counterparts this morning for further clarifications.

On the issue of the commission appointed to look into an earlier discovery of 12 empty chemical warheads, Mr. Blix said that panel now has a broader mandate and has been given authority to look for any weapons of mass destruction. “We welcome that,” he said, adding that one of the UN teams today found one more empty 122 millimetre chemical warhead at Tajir.

As for interviews of Iraqi personnel, Mr. Blix said the UN’s experience so far has been a “mixed bag.” He noted that some individuals have insisted on having Iraqi representatives present, while others have insisted on having a tape recorder. There have also been cases of interviewees who have accepted being alone with UN officials without any recorders. “We hope this practice will develop into something more relaxed,” he said.

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