UNITED NATIONS, June 5 (UPI) -- The top U.N. Iraq weapons inspector Thursday cautioned the Security Council against jumping to conclusions just because weapons of mass destruction were unaccounted for by the regime of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and have yet to be found.
However, Executive Chairman Hans Blix of the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, retiring at the end of the month, told reporters that he left later private consultations with the panel his old Boy Scout motto, "Be Prepared."
The previously retired head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, brought back from retirement for the Iraq assignment, replied, "I am not abandoning my interests in how do we prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction." when asked if he would return should the council seek his help at a later date.
"I trust that in the new environment in Iraq, in which there is full access and cooperation, and in which knowledgeable witnesses should no longer be inhibited to reveal what they know, it should be possible to establish the truth we all want to know," Blix, 74, had told the panel in an open meeting of the council.
He was formally presenting his latest quarterly report, the 13th, sent to members earlier in the week and reported by United Press International.
Blix said the commission, which worked in Iraq from Nov. 27 to March 18, the eve of coalition-initiated hostilities, had found no evidence of the continuation or resumption of programs of weapons of mass destruction or significant quantities of proscribed items, such as biological or chemical ingredients.
"As I have noted before, this does not necessarily mean that such items could not exist," he said. "They might -- there remain long lists of items unaccounted for -- but it is not justified to jump to the conclusion that something exists just because it is unaccounted for."
On the other hand, noting that the long list of proscribed items unaccounted for had not been shortened by inspections or Iraqi explanations, Blix said it was the Iraqis' task to present unaccounted items if they existed, or provide the evidence that they did not.
"If -- for whatever reason -- this is not done, the international community cannot have confidence that past programs or any remaining parts of them have been terminated," he said.
After Iraq's 1990 invasion of neighboring Kuwait, leading to the Gulf War the following year, council sanctions were imposed and Baghdad was ordered to rid itself of weapons of mass destruction. The inspections that began in 1991 were suspended in December 1998 by an allied bombing raid in retaliation for non-cooperation with the previous inspection regime known by the acronym, UNSCOM.
On the issue of mobile laboratories for banned weapons, which forces from the United States said they recently found, Blix said the Iraqis had not reported anything like that. At least the pictures Baghdad had provided did not match descriptions and pictures recently made available to the commission as well as to the media by Washington.
Blix said UNMOVIC remained ready to resume work in Iraq as an independent verifier or to conduct long-term monitoring, should the council so decide. The commission was being downsized.
The United States has said it sees no immediate role for U.N. weapons inspectors. Although, just this week it allowed in an IAEA inspection team just to check on Iraq's looted nuclear research center.
"The core expertise and experience available within UNMOVIC remain a valuable asset, which the Security Council could use where the services of an independent body would be required for verification or monitoring," Blix reported to the council. "This might be of particular value in the field of biological weapons and missiles for which there exists no international verification organization."
Outside the chamber, Blix told reporters: "My immediate plans are to go home. I came here, I hoped it would be for a year, a year and half and it's now over three years. So I do long for picking both my mushrooms and I'm extending to blueberries, but I also said to the council that yes, I am not abandoning my interests in how do we prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction or indeed the elimination, not just the spread but the elimination of them in the world."
The slightly rumpled, professor-like Blix, usually smiling, then expressed his philosophy on WMD, the verbal shorthand used for weapons of mass destruction in the halls of U.N. headquarters.
"Whether it be through states or it be to terrorists, this is a task that we can see ... most lately where there is a great interest in them," he said. "I have been dealing with inspections since the beginning of the 1980s and the IAEA."
He reflected on inspections in those days and the state of the art now, much easier with helicopters and ground penetrating radar.
"Inspections, however is sort of the third approach to the prevention of weapons of mass destruction," he said. "The first one, we must never forget is foreign policy and security policy. That is for you to take away the incentive to go for weapons of mass destruction.
"If countries are secure, they do not have the same incentive," said Blix. "Therefore, the roadmap of peace is fundamental. I think the question of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East and the question of a security guarantees for North Korea is fundamental for the solution of the question of weapons of mass destruction in that area."
For his part, British Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock told reporters his ideas on the search for WMD.
"The most particular important element ... that we need to pursue on the ground is the intellectual evidence, that of people who have been in the programs who have stories to tell who have been inhibited from telling those stories, may still feel inhibited ... but who definitely have a story to tell about what has happened to those weapons of mass destruction against the background of evidence that we have through UNMOVIC's work and through our own intelligence and other sources," said London's envoy.
Both Greenstock and U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte echoed the counseling of their capitals to "be patient" during the search for weapons of mass destruction.
"We're in the earlier phase of this at the moment, which is the search and inspection phase," Washington's envoy told reporters. "I think that one thing I can assure you of is that there will be utmost transparency and when there is anything that needs to be shared, both with the international community and the public, I'm sure that we will do so."
After the formal meeting, followed by the consultations, the president of the council for June, Ambassador Sergei Lavrov of Russia, said members paid tribute to Blix for his leadership and dedication in guiding the work of UNMOVIC in pursuit of the disarmament of Iraq.
Council members "expressed their sincere gratitude to Dr. Hans Blix for his service, and appreciation for the efforts undertaken by him and his team to implement the mandate of UNMOVIC in accordance with the Security Council's resolutions," he said in a statement read aloud to reporters.