UNITED NATIONS (AP) – The top U.N. inspectors urged Iraq yesterday to produce fresh evidence about its weapons programs and cooperate fully, warning that time is running out and this was probably the last chance to avoid war.
A day after reporting to the Security Council on the resumption of inspections two months ago, Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei said a change in Iraq’s attitude toward disarmament and inspections is the key to peace.
“The ball is entirely in Iraq’s court,” ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told CNN. “Iraq now has to prove that it is innocent. … They need to go out of their way to prove through whatever possible means that they have no weapons of mass destruction.”
Building a case for war in his annual State of the Union address to Congress, President Bush said the United States will present evidence to the United Nations that Iraq is developing weapons of mass destruction and has links to the al-Qaida terror network. Secretary of State Colin Powell will make the presentation on Feb. 4.
Blix told The Associated Press he would have asked for more time for inspections “if I were confident and sure that we would find answers in some months time – but I think that it still calls for a changed attitude on the part of the Iraqis, and I’m therefore not asking for it.”
Nonetheless, he said, “I would certainly welcome and accept that we continue the work that (the inspectors) have started. We just got up to speed.”
The two inspectors issued vastly different assessments on Iraq’s cooperation, and council members weighing the possibility of another Iraq war will get another chance to quiz them about their reports today.
The 15 members have had time to check with their capitals, and diplomats said the closed meeting should provide the first indication on where the 15 governments stand. This is critical for the United States if it wants U.N. authorization for any military action “yes” votes and no veto by a permanent member.
The five permanent members remain divided on how much time Iraq should be given to comply.