Blix to tell UN Iraq report incomplete, but no war as yet

NO MATERIAL BREECH: Iraq's declaration of its weapons might be incomplete but that does not give the green light for military operations


Fri, Dec 20, 2002 - Page 1

The UN's chief weapons inspector was set to give his first assessment of Iraq's arms declaration yesterday, which both the US and Britain have already said is full of holes.

But Britain, Washington's main ally in the Iraqi stand-off, said the omissions would not be an immediate trigger for war.

Chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix was expected to tell the UN Security Council that Iraq has left questions unanswered in its 12,000-page weapons declaration.

But he was unlikely to go as far as saying Iraq was in violation of a UN resolution on disarmament, as the US appears set to do once Blix has spoken.

US President George W. Bush has threatened to disarm Iraq by force if it does not come clean on whether it has weapons of mass destruction or is trying to acquire them.

But it remains unclear whether Washington will declare Iraq in "material breach" of the resolution -- language that could ultimately lead to war.

Britain said yesterday that Iraqi leader President Saddam Hussein was not in material breach "so far," but that his arms declaration had big gaps.

"It looks as though they have not put in the complete full and accurate disclosure that they are required to," Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said.

But Straw said British troops would not be going to war "tomorrow" and Britain's "absolute clear preference" was for any military action to carry a second UN resolution.

US officials also insisted on Wednesday that any violation would not be an immediate case for war.

The UN resolution adopted last month gave Baghdad one last chance to disarm or face "serious consequences".

It required Iraq to declare all its nuclear, chemical, biological and ballistic weapons programs and related materials.

Baghdad has repeatedly denied it has any banned weapons.

Blix was to give his assessment of the Iraqi dossier with Mohamed ElBaradei, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Diplomats said Blix, who heads the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, would report that Iraq had left the same gaps in its declaration on chemical and biological weapons and ballistic missiles as it did in 1998.

ElBaradei will also say he is missing data.

US and British officials say Iraq has not accounted for chemical and biological agents the previous weapons inspectors asked about when they left in 1998.

These include 550 mustard-gas shells, 150 aerial bombs that could be filled with chemical or biological agents, 200 tonnes of complex growth media that could be used to nourish biological weapons and 200 tonnes of chemicals for the nerve agent VX.

Syria said on yesterday it had instructed its representatives at the UN in New York to boycott Security Council talks on Iraq's arms declaration in protest against receiving an excised copy of the text.