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Weapons team head meets Iraqis

Blix will hold two days of talks with the Iraqis from Monday
Blix will hold two days of talks with the Iraqis from Monday

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VIENNA, Austria -- U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix is meeting Iraqi officials in Austria to iron out details to enable arms inspectors to return to Baghdad.

Blix, the executive chairman of the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) is expected to look for guarantees that he will get offices, transport, communications, accommodation, escorts and landing sites for aircraft.

The talks in Vienna come as the U.S. and UK press fellow permanent members of the United Nations Security Council to accept a new resolution threatening Iraq with attack unless weapons inspectors are allowed into the country.

Blix will also want an up-to-date list of equipment and materials that have both civilian and military uses and find out how they are deployed.

The Iraqi team is expected to include General Amir al-Saadi, an adviser on scientific and technical affairs, Hasam Mohammed Amin, head of the Iraqi National Monitoring Directorate, and Saeed Hasan, a Foreign Ministry official who was Baghdad's former U.N. ambassador.

The talks coincide with attempts by the U.S. and UK to draft a tough Security Council resolution that the other three permanent council members - Russia, France and China -- would accept.

The current draft, described by U.S. officials as a work in progress, requires Iraq to accept its demands seven days after it is adopted and also calls for a protection force for the arms inspectors.

Until the resolution has been considered, the U.S. has said weapons inspectors are unlikely to go into Iraq.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told the House International Relations Committee earlier this month: "If somebody tried to move the team in now, we would find ways to thwart that."

Powell said he had made this clear to both Annan and Blix. "They recognise there is a debate taking place in the Security Council and they're waiting to see whether the Security Council chooses to give UNMOVIC different or new authority."

The Vienna talks also come after a weekend of diplomatic activity by the U.S. and Britain to 'sell' the draft resolution to France, Russia and China, who, as permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, all hold vetoes.

The three nations are all known to have reservations about threatening or using military force against Iraq if it does not re-admit inspectors.

Weapons inspectors left Iraq in 1998
Weapons inspectors left Iraq in 1998

The arms experts would be charged with searching out and destroying any weapons of mass destruction accumulated since 1998, when inspectors were last in the country.

U.S. Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman and British diplomat Peter Ricketts met Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov on Saturday.

Afterwards Grossman said the Russians "had some questions, we tried to give some answers... it was not negotiations."

Ivanov repeated his country's position that Iraq should abide by existing U.N. resolutions and allow the immediate return of the weapons inspectors, "who should give a clear answer to the question of whether Iraq has weapons of mass destruction or not."

Following a meeting in Paris on Friday, President Jacques Chirac's spokeswoman Catherine Colonna said the French leader still preferred a two-step strategy: a first resolution on the return of arms inspectors, to be followed by a second resolution detailing consequences only if Baghdad blocks inspections.

On Sunday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said he was determined secure a fresh U.N. resolution on stripping Iraqi of its weapons of mass destruction.

"The key is that the United Nations has got to be the way of dealing with this," Blair told the BBC.

"I totally understand the concerns that people have, the worries that they have about precipitate military action. But the United Nations has taken a very clear position on this... We are going down the U.N. route but the U.N. route has to be the way of dealing with it, not avoiding it."

Blair made it clear that the threat of military action was hanging over Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

"If he wants to avoid conflict he has to do what the international community is saying," he said.

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