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US scrambling to keep upperhand on Iraq...

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U.S. fears inspection whitewash, could press for Blix replacement

SPECIAL TO WORLD TRIBUNE.COM

Thursday, November 14, 2002

As the United Nations prepares to send weapons inspectors to Iraq next week, U.S. officials are expressing concerns that the regime of President Saddam Hussein will be given a clean bill of health.

Officials said a 24-member delegation will arrive on Monday in Baghdad. The delegation will be headed by UN weapons inspections chief Hans Blix and Atomic Energy Agency secretary-general Mohamed El Baradei.

The first inspections could resume by the end of the month. Intrusive inspections are not expected to begin until next year and El Baradei said the effort could take up to a year, Middle East Newsline reported. The first UN report on Iraqi weapons is scheduled to be submitted by the end of February.

U.S. officials said they have serious doubts about the validity of the inspections process. They said the focus of their worry is Blix, who is regarded as vulnerable to Iraqi manipulation and might determine that Baghdad has cooperated with inspectors.

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The Bush administration could press for the replacement of Blix, an official said. The official said this would depend on the result of Blix's behavior during his trip to Baghdad next week.

"This is not a matter of having to go play cat and mouse games with Iraq," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. "Iraq is required to demonstrate active cooperation and we should be able to see if they are truly that, we should be able to see that kind of pattern develop."

The team will reopen its office in an effort to resume activity since the departure of the inspectors in December 1998. Most of the inspectors — 14 — will come from the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission [uNMOVIC]. The rest of the delegation will come from the IAEA.

"It's a time-consuming process, and it takes patience," former UN weapons inspections chief Rolf Ekeus said. "It took us four years to discover a major biological program. Now we've had four years of [iraqi] activity. Maybe it will take two years [to find the post-1998 programs]."

Seven of the 270 staffers in UNMOVIC are composed of nationals from Jordan and Morocco. Arab nationals comprise four of 20 IAEA inspectors.

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El Baradei met Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation John Wolf to discuss the modalities of the inspections. Boucher said El Baradei will also discuss North Korea's nuclear program with U.S. officials.

Earlier, Iraq relayed to UN secretary-general Kofi Annan its unconditional acceptance of the latest Security Council resolution. The resolution, largely composed by Britain and the United States, warns of unspecified "serious consequences" if Iraq fails to fully report its weapons of mass destruction.

"We are prepared to receive the inspectors within the assigned timetable," Iraqi envoy Mohammed Al Douri said Wednesday. "We are eager to see them perform their duties in accordance with international law as soon as possible."

In a related development, the United States has expressed disappointment with what officials termed Ukraine's failure to disclose its arms exports to Iraq. Washington said Ukraine exported the advanced Kolchuga radar to Baghdad.

"We were disappointed that the team did not receive full cooperation and transparency that was promised by Ukrainian authorities when they invited us to send a team to investigate the Kolchuga question," Boucher said. "Of course, we'll have to factor in that cooperation and the team's findings into U.S. bilateral relations and their policy review."

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