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Thursday, 6 February, 2003, 22:51 GMT
Iraq allows private scientist interview
UN weapons inspectors search site in Iraq
Blix said prompt access to sites is not enough
An Iraqi scientist has been privately interviewed by UN weapons experts for the first time in the current crisis, as Baghdad fights back against an extensive US dossier on its alleged banned weapons.

The purpose of this show in the Security Council was mainly for home consumption for the uniformed

General Amer al-Saadi

No further details were available of the interview, which was announced by Baghdad in the course of a news conference called to rebut the US allegations and later confirmed by the UN.

But President George W Bush brushed aside the latest developments in Baghdad, saying he had no doubt that Iraq would "start another round of empty concessions" as it came under increasing pressure.

The president said that while he would welcome a second resolution authorising military action against Iraq from the UN Security Council, he was prepared to launch an independent strike at the head of a "coalition of the willing".

Earlier, chief weapons inspector Hans Blix warned Iraq it had a week to drastically improve co-operation with his agents, demanding in particular that the authorities allow scientists to be cross-examined without government monitors present.

    In other developments
  • Iraq's neighbour Turkey votes to allow US personnel to modify its air bases and ports
  • Nato postpones a decision on a US request for support in any war against Iraq
  • Britain sends a further 8,000 personnel to the Gulf in preparation for war

Iraq's rebuttal

Mr Bush also praised US Secretary of State Colin Powell, who on Wednesday delivered a package of allegations on Iraqi violations of UN resolutions to the Security Council.

While the alleged evidence supplied does not see, to have swayed the many war sceptics on the council, the US administration is insisting that it has more support for its tough stance on Iraq than it currently appears.

In Baghdad, presidential advisor General Amer al-Saadi ridiculed Mr Powell's presentation, saying it was designed for an "uninformed" audience.

He accused Mr Powell of quoting out of context concerns raised by Mr Blix and the nuclear arms chief Mohamed ElBaradei, whom he also said were being undermined by the US.

UN Security Council
For military action: US*, UK*, Spain and Bulgaria
Sceptics or opposed: France*, Russia*, China*, Germany and Syria
In doubt: Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea, Mexico and Pakistan
Nine votes and no veto required to pass a resolution

*veto-wielding countries

The general, who said he would send a detailed rebuttal of the charges to the UN, took issue with several pieces of alleged evidence presented by Mr Powell - in particular those seen as among the most impressive - the satellite pictures of alleged weapons facilities recently cleared.

"As if - if they contained chemical weapons - they could be so easily sanitised. And no evidence of materials that could be used to sanitise. It is ludicrous," he said.

Baghdad also denied any ties with the al-Qaeda terrorist network of Osama Bin Laden, a charge further detailed by President Bush on Thursday, but widely viewed with scepticism.

The general also said he was heartened that "so many people around the world" agreed Mr Powell's performance was a charade.

"The purpose of this show in the Security Council was mainly for home consumption for the uniformed, while at the same time undermining the competence of the IAEA and Unmovic in reaching a satisfactory conclusion," he said in reference to the nuclear and biological weapons teams searching the country.

However the heads of those agencies, Mr Blix of Unmovic and Mr ElBaradei of the IAEA, told Iraq on Thursday that time was running out.

"We hope that at this late hour they will come to a positive response. If they do not do that, then our reports next Friday will not be what they should be," said Mr Blix.

Open in new window : Powell's report
View the photographic evidence

Mr Blix stressed that Baghdad had provided inspections teams with prompt access to the sites they wished to visit.

But he made several demands:

  • that Iraq allow U-2 spy planes to fly over the country
  • present evidence that prohibited items have been destroyed
  • that inspectors be allowed to interview Iraqi scientists privately

The interviews have proved a major sticking point, with Baghdad previously maintaining that it was not able to force scientists to consent to private discussions.

But General al-Saadi's announcement that an interview was taking place without government monitors could prove to be a turning point, correspondents say.

No deal

Nato, meanwhile, failed on Thursday to reach a final agreement on a US request lodged last month for help in any war against Iraq, postponing the decision until next week.

However, Nato member Turkey - which borders Iraq - has agreed to allow the US to upgrade bases which could be used to strike their neighbour.

The BBC's Jonny Dymond in Istanbul says the parliamentary vote was the first in a series expected to culminate in the house giving the US permission to use Turkish territory and air bases, and, as such, is Turkey's first step towards war.

President George W Bush
"The regime is pursuing an elaborate campaign of hiding its weapons"
General Amer al-Saadi, Iraqi Presidential adviser
"We will send an official rebuttal to the UN"
Are you convinced by Powell's evidence?



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See also:

07 Feb 03 | Middle East
06 Feb 03 | Americas
06 Feb 03 | Americas
06 Feb 03 | Middle East
06 Feb 03 | Politics
06 Feb 03 | Middle East
05 Feb 03 | Americas
06 Feb 03 | Media reports
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