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U.N. inspectors to send advance team to Iraq

From Richard Roth
CNN New York Bureau

Hans Blix
Hans Blix

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UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- Barring any further delays, an advance team of U.N. weapons inspectors is to return to Iraq October 15 -- the first time inspectors will have entered the country since 1998 when they pulled out ahead of joint U.S.-British airstrikes.

That date is outlined in a UNMOVIC document, obtained by CNN, that was circulated Thursday inside a closed-door U.N. Security Council meeting.

The announcement came on the same day that President Bush sent a resolution to Congress, requesting authorization to use "all means that he determines to be appropriate, including force" in order to disarm Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. (Full story)

Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri denied U.S. accusations that Iraq has nuclear, chemical or biological weapons during a speech Thursday before the U.N. General Assembly, and accused Bush of using the terror attacks of September 11 as an excuse to strike Iraq. (Full story)

Later, Hans Blix, the chairman of the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, appeared before the 15-nation Security Council Thursday afternoon to brief them on the latest developments.

Afterward, Blix did not mention the October 15 date, but did say he hopes to get an advance team into Iraq "as soon as possible" to review selected sites "we think are interesting."

"We will go there with an advance team, and we will gradually build up the capacity," Blix told reporters.

Asked what sites would be searched first, he said, "I am not going to tell neither you nor the Iraqis."

Blix said he was looking forward to meeting further with Iraqi officials in Vienna, Austria on September 30 to discuss things such as logistics, transportation, security and other issues for the inspectors.

"We do need to talk to the Iraqi counterpart and explain [our side] to see that we see eye-to-eye on these matters and avoid clashes. The Iraqi side has agreed to this," Blix said.

He said he hopes Iraq will accept "without hesitation the rules that are laid down by the council."

"I think the criterion is cooperation in all respects, and I hope that Iraq would help us do it. Without cooperation in all respects, it will be difficult for any inspection organization," he said. "We have said before we are not giving any discount on Security Council resolutions."

News of the advance team's return drew a strong response from some at the United Nations.

"This represents a new and positive approach that we view with satisfaction," said Fawzi Shobokshi, the Saudi ambassador to the United Nations. "This development, which will avoid confrontation with diplomatic means, shows that a positive step in most cases will result in another positive step in return."

But in Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell testified before a congressional panel that the United States will block any attempt to send U.N. weapons inspectors back to Iraq without a new mandate from the U.N. Security Council.

To that end, Blix said his inspectors would abide by any new U.N. resolution. "We are the servants of the Security Council," he said.

According to Blix and the weapons inspection agency document, once the advance team is in and has drafted its work plan, then it will report back to the Security Council in two months and then move into high gear, working around the country while preparing a list of key disarmament tasks to be completed.

Blix also was blunt in his message to Saddam Hussein. He said the Iraqi leader is the only one to blame for the current sanctions imposed on Iraq.

"In 1991, when we started, if Iraq had cooperated and given us the information that they were supposed to give rather than hiding a lot of it, well then I think sanctions could have been lifted possibly in 1991, certainly in 1992. Instead, we were there seven years," Blix said.

The last time an inspection team was in Iraq was December 1998, when inspectors complained of not being allowed to do their work and pulled out ahead of joint U.S.-British airstrikes. Inspectors have not been allowed back in since then.

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