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Iraq actively cooperated, says Blix

By Masood Haider, DAWN,Thursday 06 March 2003 02 Muharram 1424

UNITED NATIONS, March 5: The chief UN weapons inspector, Hans Blix, said on Wednesday that Iraq had actively cooperated with the UN inspectors in the past months and expressed hope that Baghdad would continue to cooperate.

However, Mr Blix told a press briefing that all of Iraq's biological weapons had not been accounted for. While it was clear Iraq had dug up more biological arms recently, it doesn't mean you can say that all biological weapons are accounted for. No, we are not there yet, he said.

Asked whether he would ask for four more months of inspections in Iraq on the basis of the current level of cooperation, he responded: They have been very active, I would say, and even proactive in the last month or so, but in the past the track record was not so good and I would not want to suggest that I am confident that this will happen. I hope it will happen, he told reporters.

On the issue of the Al Samoud 2 missiles, which Iraq is destroying, Hans Blix told reporters: The missiles is real disarmament. Here weapons that can be used in war are being destroyed in fairly large quantities.

He also said seven Iraqi scientists have submitted to private interviews under his terms. Previously, scientists had either been questioned in the presence of Iraqi government officials or had tape-recorded the interviews.

Mr Blix said that he has asked an Arab country, which he did not identify, to host inspectors and potential Iraqi scientists who agree to be interviewed outside Iraq. He said Cyprus was also a possible location for conducting interviews and that several countries had offered asylum for any scientists who want to leave Iraq.

However, Mr Blix said some of his weapons experts were skeptical of Iraq's suggestion that they could verify Baghdad's claims to have dumped its biological materials more than a decade ago by digging in areas where the Iraqis say the dumping took place.

Mr Blix could not say whether he thought inspections would continue through the summer, given the massive US troop buildup in the region and the talk of war.