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Inspectors ready to resume work in Iraq, Blix says

White House: Coalition has no role for U.N. team

A U.N. weapons inspector takes chemical samples at Iraq's Muthanna facility in February.
A U.N. weapons inspector takes chemical samples at Iraq's Muthanna facility in February.

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Who should look for any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?

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UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- The U.N.'s chief weapons inspector told the Security Council on Tuesday that his team was ready to resume inspections for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but the White House said the U.S.-led coalition has taken over that responsibility.

France advocated a compromise, saying the coalition and the U.N. weapons experts should combine their efforts in Iraq.

Going into his closed-door briefing with the Security Council, Hans Blix said: "I will talk about the readiness of [U.N. inspectors] to go back to Iraq but also about the need for some signals and adjustments of the basis for our work there by the council. We are serving the council, as you know."

However, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the coalition led by the United States had undertaken the task of searching for and destroying Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, and he envisioned no particular role for Blix's inspection team.

"The coalition is taking on responsibility for the dismantling of Iraq's WMD and missile programs, which is part of the international community's shared goal, which is laid out by the Security Council -- a cause with which we agree," Fleischer told reporters.

"We are looking forward, not backward," he said. "Saddam Hussein's regime is gone, and we need to reassess the framework designed to disarm the regime given the new facts on the ground. We look forward to working with the Security Council, members of the U.N. and our friends and allies on the issue of post-Saddam Iraq and how best to help the Iraqi people establish a new government themselves."

Pressed on what role Blix and the inspectors might have, Fleischer responded: "Just as I indicated, the coalition is taking on responsibility for dismantling Iraq's WMD as we have seen through the various inspections and operations that the coalition has carried out and continue to carry out."

Later, Fleischer was more conciliatory, saying that "Hans Blix had a difficult job to do, and he did his level best to do it. The blame lies with Saddam Hussein."

At the Security Council meeting, France favored a third position.

The French ambassador to the United Nations, Jean-Marc de la Sabliere, said some way should be found to coordinate the efforts of coalition inspection teams now working in Iraq with the U.N. weapons experts.

On his way out of the session, de la Sabliere said he had proposed that "there should be some work to find a practical arrangement, which in our view is necessary to coordinate and combine the work of the American teams on the ground and the work of UNMOVIC and IAEA, so that Iraqi disarmament could be initially verified. So I think it's a preliminary exchange of views and we'll have more meetings on this question."

UNMOVIC, the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, has continued to keep inspectors under contract. UNMOVIC was responsible for looking for biological and chemical weapons in Iraq, while the International Atomic Energy Agency looked for evidence of a nuclear weapons program.

After the session, Blix said his sense is that the Security Council is groping for some way forward in which efforts by the U.S.-led coalition can be combined with U.N. efforts.

Blix: U.S. intelligence reports were 'shaky'

In an interview with BBC radio broadcast before the meeting, Blix took a swipe at the intelligence reports on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction that the United States and other nations offered before the war, calling them "shaky."

"I think it's been one of the disturbing elements that so much of the intelligence on which the capitals built their case seemed to have been shaky," he said.

In addition, he said U.S. charges that his team suppressed information on an Iraqi drone airplane and a cluster bomb in his prewar report were an apparent attempt to discredit his inspectors.

"At the time the U.S. was very eager to sway the votes of the Security Council, and they felt that stories about these things would be useful to have, and they let it out," Blix said. "Thereby they tried to hurt us a bit and say we'd suppressed this."

Later, asked about the intelligence reports, he said, "That there were shortcomings is clear."

Blix said U.N. resolutions regarding Iraq remain in place and envision a role for the inspectors, who he said have credibility.

"The resolutions foresee that the U.N. international inspectors will have access to all sites in Iraq, and they will have access to people. We are not an auditing firm," he said. "We may not be the only ones in the world who have credibility, but I think we do have credibility for being objective and independent."

Asked how U.N. inspectors might work with coalition teams looking for Iraq's weapons, Blix said there is "no adversarial relationship" between the United Nations and the coalition.

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