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Iraqi Press Conference

Aired January 16, 2003 - 11:00   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Up first this hour, tough talk coming from the U.N.'s chief weapons inspector about the situation in Iraq. Hans Blix says that Iraq must do more to cooperate with inspectors in order to avoid war. His blunt warning to Iraq this morning appears to move him much closer to the Bush team's position.
Our senior White House correspondent John King is covering the president in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Let's go to John now.

Hello, John.


Hans Blix, tough comments today, certainly move him closer rhetorically to the Bush administration, saying Saddam Hussein faces, and faces now, a stark choice -- reverse course, begin cooperating with the inspectors, show the evidence about the programs of weapons of mass destruction or face military confrontation.

The White House encouraged by the contrast put out starkly today by Dr. Blix, as he makes his way toward Baghdad. Still a dispute, though, between the administration and the chief weapons inspector over a timetable.

Dr. Blix is due to report to the Security Council in under two weeks, or just two weeks from now, on January 27th. The Bush administration says that is a key date. Dr. Blix is saying that under previous U.N. resolutions, there also should be reports in March and maybe beyond.

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters a short time ago that the events should dictate the timetable. Other senior officials telling us, privately, they're not interested in dragging on a sequence of reports into the spring and into the summer months. They believe there's mounting evidence of Iraq interfering, obstructing, not cooperating with the inspectors, and they believe that if that is the report Dr. Blix presents on January 27th, then soon thereafter, the international community must discuss whether it is time to move on to the next option, which, of course, would be military confrontation -- Leon.

HARRIS: All right, well, thanks, John. We're going to move on to the next stop now in this discussion. We go to Iraq north you, as John King just mentioned, Hans Blix, the U.N. weapons inspector is on his way to Iraq. And before he gets there, the Iraqi officials are talking about his pending visit.


UNKNOWN IRAQI OFFICIAL: ... and the forthcoming report on this period of two months of inspections, starting from the 27th of September up to the 27th of January, 2003.

This report is not the end of the activities, it is just one of the milestones. There's much work to do after that. There's a two- month period for elaborating a plan for addressing remaining questions on disarmament, and after approval of that plan by the Security Council there will be another period of intensive work together with our full cooperation, active cooperation to resolve those questions. And then, after that, the sanctions will be suspended in accordance with the resolution.

So far we are focused and engaged with implementing Security Council resolutions, 1441 and other resolutions mentioned in 1441. There's nothing in that work which is really -- it's all going well so far. There are some remarks here and there, some complaints here and there, but we expect to resolve those questions or complaints on Sunday and the next day.

So I'll ask my colleague to give you a rundown on the inspection activities so far, and then, after that, we'll try to answer your questions. Thank you.

GEN. HOSSAM AMIN, DIR., IRAQI NATL. MONITORING DIRECTORATE (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): It's been a month and a half since the start of the inspection. And it's been confirmed that Iraq is free of weapons of mass destruction. The number of teams working until now is 10.

The teams have collected samples from the sites and we have given them all the documents they've asked for. Some of these documents are not relevant to the work of the inspectors. They're preparing the declarations for the work. These declarations have covered all the sites, including the sites that contain missiles. The sites that have chemical capability have also been visited and their activity is being recorded.

Four hundred and fifty-six sites have been visited so far. Some of them have been visited on more than one occasion. It's been confirmed that Iraq has no illegal or prohibited activities. Tens of experts and backing staff have taken part in these visits and inspections. Sometimes the weather hindered the activity of the inspectors.

The area in Mosul and Arbil have been visited by the inspectors for the first time.

Thank you.

(INAUDIBLE) have passed since the beginning of the work of the inspectors in Iraq. The inspection teams continuing their activity in the Iraqi territories and they are convinced day after day that Iraq is empty of weapons of mass destruction. The total inspection teams that have been working in Iraq since the 27th of November is 10 inspection teams. Those (INAUDIBLE) are UNMOVIC teams and four teams of the Atomic Agency. The total sites which have been visited by those inspection teams (INAUDIBLE) is 380 sites. The unrelated sites -- I mean, the sites which have been inspected for the first time or they are unrelated to the monitoring plan is 62 sites. The total staff of the UNMOVIC and IAEA today is 230 persons; half of them are inspectors.

Inspection teams are continuing taking swabs and samples from sand, air, water and the plants. And they are continuing asking -- providing them with documents they see in the inspected sites. Those documents sometimes are not related, but Iraq is cooperating in this regard.

The commission and the Atomic Agency use helicopters for some inspections. The helicopters in Mosul is still working, and the multi-discipline inspection team which worked in Mosul visited Arbil this week.

There is one important point with regard to the semiannual declarations. Those semiannual declarations have to be presented by Iraq every six months with accordance to the monitoring plans attached to the Security Council Resolution 705. National Monitoring Directorate present the required declarations. And just to give you some figures to see the size of this information and (INAUDIBLE).

In the missile field, 57 sites have been (INAUDIBLE). The size of information is 17.4 megabytes. In the chemical field, 127 sites, 3.04 megabytes. Biologic field, 96 sites, the size of the information is about 60 megabytes. And the nuclear activities, the number of sites are 176, and the information size is 16 megabytes. Total is 456 sites and the information is 96.

I would like to reiterate that those sites are civilian sites, have no relation with weapon of mass destruction. But they are considered (INAUDIBLE) sites from the point of view of UNMOVIC and IAEA.

HARRIS: You're listening to General Hossam Amin describe the hundreds of sites that the U.N. weapons inspectors have inspected. Some of them, they've made multiple visits to some of those sites. Still, no news of a "smoking gun" at any of those sites. We did hear in the moments of the press conference here a description of perhaps a differing view of the process that the world now finds itself in. We hear these Iraqi officials describe this meeting, this briefing due by the Hans Blix's team with the U.N. Security Council coming up on the 27th, and he says -- we just heard this Iraqi official say that does not represented end. That's just one of the milestones, and then said we must have time to address remaining questions that the U.N. has. After that, will come a period of more intensive, active cooperation with the U.N.

The U.N., of course, right now, and Hans Blix specifically, saying we need that active cooperation right now. Hans Blix is traveling right now on his way to Baghdad. He'll be meeting with the officials, as well as others, no doubt.

And our Richard Roth, our U.N. correspondent, is also traveling with Hans Blix, and he joins us now from Paris to update us on what Hans Blix has been saying.

Richard, we've been hearing tougher words coming from Hans Blix in the last few hours.

RICHARD ROTH, CNN SR. U.N. CORRESPODNENT: Well, as Hans Blix nears Baghdad, which will come this weekend, his rhetoric on occasion is being stepped up. The chief weapons inspector for Iraq arrived first today in Brussels, where he met with Javier Solana, the high official for the European Union, not as many European countries as enthusiastic about U.S. might be should Baghdad continue to violate the Security Council resolutions. Blix arrived here in Paris an hour ago.

At a news conference in Brussels, Hans Blix said that his message to baghdad would be that the situation is very tense and, also, very dangerous. He told me on the train here to Paris, confirming that U.N. weapons inspectors had interviewed and gone into the homes of Iraqi scientists, which is definitely a new breakthrough in the work of the inspectors there. And overall, he says that Baghdad, it's in the best interest of the Iraqi government to cooperate, even when it comes to the scientists.


HANS BLIX, CHIEF U.N. WEAPONS INSP.: If iraq is absolutely sure that there is nothing that they have to hide, then they should be anxious that the interview is to speak without intimidation. One way would be to let them talk without anyone present, and the other one would be to accept that they go abroad if they want to do so.


ROTH: Blix has said that in the coming days, he may take the scientists out, but right now, on the ground, the inspectors have gone into homes, and Blix told me when I asked him what's the strategy was, he said we go to a lot of different sites. There are no sanctuaries in Iraq. If you go to a private house, for instance, it may be because you believe there could be some documents stored away, and you want to see if that's true and what they contain.

Of course, Hans Blix, Leon, has come under pressure in the last few days, once again, from the U.S., specifically national security advisor Condoleezza Rice, who met with Blix at the U.S. mission to the U.N. a couple days ago, and reportedly strictly told him that they -- the U.S. wants him to take scientists out. Blix continues to insist that the U.N. weapons agency is not an abduction agency. This will continue to play out in the days and weeks ahead -- Leon.

HARRIS: Well, that's going to be a difficult thing to happen -- that's going to be a difficulty that the inspection regime is going to have to deal with there in Iraq. But, Richard, meanwhile, back in New York at the U.N., the U.S. government is putting pressure, serious pressure, we're hearing, on the Security Council to forego or at least somehow, some way forget about or drop from the schedule this meeting or this briefing that Hans Blix is expecting to come back and give on March 27th. Did he say anything at all about what he expects to happen with that?

ROTH: Well, he is waiting for orders from his bosses, the 15 nations of the Security Council. Hans Blix has competing resolutions. The older one in 1999 was more of the carrot, telling Iraq if it complied in the field of disarmament, it could get sanctions suspended. This newer resolution, 1441, much tougher, threatening Iraq with serious consequences. So both resolutions give timetables for Blix to brief the council.

It gets a little confusing, but right now, the Security Council is being asked by the U.S. to, in effect, waive the old schedule that would have Blix come back in late March, because the U.S. wants to keep the drumbeat going and doesn't want to have more months drag on. They want to know from Blix immediately what is the level of the Iraqi cooperation and what they might be hiding.

HARRIS: Richard Roth, reporting live from Paris. Safe traveling, Richard.


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