Blix to Saddam: Inspectors want full cooperation
Chief inspector says he'd be willing to meet Iraqi leader
UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix said Friday that he would be willing to meet with Saddam Hussein if invited and would tell the Iraqi leader that inspectors want "cooperation of substance."
Blix made the comment as he and International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei contemplate an invitation to visit Baghdad before February 10 to address issues that the two raised Monday before the U.N. Security Council regarding the status of Iraq's weapons program and the nation's cooperation with international weapons inspectors.
The two have not decided whether to go to Baghdad, and officials said there will be no decision until Baghdad has responded to the United Nation's qualified request for more information on its weapons program.
Blix said his chemical and biological weapons inspectors have not seen the desired cooperation from Iraqi authorities and added that he won't seek more time for his inspectors "until that has happened."
"We have not seen a serious effort on the Iraqi side ... or evidence that would clear up the question marks," Blix said.
Asked if he would be willing to meet with Saddam, Blix said, "I think that if the Iraqi side were to suggest that, certainly we would be meeting him."
He said he would point out to Saddam the "dangerous situation" Iraq faces and the need for "cooperation of substance." There has been no indication from Iraq on whether Saddam would be willing to meet with Blix even if the inspector were to return to Baghdad.
One U.N. official said Blix was preparing a letter in response to an Iraqi invitation to return, saying any such trip would have to be fruitful and suggesting that Iraq guarantee that U-2 spy planes would be allowed to aid inspectors. The official said it is Iraq's responsibility to answer any questions.
"We don't want it to be another photo op," this official said.
IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Flemming said Blix and ElBaradei want "some very strong signs of positive cooperation in advance" before committing to a return trip. "We expect some kind of reaction from Iraq soon," she said.
The flurry of diplomatic activity extended to Washington and Baghdad ahead of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's presentation to the Security Council on Wednesday.
U.S. officials have said Powell will present evidence supporting the U.S. contention that Iraq isn't meeting its obligations to disarm and is actively trying to deceive weapons inspectors. He is also expected to make the case that Iraq has ties to the al Qaeda terrorist network, responsible for the attacks of September 11, 2001.
In Washington, President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair emerged from a White House meeting and pledged to keep pressure on Saddam.
"He is a danger to the world. He must disarm," Bush said at a joint news conference. "This issue will come to a head in a matter of weeks, not months."
Blair said, "The judgment has to be, at the present time, that Saddam Hussein is not cooperating with the inspectors and therefore is in breach of the U.N. resolution. And that's why time is running out."
In Baghdad, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry said it is considering sending Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz to Wednesday's Security Council meeting. U.N. rules allow for any member nation to be invited to Security Council meetings if the discussion is centering on that nation.
"If they invite us, we will come. But if the U.S. blocks the visa of a senior official from Baghdad, then Mohammed Aldouri, Iraq's permanent representative, will ask to attend," one Iraqi official told CNN.
Syria told council members behind closed doors that Iraq had asked to be seated at the council table during Powell's presentation.
Iraq has also sent to letters to the United Nations from Foreign Minister Naji Sabri -- one to Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the other to Jean-Marc de la Sabliere of France, who held the rotating Security Council presidency in January.
In his letter to Annan, Sabri demanded the United States produce evidence proving that Iraq has a weapons of mass destruction program so inspectors could verify the claims.
The letter to the Security Council president called Blix's report to the council "meager" and "lengthy in reviewing negative presumptions and allegations that are groundless."
"Iraq has offered all efforts required to implement Resolution 1441, and regrettably the [inspectors'] statement mentions a charge saying Iraq has not genuinely accepted the disarmament of its weapons," Sabri wrote.
In other developments, Russia's Foreign Ministry said it will carefully listen to the evidence Powell presents to the United Nations next week on Iraq, but it wants the data to be checked out by the weapon inspectors.
"The information that our American colleagues will present must be then given to the international inspectors who must use it in their work and give their corresponding evaluation of it," Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said at a news conference Thursday in Sofia, Bulgaria.
At the United Nations, the British ambassador, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, said the Security Council will expect "a report or a comment by weapons inspectors" on what Powell says.
Mexico's U.N. ambassador, Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, also said inspectors should evaluate the evidence Powell will present.