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Nic Robertson: Laying groundwork in Iraq

CNN's Nic Robertson
CNN's Nic Robertson

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Inspectors return to Baghdad, Iraq. CNN's Nic Robertson reports. (November 18)
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•  Commanders: U.S. | Iraq
•  Weapons: 3D Models
November 18: Weapons inspectors arrive in Iraq to set up logistics, communications.
November 27: Inspectors begin inspections.
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.

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- U.N. chief arms inspector Hans Blix and a team of 30 experts were beginning their first full day of work in Iraq on Tuesday.

From Baghdad, CNN's Nic Robertson discussed the U.N. preparations with CNN Anchor Carol Costello.

ROBERTSON: I've been speaking with the spokesman accompanying the two leaders of the inspection mission here, and one of them [is] describing a walk-through of those old U.N. offices as being eerie, the place covered in dust, pigeon feathers, insects moving around on the floor -- a very eerie feeling going back into these offices that have been deserted. And in fact, [they're] saying that there's an awful lot of clearing up to be done -- hence, the cleaning equipment that they brought in.

But the real meat of the work here [is] being carried out by Hans Blix and his associate, Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, in their meetings. They do hope to have a further high-level meeting [Tuesday]. They do hope to meet with [Iraqi] Foreign Minister Naji Sabri. The meeting they've had so far [was] with President Saddam Hussein's top scientific adviser, Gen. Amir al-Saadi.

Now Mr. ElBaradei's spokesman described that perhaps it's too early to draw conclusions from the meetings that they've had so far. ...

Some of the newspapers here already [are] describing [recent U.N.] Resolution 1441 as being bad and impossible.

COSTELLO: I can only imagine the tension level on those talks.

ROBERTSON: Well, it's very interesting in talking with this spokesman. They don't really have a firm grip on exactly who they'll meet with and when. For them, it's very much a waiting game to see which Iraqi official will be meeting with them next.

Now while they want to achieve a lot on the ground here, they really say that it's time not to continue with the talking but really get on with the work. What they want to do is ensure that the Iraqis understand the same way they do, that they see eye to eye on issues, that everyone understands the timelines, the 8th of December timeline for the Iraqis to make their full declaration -- probably the toughest thing for the government here to do next.

And also, for them to explain -- for the U.N. inspectors to explain what they're going to need to do, when they need to have flights coming in with what equipment, which people etc., so they can carry out their mission.

So [they're] dotting the i's and crossing the t's, but really for the inspectors, they just want to get to work.

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