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Tuesday, 19 November, 2002, 08:32 GMT
Iraq inspectors get down to business
Hans Blix (L), Mohamed El Baradei (C) and General Amir al-Saadi (R)
Both sides have been hammering out the details
An advance team of United Nations weapons inspectors, led by Hans Blix, are beginning their first full day of talks in Iraq after an absence of four years.

An F-15C patrols the Iraqi no-fly zone
The US claims firing on allied planes breaches the resolution
About 30 inspectors arrived in Baghdad on Monday and after initial contacts with key Iraqi officials Mr Blix said the mission had got off to a good start.

The talks are focusing on the details of resuming inspections, which will be carried out under a tough new UN resolution aimed at eradicating alleged weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

It gives the UN team unprecedented powers of access when they start the inspections next week. Baghdad has promised full co-operation, saying it has nothing to hide.

Open in new window : Iraq spotlight
Click to see maps of Iraq's suspected weapons sites

Despite the pledge of co-operation a dispute has already broken out after allied war planes patrolling the no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq bombed Iraqi air defences on Monday.

The US Central Command said the raids came after Iraqi forces had fired surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft artillery at allied aircraft.

An Iraqi man stands in front of a picture of Saddam Hussein
Washington is insisting on a regime change

A White House spokesman said the Iraqi action amounted to a "material breach" of the latest UN resolution.

Baghdad rejected the charge arguing that the patrols, imposed by the United States, Britain and France after the 1991 Gulf War, violate Iraqi sovereignty.

Military threat

US President George W Bush said on Monday that he still hoped for a peaceful disarmament of Iraq, but he added that if that failed the US was ready to take action.

"I hope it happens peacefully. But if it doesn't, people will know that our intent is to lead a coalition of like-minded, freedom-loving countries to disarm Saddam Hussein," Mr Bush said, speaking of the Iraqi president whom Mr Bush is determined must be overthrown.

Next steps
18 Nov: Inspectors arrive in Iraq
8 Dec: Iraq must reveal all programmes, plants and materials which could be used for weapons production
23 Dec: Inspections must have resumed
21 Feb: Inspectors to report to UN Security Council

Mr Bush will head to Prague on Tuesday for a Nato summit, where he hopes to boost support for his hard-line stance against Iraq and for the international fight against terrorism.

Mr Blix, the UN chief weapons inspector, is joined in Iraq by the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed El Baradei, and a 25-strong international team of technical specialists.

Together they are expected to lay the groundwork for full inspections to begin by 27 November.

Mammoth task

On Tuesday they will meet General Amir al-Saadi, an adviser to Saddam Hussein, for the second time in 24-hours.

They are also expected to hold talks with Iraq's Foreign Minister Naji Sabri.

After the initial talks on Monday Mr Blix said that the situation was "tense", but that he thought that the mission has started well and progress had been made.

"The situation is tense at the moment, but there is a new opportunity and we are here to provide inspection which is credible," he said.

The BBC's correspondent in Baghdad, Caroline Hawley, says that after an absence of four years though, the inspectors have a huge amount to do and hundreds of sites to see, if they are to uncover Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Caroline Hawley in Baghdad
"Mr Blix has now met with key Iraqi officials"
Jack Straw, UK Foreign Secretary
"This is Saddam Hussein's final opportunity to comply with the international community"
Melissa Fleming, International Atomic Energy Agency
"The only notice we hope to give them is when we arrive at the door"

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See also:

19 Nov 02 | South Asia
18 Nov 02 | Middle East
18 Nov 02 | Middle East
18 Nov 02 | Americas
15 Nov 02 | Americas
15 Nov 02 | Middle East
14 Nov 02 | Middle East
18 Nov 02 | Middle East
01 Oct 02 | Middle East
19 Sep 02 | Europe
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