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U.N. seeks names of Iraqis with information on weapons programs

UNITED NATIONS—United Nations weapons inspectors have called on Iraq to provide a list of people with knowledge of that country's efforts to develop nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, a U.N. official said Friday.

In a letter to Iraqi Gen. Hussam Amin, chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix requested a list of "names of all personnel currently and formerly associated with Iraq's chemical, biological, nuclear, and ballistic missile programs and the associated research, development, and production facilities." Inspectors are entitled to the information under a U.N. resolution that presents Iraq with a "final opportunity" to disarm.

The letter was sent on Thursday, and Iraq has until the end of the month to provide the information, said Ewen Buchanan, spokesman for the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, which Blix heads. He said Blix put the Iraqi government on notice last month that the inspectors would exercise their right to the information.

While inspectors already have begun compiling their own lists of people they would like to interview about Iraq's weapons programs, the list from Iraq could provide new names and aid the inspections process.

The United States has not yet provided UNMOVIC with a list of people it wants inspectors to interview, according to a U.N. diplomat who asked not to be identified.

In Baghdad, inspectors were unable to search several rooms at the Communicable Diseases Control Center because the two people on duty at the site on Friday, a Muslim holy day, did not have the keys. Inspectors sealed the doors and tagged them for later inspection. Other inspections were carried out at a plant involved in a missile program, and samples were taken at three water drainage facilities.

At the United Nations and in Washington, officials said initial reviews of the 12,000-page Iraqi declaration submitted last weekend have turned up little if any new information, noting that much of the document appears to repeat previous weapons declarations made by Saddam Hussein.

A senior U.S. official said the declaration provides no new information about the fate of chemical weapons, such as VX; biological weapons material; and banned missiles that the Iraqis never accounted for.

"I haven't heard of anything particularly, as in admissions of extraordinary stuff," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity. The official declined to provide details.

A British diplomat, who also requested anonymity, said first impressions of the document were that it didn't contain a "real shift of attitude towards inspections, which is what (U.N. Security Council Resolution) 1441 called for. And that does certainly signal that at some point inspections are likely to either find a lie, or probably more likely, hit a wall of obstruction."

The diplomat said the declaration had provided Iraq with a chance to "set the standard against which they were going to be judged by the inspectors. They could have decided, `Right, we're going to get caught out by inspections,' and come clean." Instead, the envoy said, "there's an awful lot of the same old material leaving an awful lot of the same old unanswered questions."

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said U.S. analysis of the Iraqi declaration was incomplete.

"One could even say that what's not in the document may be as important as what is in the document," he said. "And so we have to look at it from all points of view, and that is what we're doing."

Sean McCormack, the spokesman for the National Security Council, said the Bush administration would not comment on the declaration before it finished reviewing it. The White House is expected to make a public judgment on the declaration after U.N. weapons inspectors give the Security Council their preliminary impressions of it on Dec. 19.

UNMOVIC and the International Atomic Energy Agency are now reviewing Iraq's declaration to remove sensitive information such as recipes for dangerous weapons. Officials from the five permanent Security Council members—Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States—are reviewing the declaration and making suggestions on what to keep secret. Next week, a sanitized version will be distributed to the 10 elected members of the Security Council.


(c) 2002, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.