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 Monday, 13 January, 2003, 04:59 GMT
Iraq arms inspectors 'need a year'
Arms inspectors on a mission on Saturday 11 January
Arms inspectors have carried out hundred of missions
A spokesman for the United Nations nuclear watchdog has said it will take about a year to complete a credible inspection process in Iraq, just as leading US officials appeared to talk up the possibility of military action.

Unless the inspectors know exactly where to go the chance that they'll find anything is practically zero

Richard Perle
US defence policy board chairman

Mark Gwozdecky of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) told the BBC this was the long-held position of the agency's director-general Mohamed ElBaradei, and UN chief weapons inspectors Hans Blix.

They are due to deliver a report on their progress to the UN Security Council on 27 January.

But the chairman of the United States' defence policy board, Richard Perle, told the BBC that he thought the inspectors had no chance of finding any weapons of mass destruction.

"Unless the inspectors know exactly where to go the chance that they'll find anything is practically zero," he said.

"They've been going back to sites they've visited previously because they don't know where else to go."

Meanwhile, the Washington Post newspaper quoted a senior figure in the US administration as saying that 27 January was the beginning of a final phase in the stand-off leading to decisive action.

This appeared to contradict Secretary of State Colin Powell's assertion last week that the day should not be regarded as a time of reckoning.

Time needed

Mr Perle said there were weapons, but they had been hidden, and warned that if Iraq did not hand over any weapons there would be war, in which the US would act alone if necessary.

US soldiers in Germany
Extra US troops are being flown to the Gulf
"It seems to me that either Saddam will turn over these weapons at the very last minute or there will be military action," he said.

But BBC defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus says Washington would rather act with allies and the explicit backing of the UN, so it needs to listen to the inspectors and organisations like the IAEA.

IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky insisted his agency must be given time.

"For a credible inspection process we believe we do need in the vicinity of a year," he told News Online's Talking Point programme.

"It's a very large country, there is a lot of terrain to cover, a lot of facilities to inspect," he added.

Mr Gwozdecky said that in many cases facilities had to be visited repeatedly to make sure they are not being used to make illegal weapons.

'Real role to play'

Weapons experts from the IAEA and the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (Unmovic) have made hundreds of visits since returning to Iraq in November.

Mr Gwozdecky said he was confident that IAEA inspectors would be able to uncover any banned nuclear programme:

"Given the fairly good access we've been given to date, we can - the longer we're there - have a real role to play in terms of detecting anything illegal," he said.

"Isn't a year worth the wait to get a sustainable, long-term peaceful solution to this problem?" Mr Gwozdecky added.

Building up

But as he spoke, the US administration continued to make preparations for a possible attack on Iraq.

USS Comfort
A US hospital ship is already sailing to the area
A senior Pentagon official told the BBC that Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was sending another of 27,000 troops to the Gulf.

This comes in addition to a deployment of 35,000 personnel announced on Friday.

The official said that the new reinforcements meant the Americans could have around 150,000 personnel in and around the Gulf by the end of next month.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Gillian Ni Cheallaigh
"The military momentum is beginning to look unstoppable"
  Richard Perle, Pentagon
"The President has always said that if we had to act alone, then we would"

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13 Jan 03 | Politics
12 Jan 03 | Europe
10 Jan 03 | Middle East
09 Jan 03 | Politics
09 Jan 03 | Middle East
27 Dec 02 | Business
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