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 Monday, 20 January, 2003, 16:44 GMT
Iraq promises UN more co-operation
Iraqi troops and UN inspectors
The UN says time is running out for Iraq
Iraq has agreed to allow UN weapons inspectors to hold private interviews with key individuals such as scientists.

The important concession was part of a 10-point agreement struck with the UN's chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, and the head of the UN's nuclear agency, Mohamed ElBaradei.

Mohamed ElBaradei and Hans Blix
ElBaradei and Blix: guarded optimism
Iraq also said it would appoint a team to search for munitions which may not have been declared.

The joint Iraqi-UN statement was made after a second and final day of talks in Baghdad as the US continued its military build-up in the Gulf.

The BBC's Rageh Omaar, in Baghdad, said that Mr Blix and Mr ElBaradei gave a guardedly optimistic assessment of their talks.

The most important point agreed was that a list of persons, engaged in various disciplines, would be presented for interviews which will be held with no Iraqi officials present.

Interviews with scientists - who will possibly be taken out of Iraq - have been demanded by the US Government, but Baghdad has previously objected.

Cyprus said on Monday it had been asked by the UN if Iraqi scientists could be taken to the island for interviews.

Foreign Minister Yiannakis Cassoulides said: "We have been approached last week.

"Provided that certain issues are resolved, like no political asylum and no long stays, then we are going to give a positive answer."

Missing munitions

The Iraqi officials also agreed to set up a team to search for munitions that had been missed out of its declaration on weapons programmes made last December.

Last week, 11 empty chemical warheads were found by inspectors which Iraq said had been mistakenly left out of its 12,000-page declaration.

On Sunday, Iraq said it had found four more empty chemical warheads.

Amir al-Saadi, an adviser to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, said the talks had been "very constructive and positive".

KEY DATES
27 Jan - First full report on inspections presented to UN
29 Jan - UN discusses report
31 Jan - Bush meets Blair
15 Feb - Anti-war protests across Europe
27 Mar - Blix submits new report to UN

Mr Blix said he was "fairly confident" Iraq would honour the agreements, adding: "We have solved a number of practical issues, not all."

He said Iraq and the United Nations had not yet discussed "substantive issues" related to anthrax, Scud missiles and the lethal VX nerve gas.

The points agreed included:

  • More documents to be handed over to inspectors.

  • Iraqi officials to be allowed on UN helicopter missions.

  • Iraq will "respond" to questions regarding its weapons declaration, which the UN and the US have described as incomplete.

  • Iraq will enact laws on "proscribed materials" (weapons of mass destruction) as urged by the United Nations.

    Mr ElBaradei and Mr Blix later left for Athens and will report to the UN Security Council on 27 January.

    Inspections continue

    In Iraq, UN inspectors continued their work on Monday, visiting nine sites including military installations, a factory which makes alcohol and a farm, Iraqi officials said.

    The Iraqi newspaper Ath-Thawra - run by the ruling Baath Party - issued a statement on Monday accusing arms inspectors of being "illegal, immoral and provocative" and asked Mr Blix and Mr ElBaradei to rein them in.

    It said that although inspectors had begun their work in an acceptable manner they were now "stepping outside their mission and collecting information for intelligence work".

    There was no immediate response from the UN, but it has previously denied similar accusations.

    Exile suggested

    US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Washington would know in a matter of weeks whether Iraq was giving its full co-operation.

    He said he would favour Iraqi leaders going into exile if that would avoid a war, describing it as a "fair trade".

    But he refused to be drawn on whether this would include immunity from prosecution for President Saddam Hussein and his top aides.

    The test is: Is Saddam co-operating or is he not co-operating?

    Donald Rumsfeld

    Referring to support for military action against Iraq, Mr Rumsfeld told Fox television news that the US already has "a sizeable coalition of the willing... with or without a second UN resolution".

    "The test is: Is Saddam co-operating or is he not co-operating? That's what the UN asked for. He is not doing that," he said.

    America's top serving military officer, General Richard Myers, visited Turkey on Monday - a regional ally which could play a crucial role in a US-led military campaign.

  •   WATCH/LISTEN
      ON THIS STORY
      The BBC's Rageh Omaar
    "The Iraqis want to show the world that they are being more cooperative"
      Former weapons inspector Scott Ritter
    "Iraq is co-operating to some extent"

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    20 Jan 03 | Europe
    19 Jan 03 | Middle East
    19 Jan 03 | Middle East
    19 Jan 03 | Middle East
    19 Jan 03 | Middle East
    14 Jan 03 | Americas
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