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Blix looks to Iraq for 'substance'

Hans Blix
Hans Blix

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UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- Just days before leaving for Iraq, chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix said Tuesday that he has specific expectations for this weekend's visit -- primarily Iraqi cooperation.

The inspectors have "made it absolutely clear" that the principal task to be accomplished in this third visit to Baghdad will be "how can Iraq assure us, and the Security Council, that it will actively seek and present any items or programs which are proscribed," he said in a briefing for the U.N. Correspondents Association.

Blix added that if weapons of mass destruction do not exist, Iraq's goal should be "to seek and present credible evidence for their absence."

U.N. Resolution 1441 calls on Iraq to destroy any chemical, nuclear and biological weapons or face serious consequences. Iraq has consistently denied possessing such weapons.

Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, chief of the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency, will return to Iraq February 8 for a round of talks with Iraqi officials.

"I am pleading to the Iraqis to cooperate on substance. They do not have the same determination on substance as they do on process," he said.

The chief inspectors' visit is planned for three days after U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell appears before the Security Council Wednesday. Powell will present evidence the United States alleges proves Iraq is not complying with Resolution 1441 and previous resolutions that authorized inspections and called for the destruction of weapons of mass destruction.

Blix noted there have been discussions about several points from his last visit to the country -- including U-2 surveillance aircraft flights and interviews of Iraqi scientists. He said these points are "tangible to look at" yet "minor" when compared with the larger issue of providing "substance" in the weapons inspection process.

"At this stage of political development, we think it is extremely important that Iraq move forward on the substance of it and not -- as I criticized in my statement to the Security Council -- and not simply say that these were issues that UNSCOM dreamt up, that these were so-called issues of marginal importance," said Blix. He added that Baghdad must take seriously its obligations, as dictated in 1441.

Blix delivered his inspections report to the United Nations in New York January 27 and was more critical than expected regarding Iraq's cooperation.

Blix said Tuesday he hopes his third visit will be more productive than his first two because it's "five minutes to midnight" in a political sense.

"The diplomatic window is closing," he said. "We all know that the situation is very serious."

Blix added that he doesn't think "the end is near" or that a date for possible military action has been set. Still, he said, Iraq must be well aware of that possibility, too.

"It seems to me that they could do things which would change the situation," Blix told the reporters. "The principal issue is weapons of mass destruction."

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