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Iraqi arms talks 'substantial'

Armed Iraqi women march in Tikrit, Saddam's home town.
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraq is providing explanations for some of the "outstanding disarmament issues" that have pushed it near to war with the United States, a top U.N. weapons inspector said Saturday

International Atomic Energy Agency director Mohamed ElBaradei said talks with an Iraqi general covered such issues as U-2 surveillance flights, private interviews with scientists and "outstanding issues of chemical and biological missiles" -- the areas U.S. officials say prove Iraq is not complying with U.N. resolutions.

Hans Blix, the chief chemical and biological weapons inspector, described the talks -- which could be the last chance for Iraq to satisfy U.S. officials that it is complying with demands over its weapons program -- as "substantial" and "useful."

The meetings come as U.S. President George W. Bush is drawing an increasingly clear line, warning that Iraq has "weeks, not months," to comply with U.N. Security Council resolution 1441, which sent inspectors back into Iraq.

Iraq is obliged by the resolution to detail its weapons programs, including the whereabouts of weaponry reported by previous U.N. inspectors up to 1998, when they left the country prior to a U.S.-led air strike.

"We are going through many of the outstanding disarmament issues," ElBaradei said. "The Iraqi side is providing explanation on some of the issues. We are discussing but we have to wait until Sunday."

ElBaradei and Blix met with Iraqi presidential science adviser Gen. Amir al-Saadi for 4.5 hours Saturday -- 90 minutes longer than expected.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Saturday momentum was building towards military action in Iraq, but Washington still hoped war would not be necessary. (Full story)

"The resolution which passed unanimously did not say the next-to-final opportunity, it said the final opportunity. Those who voted for it knew what it said," he said.

Destiny in Baghdad: Blix leaves the U.N. plane for key talks with senior Iraqis
Destiny in Baghdad: Blix leaves the U.N. plane for key talks with senior Iraqis

Iraq, however, insists it has no weapons of mass destruction and that Bush is determined to declare war on Iraq regardless of the inspectors' results.

Blix and ElBaradei are to present their third report to the U.N. Security Council February 14.

This weekend's two-day trip to Baghdad is their third meeting with high-ranking Iraqi officials in two months. They are not expected to meet with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Blix, director of the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), said Friday: "We will want to see a lot more [cooperation] this weekend."

He and ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, want three key issues involving the weapons inspections solved:

• Permission to use U-2 spy planes to bolster their inspections. Iraqi officials had said they were not refusing to allow the planes to fly over Iraq, only that they could not guarantee their safety. Al-Saadi said this week that he was worried that U.S. planes patrolling the no-fly zones could shoot down one of the U-2s, and use that as a pretext to start an armed conflict.

• Iraq's enforcement of legislation prohibiting companies from making weapons of mass destruction. Al-Saadi has said Iraqi companies do not make such weapons.

• More private interviews between Iraqi scientists and weapons inspectors. Prior to Thursday, the scientists had uniformly refused to meet with U.N. officials without an Iraqi official being present.

According to Iraq's Foreign Ministry, three more Iraqi scientists were interviewed in private by UNMOVIC and IAEA inspectors Friday, a day after the inspectors held their first private meeting with an Iraqi scientist.

ElBaradei called Thursday's interview "a step in the right direction." There was no immediate confirmation of Friday's interviews from U.N. officials.

Blix said Friday that Iraqi cooperation with the inspections regime is essential to the process -- and the quicker the better.

"Without active cooperation from the Iraqi side, it is difficult to achieve an effective inspection," he said. "I don't say that it is impossible.

Blix called the inspections "the most intrusive ... in the world," but said they represented a necessary intrusion.

Inspectors visited at least six sites Saturday, according to Iraq's Ministry of Information, including a water treatment plant east of Baghdad.

-- CNN Correspondent Nic Robertson contributed to this report.

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