Blix challenges US and British claims on Iraq

 

The UN's chief arms inspector has accused the United States and British governments of not providing enough intelligence to help his team search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Dr Hans Blix, who last night submitted his assessment of Iraq's armaments declaration to the UN Security Council, said his inspectors were not receiving the support they needed from the western powers.

"If the UK and the US are convinced (that Iraq has weapons) and they say they have evidence, then one would expect that they would be able to tell us where this stuff is," he said.

Western intelligence sources could provide essential information, he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, adding: "The most important thing that governments like the UK or the US could give us would be to tell us sites where they are convinced that they keep some weapons of mass destruction. This is what we want to have."

Asked if he was getting that co-operation, Dr Blix said: "Not very much, not yet. I hope we will and now that we are in full operation I hope it will come.

"We get a lot of briefings about what they believe the Iraqis have but what you really need is the indication of the place where it is stored, if they know it. "They have all the methods to listen to telephone conversations, they have spies, they have satellites so they have a lot of sources which we do not have.

"We get some but we don't get all the support we need."

Discussions on the matter in London and Washington had been "encouraging", Dr Blix added.

The chief inspector, submitting his assessment to the Security Council yesterday, said the 12,000-page Iraqi declaration gave him no "confidence that no weapons of mass destruction programmes remain". US Secretary of State Colin Powell said Saddam Hussein's failure to provide a full declaration placed him in "material breach" of UN resolution 1441 on disarmament.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw warned that any hitch in the inspections process could prompt an attack and that Saddam now had his "finger on the trigger of war". The allies want Iraq to account for vast quantities of chemical and biological weapons material uncovered by inspectors before their expulsion in 1998.

The 360-tonne stockpile includes 1.5 tonnes of the deadly VX nerve agent and ingredients capable of producing three times more anthrax than Iraq admits to manufacturing. Current inspections may now be stepped up and plans to take scientists and their families abroad for questioning will prove a key test of Iraqi willingness to comply.

Mr Powell said Iraq's declaration on weapons was "anything but current, accurate, full or complete". It totally failed to meet the resolution's requirements. "These are material omissions that in our view constitute another material breach."

That phrase has been seen as the trigger for military action but Mr Straw said a second "material breach" was needed. "There has already been one trigger pulled. They now, in a sense, have their finger on the other trigger. "The choice now as to whether this issue is resolved peacefully or the international community is forced to solve it by military action is a choice before Saddam Hussein."

PA