| Hans Blix
Larnaca (Cyprus), Nov. 17 (Reuters): UN arms inspectors gathered in Cyprus to relaunch the search in Iraq for weapons of mass destruction today, vowing not to take no for an answer if they wanted to inspect a site.
Leaders of the first arms inspectors since the last ones left in 1998 complaining that President Saddam Hussein would not cooperate, said Iraq’s fate — lifting of sanctions or war — depended on its hiding nothing.
Just hours before chief weapons inspector Hans Blix touched down at the main airport in Cyprus, US and British warplanes bombed an air defence system in northern Iraq after Iraqi forces fired at the jets in a “no-fly” zone, the US military said.
“We’re on our way to a new chapter of inspections in Iraq,” Blix, a 74-year-old Swede, told reporters gathered for his arrival at Larnaca airport today with Mohamed ElBaradei, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
There was a buzz of action at the three-star Flamingo Beach Hotel on Larnaca’s seafront as inspectors and other staff arrived on the Mediterranean island from all over the world. They were due to leave for Baghdad tomorrow.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Saddam would be making the mistake of his life if he stopped inspectors looking for biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.
“He mustn’t believe, because he would be making the mistake of his life, that he can mess the international community about yet again,” Straw told Britain’s Sky News today. When asked how sure he would be that Iraq was not concealing weapons, ElBaradei said: “We do not take ‘no’ for an answer. We have to verify a ‘no’ is actually a ‘no’.”
“This is an opportunity for peace. I hope Iraq will make full use of it. It’s an opportunity for Iraq if fully cooperative... to come back to be fully members of the international community and to eventually eliminate sanctions.”
Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz said that while Iraq was ready to comply fully, the results would expose as lies US charges that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
Aziz warned that if the US and Britain “wage a war against Iraq, consequences will be very bad to them and their friends in the region”.
“We will provide immediate access. We have given instructions to all responsible people and many government areas to respond immediately to any request to enter their sites and inspect them,” Aziz told London Weekend Television’s Jonathan Dimbleby programme today.
But Aziz said inspectors should not think they can just barge into sites: “When you go to a site, the site has a gate. The gate has to be opened and that who opens the gate should know who is coming. This is common sense.”
Blix warned that even a 30-minute delay in granting access to a suspect site would be regarded as a serious violation.
But Britain’s Straw left some leeway for the Iraqis. “Of course there is a difference between some technical, inadvertent breach and some deliberate material breach,” he said.
Blix said the team of 30 inspectors who would travel with him and ElBaradei to Baghdad would devote themselves first to working out logistics.