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Sheila MacVicar: Inspectors get ready

CNN's Sheila MacVicar
CNN's Sheila MacVicar

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•  Commanders: U.S. | Iraq
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KEY DATES
November 18: Weapons inspectors arrive in Iraq to set up logistics, communications.
November 27: Inspectors begin their mission.
December 8: By this date, Iraq must provide a "currently accurate, full, and complete declaration" of any weapons of mass destruction program.
December 23: Weapons inspections must resume.
February 21: Inspectors must report back to the Security Council.

LARNACA, Cyprus (CNN) -- Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, arrived Sunday in Cyprus -- where U.N. inspectors will be based -- ahead of Monday's trip to Iraq with a 25-member advance team.

CNN Senior International Correspondent Sheila MacVicar spoke Sunday with CNN Anchor Arthel Neville about the team's preparations.

MACVICAR: There's a lot of planning going on here. Dr. Blix is coming here from Vienna, where he has met up with Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei. Those two are the most senior members of the U.N. weapons inspectors teams flying here to Cyprus, which the U.N. teams have used to set up what they call a forward planning base. The first group of about 25 people have been gathering here.

In addition to Dr. Blix and Dr. ElBaradei, who will be going to Baghdad to begin and rebuild basically the political and diplomatic contacts with Iraqi officials, there are people going there to do a lot of the logistical work that has to be done in order for the inspectors to carry out their task. That is everything from making sure that their vehicles are working to making sure that they do not have any flat tires.

As we know, there have been no U.N. inspectors in Iraq in four years. That means their laboratories have been shut down; their offices have been shut down. There is a lot of dust to clear away, there is a little repainting to be done, and those laboratories have to get back in working order before inspections can really begin. So this is a final preparation.

With a new U.N. Security Council mandate that established UNMOVIC [U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission], as it is now called, they have had a lot of time for planning, and Dr. Blix has said that in fact in Iraq there are something like 700 sites that they want to get a chance to take a look at in the coming weeks.

NEVILLE: A lot of sites for a short amount of time. When we are talking about the strategic planning and the advance planning, will the advance team look for any decoys that might be in place by the Iraqis?

MACVICAR: Well, there are a couple of things. As I said, these are not weapon inspectors per se; these are people who are going to be involved in re-establishing a rather sophisticated monitoring system that was in place until four years ago.

There were a number of locations that have been examined over time by UNSCOM [the U.N. Special Commission on Iraq] ... and in many of those places they had established cameras that were hooked up on a closed-circuit system and sniffing devices that could detect the presence of any banned weapons. All of those things have been shut down over the course of the last four years.

One task will be to revisit those places and re-establish those systems -- and in some cases much more sophisticated systems -- than were available four years ago. Then they will begin to move on with whatever new intelligence, new information, and we know that clearly they do have a lot of new information, a lot places that they want to go to.

In addition to that, [they'll be] carrying out discussions with Iraq's government, which is on the record [with] Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz saying, "We welcome the weapons inspectors; we are prepared to cooperate and coordinate with them." And, of course, the test of that will come when actual weapons inspections begin.

NEVILLE: I understand that the advance team are not U.N. weapons inspectors, but I ask about the decoys because I would imagine the game of cat and mouse is already there and it will continue.

MACVICAR: Well, that is indeed the question: What will Iraq do? How does Iraq plan to deal with these weapons inspectors? How does Iraq plan to deal with Dr. Blix and Dr. ElBaradei?

Iraq is on the record as saying it has no weapons of mass destruction. We know quite clearly that the government of the United States -- the Bush administration -- the government of Great Britain and other governments do not believe that to be true, and it will be up to Dr. Blix and Dr. ElBaradei and their teams to basically go forward and see what there is to find.

December 8 is the key date when Iraq is due to present its dossier, if you will -- make full disclosure on the weapons of mass destruction that it has, so while Iraq is currently saying it has nothing, Dr. Blix and Dr. Elbaradei are going to go in, and they are going to say we know this based on this intelligence.

So we will have to see what Iraq does. So in terms of what kind of games Iraq will indulge -- whether it thinks it can stall or not cooperate -- well, we have heard very clearly what the warnings are from the Bush administration (and) from the U.N. Security Council. What happens if Iraq is found to be in material breach of the U.N. decision, which obliges it to disarm?



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