Blix tells U.N. council: no weapons

Inspectors found a violation on the range of a missile system. UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix said today that inspectors had not found any weapons of mass destruction, and interviews with scientists have been useful. Blix also cast doubt on evidence provided by Secretary of State Colin Powell contending Iraq had cleaned up suspect sites before inspectors arrived. "In no case have we seen convincing evidence that the Iraqi side knew in advance that the inspectors were coming," Blix said. Pointing to one case Powell highlighted using satellite photos of a munitions depot, Blix said: "The reported movement of munitions at the site could just as easily have been a routine activity" as one designed to hide banned materials before inspections. Nothing found Regarding weapons of mass destruction, Blix said the inspection team "has not found any such weapons, only a small number of empty chemical munitions, which should have been declared and destroyed," he said. He said a finding "of great significance" was that many proscribed weapons "are not accounted for. One must not jump to the conclusion that they exist. "However, that possibility is also not excluded. If they exist, they should be presented for destruction. If they do not exist, credible evidence to that effect should be presented." Blix also reported findings by a panel of experts that one of Iraq's new missile systems exceeds the range limit set by Security Council resolutions. "The experts concluded that, based on the data provided by Iraq, the two declared variants of the Al Samoud 2 missile were capable of exceeding 150 kilometers (93 miles) in range. This missile system is therefore proscribed for Iraq," Blix said. Blix said additional information was needed on a second missile, the Al Fatah, before deciding if it was in violation. Scientist interviews Blix said private interviews with three Iraqi scientists "proved informative," but since the interviews conducted in Baghdad on Feb. 8-9 no more had been done in private -- "on our terms." "I hope this will change," he said. "We feel that interviews conducted without any third party present and without tape recording would provide the greatest credibility." Under intense pressure, Iraq agreed earlier this month to prod scientists to agree to private interviews. Previously, all scientists insisted on being accompanied by an Iraqi official or having their interview tape-recorded. Blix said there were 250 U.N. personnel now in Iraq, including about 115 inspectors. He said there had been more than 400 inspections at 300 sites since the process began in November. Blix spoke at a council meeting that could determine whether the United States gets U.N. backing for military action against Iraq for failing to disarm. Blix's counterpart, nuclear chief Mohamed ElBaradei, then began addressing the meeting, which was attended by Powell and other foreign ministers. The ministers and ambassadors of the 15 council nations were to then speak publicly before heading into a private session. Through the day, Powell had plans to meet with all 14 foreign ministers of the Security Council nations. Powell met first with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and then saw Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov before the U.N. council went into session. They made no statements. Signed decree In Baghdad, in an apparent attempt to avert an attack, Saddam signed a decree banning the use of weapons of mass destruction. The White House scoffed at that. "If one would want to make believe and pretend that Iraq is a democracy that could pass meaningful laws, it would be 12 years late and 26,00 liters of anthrax short," said press secretary Ari Fleischer. "It would be 12 years late and 38,000 liters of botulism short. And it would be 12 years late and 30,000 unfilled chemical warheads short." Likely focus The United States and Britain are gearing up for war and will almost certainly spotlight an Iraqi missile program which exceeds U.N. limits and questions about nerve agents and anthrax. They were to argue at the meeting that Iraq has no intention of disarming peacefully. On the other side, France, Russia, China and Germany were expected to emphasize new signs of Iraqi cooperation, including its decision to allow U-2 reconnaissance flights and private interviews with scientists, and to establish commissions to search for weapons and documents. The United States and Britain were waiting to hear from the inspectors before deciding when to present a draft resolution that would either authorize military action or find Iraq in "material breach" of its obligations -- a term that Washington and London believe would be enough to justify an attack, according to diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity. British diplomats said a draft could be introduced as early as Saturday. Powell and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw were scheduled to meet this afternoon with the three other veto-holding permanent council members -- France, Russia and China -- and then with the 10 elected members. "There are a number of options," said Britain's U.N. Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock. "I think there will be a last-minute decision." France could also decide to submit its proposal to triple the number of inspectors, diplomats said. Iraq's U.N. Ambassador Mohammed Al-Douri went to see Blix late Thursday about the report. "I'm worried," he said afterward. "It's a question of war and peace." Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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