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IAEA: Year for Iraq inspections

U.N. arms inspectors say it will take a year to do their job in Iraq
U.N. arms inspectors say it will take a year to do their job in Iraq

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VIENNA, Austria (CNN) -- U.N. weapons inspections in Iraq could take about a year and will be "worth the wait," an International Atomic Energy Agency spokesman has told CNN.

Mark Gwozdecky reiterated comments made by chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix and IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei last spring, in which they made it clear the inspections could take "in the vicinity of a year."

Gwozdecky said it was a "far better option to wait a little bit longer than to resort to war."

He told CNN on Monday: "Dr Blix and ElBaradei made it very clear as late as last spring that this is an operation that could take in the vicinity of a year and frankly we think it is worth to wait to get a sustainable and long term peaceful solution.

"It is a far better option to wait a little bit longer than to resort to war," he said from Vienna.

"We've only been there for seven weeks now," Gwozdecky said. "We're making progress. We're getting access to the sites that we need.

"Frankly, the longer that we're there the more likely we are to detect something that might be illegally proceeding or to deter the Iraqis from reconstituting any capability that they might have."

The Pentagon says about 65,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are in the region already. Defense officials tell CNN that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld issued deployment orders for 62,000 troops Friday night. The UK has called up hundreds of reservists and dispatched a task force that could be in the region as well.

The U.N. is set to report back to the U.N. Security Council on January 27 about its work in Iraq. President Saddam Hussein has denied having any weapons of mass destruction.

But while Blix says no "smoking gun" has been found in Iraq, a "great many questions" remain unanswered with regards the information provided by Baghdad about its previous weapons programme. Blix and ElBaradei are due to travel to Baghdad next weekend.

U.N. officials have expressed dismay that Iraqi minders have accompanied all scientists interviewed so far, and Blix said last week that Baghdad had not cleared up issues such as chemical bombs, VX nerve gas and the import of missile engines.

The inspectors say Iraq must produce credible evidence to back up its stance that it destroyed all material that could be used for weapons of mass destruction while U.N. teams were out of the country from 1998 to late last year.

In the meantime, the inspectors will continue to search the " big country." He said the U.N. Security Council had given the inspectors unanimous support, saying: "They are willing to give us the time that we need."



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