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CNN SUNDAY MORNING

Weapons Inspectors Continue Their Work

Aired December 8, 2002 - 08:09   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

CATHERINE CALLAWAY, CNN ANCHOR: Earlier this morning, Saddam Hussein's massive declaration of his weapons program left Baghdad and is now headed to U.N. headquarters. Iraq saying that the report is currently accurate and will show that it has no weapons of mass destruction.
Let's go right to CNN's Nic Robertson who has been following all this from Baghdad. Nic, I understand weapons inspectors got right back to work today. In fact, they headed to, was it a pesticide factory?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They went to two sites today. One was a geological institute in Baghdad. Now, that was the nuclear inspectors going there. The other team went to a placed called Faluja (ph), west of Baghdad. Now, that is a chemical industry site, very, very big site, actually. There are three different plants there. One of them producing pesticides.

But what makes it interesting to the U.N. inspectors is it's a place U.N. inspection teams believe has been used to produce precursor chemicals for Iraq's chemical warfare program in the past. And there's another plant there as well, a castor bean plant. Now, castor beans sound pretty innocuous, but when they're ground down, they can be made into a product called ricin (ph), which is a deadly bio warfare agent. There is no known cure for the ricin (ph) biological warfare agent. They were at those sites today. Apparently, again, getting good cooperation, completing their work. We don't yet have a full readout of what they've been doing there, but that would have likely been their interest at those sites, Catherine.

CALLAWAY: Nic, I know you've been with these inspectors. What was their reaction, if anything, to these lengthy documents? I know it's going to take some time to go through them. What was their reaction to them? Is it going to slow them down at all while they wait on these to be read through?

ROBERTSON: What they've been telling us is that it's probably going to be several weeks before even they, the inspectors here on the ground, really get a good readout of what's been declared in this documentation or what relevance it may have to them. We're told it could be several weeks before we even see them react to any of it and go to a new site. So really, the guys here, the inspectors here on the ground are going to be the last people almost in the chain of the U.N. sort of information command, if you will, to know the detail and substance of what's in there. Interestingly, the nuclear experts, some of the team members working on the ground here, they will get to go to Vienna to their headquarters and look through the documentation there. They already have a huge accounting from Iraq in the past of its nuclear programs, so they'll be making close comparison with the new documentation -- Catherine.

CALLAWAY: But no doubt, Nic, that many of those inspectors wanted to sit down and take a look at some of those documents before getting back to work. What -- we understand more inspectors have actually arrived now?

ROBERTSON: Twenty-five more arrived in the last hour. We're told there are going to be more arriving this week. That will increase the number of teams. Currently, we've been seeing about two teams go out every day. We're told we can expect that to go up to four pretty soon, and eight fairly soon after that. That will really speed up the U.N.'s work here.

Another thing that's going to help them, one of their helicopters arrived in yesterday. They will eventually have a fleet of eight helicopters. We should see them U.N. inspectors then really rapidly deployed to some of the further extremities of the country, up to Mosel (ph) in the north and Basra in the south.

So far these places have a lot of interest to them, but they haven't been there yet -- Catherine.

CALLAWAY: Nic, what are they saying about the cooperation of Iraqi authorities so far? Surprising cooperation?

ROBERTSON: They don't characterize it. Really, the impression we get from the inspectors here is that they know they're treading a very tricky diplomatic line. And they don't really want to do anything that may harm their inspection process.

What we are being told, is very simply that they get good cooperation. We don't know the details, the nuts and bolts of what happens inside the offices when they want this drawer unlocked or want to know where this piece of equipment is. It is very, very simply put to us. And that appears to be because they recognize that this is a very, very delicate situation for them.

CALLAWAY: All right. Nic Robertson, following this for us in Baghdad. Thank you, Nic.

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