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Sunday, 17 November, 2002, 05:19 GMT
Blix warns Iraq over inspections
Hans Blix
Blix says previous UN teams were undermined by spies
United Nations chief weapons inspector Hans Blix has warned Iraq of "serious consequences" if it attempts to hinder or delay his mission.

Mr Blix said even a half-hour delay could be seen as an obstruction to his inspectors, who are expected to restart their work in 10 days' time after a gap of four years.

Iraqi soldier outside UN headquarters in Baghdad
Iraq accused inspectors of being spies in 1998
A new UN resolution passed on 8 November gives Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein 30 days to declare all weapons of mass destruction.

He said on Saturday that the inspections would allow the UN Security Council to see that Iraq was completely free of such weapons.

Correspondents say the next argument among the countries confronting Iraq will be over what exactly constitutes a breach of its undertakings.

Hawks in the American administration take the view that even a minor violation could be a trigger to military action, while countries such as France are more cautious.

Hope for co-operation

Mr Blix is travelling to Cyprus before going on to Baghdad on Monday with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director general Mohamed El Baradei for preliminary talks with Iraqi officials.

If I see someone having two hats, then I would ask them to walk out

Hans Blix

"We hope and expect to have full Iraqi co-operation," Mr Blix said after talks in Paris with French Foreign Minister Dominic de Villepin.

He said he could not rule out the presence of spies in his team - adding that any intelligence agents would be ordered off the group.

He said it was important that the team should avoid the charges of bias which undermined the work of the inspectors who worked in Iraq between 1992 and 1998.

In 1999, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said there was some justification for allegations that UN weapons inspectors in Iraq were involved in spying for Washington.

New technology

Mr Blix said that the UN Security Council's unanimous support for a robust new resolution on disarming Iraq had strengthened the hand of the returning inspectors.

He pointed out that technological advances since the last, aborted inspections which ended in 1998 meant his team could do their work more effectively.

"The tiniest little thing can be detected," he said.

Mr Blix said earlier that "cat and mouse" games by Baghdad would not be tolerated.

He said an expected statement by Iraq listing the weapons it holds, which is due on 8 December, would be of particular importance.

The BBC's Caroline Hawley in Baghdad says there are some signs the Iraqi leadership is preparing to co-operate with inspectors, with scientists being told their weekends have been cancelled in case the inspectors come.

Iraqi defiance

In Baghdad, Saddam Hussein issued a statement on Saturday insisting he had no weapons of mass destruction and justifying his acceptance of Resolution 1441 as a means of avoiding war.

The United States and Israel had "decided to wage war unilaterally after showing its claws and teeth", the Iraqi leader said in a letter to parliament which was read out on television.

He said he hoped the weapons inspectors would confirm that Iraq is "free of weapons of mass destruction" and work towards having UN sanctions lifted.

Inspectors have 60 days to report their findings to the Security Council.

The BBC's David Chazan
"The advance team led by Mr Blix is expected in Baghdad"
Former UK Ambassador to Iraq, Sir Harold Walker
"Saddam is one of the cleverest tyrants the world has ever seen"

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15 Nov 02 | Americas
14 Nov 02 | Middle East
15 Nov 02 | Middle East
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14 Nov 02 | Middle East
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