WASHINGTON, Feb. 14 (UPI) -- The trouble with U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix's briefing to the Security Council Friday was that it had something for everybody. The members supporting continued inspections -- the majority -- could point to his report that Iraqi cooperation was improving to buttress their case.
Those who charged that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was in violation of Security Council Resolution 1441 could point to items unaccounted for after over three months and more than 400 unannounced inspections at over 300 sites.
In Resolution 1441 the Security Council requires Iraq to destroy its stocks of biological and chemical weapons, dismantle its nuclear weapons program and eliminate missiles with a greater range of 150 kilometers, or about 93 miles.
But so far, Blix does not know the whereabouts of thousands of liters of anthrax and VX nerve gas and the chemical precursors and growth media necessary to make more of them.
"How much, if any, is left of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and related proscribed items and programs?" Blix asked the Security Council Friday. "So far, (U.N. inspections) have not found any such weapons, only a small number of empty chemical munitions, which should have been declared and destroyed."
This does not mean that Blix is convinced these items are destroyed. "I can understand that it may not be easy for Iraq in all cases to provide the evidence needed," he said. And, crucially, he added: "It is not the task of the inspectors to find it. Iraq itself must squarely tackle this task and avoid belittling the questions," he said.
It is precisely these unanswered questions that form the basis of the indictment the United States, Britain, Spain, Mexico and Chile made Friday at the United Nations against Saddam's regime.
As U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told the Security Council, "Not withstanding all of the lovely rhetoric, the questions remain. ... We haven't accounted for the anthrax. We haven't accounted for the botulinum, VX, both biological agents, growth media, 30,000 chemical and biological munitions."
Mohammed al-Douri, the Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations, gave the by now standard Iraqi retort. The inspectors can't find them because they are not there. "Iraq has genuinely decided to prove it is free of weapons of mass destruction," he said.
Free or not, this has not stopped Iraq from making other concessions in the last three weeks to the inspections process. To start, Saddam has allowed some of his scientists to give interviews to Blix's men without Iraqi minders. Blix however said that the scientists tape recorded these conversations, suggesting that they would share them with Iraqi government minders later.
The Iraqis have said they would allow aerial surveillance of their country, so long as British and U.S. fighters patrolling the northern and southern thirds of Iraq cease their bombings. Iraqi officials have recently provided new documentation to the weapons inspectors. And Saddam himself issued an executive order Friday banning the import and production of weapons of mass destruction.
These steps are all cause for optimism for the bloc of countries within the United Nations convinced that the United Nations should avoid the "serious consequences" clause tucked into the Resolution 1441 at this time. Dominique de Villepin, the French foreign minister, said Friday that the inspections were getting results and should be allowed to continue. He added that premature military action would call into question the unity of the international community. His Russian counterpart, Igor Ivanov went so far as to say the inspections were "moving in the right direction."
The Russian and French response to the Blix report should come as no surprise. Both countries along with Germany this week trotted out their leaders to call for no military action. The French and Germans have prepared a new proposal to triple the number of inspectors on the ground in Iraq and even establish a new U.N. court to adjudicate claims from U.N. Security Council members and the Iraqis.
The question for the United Nations now is how it reads the resolution it passed back on Nov. 7 after two months of wrangling. On whether or not to go to war, the relevant passage is Paragraph 2. It says Iraq is given a "final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations." The paragraph also says the United Nations "decides to set up an enhanced inspection regime with the aim of bringing to full and verified completion the disarmament."
Powell said Friday that such language is enough to commence the toppling of Saddam's regime. "(Resolution) 1441 is about disarmament and compliance and not merely a process of inspections that goes on forever without ever resolving the basic problem," he said. The rest of the world is listening because his government has over 150,000 troops ready to resolve that basic problem.