Blix sees no new Iraqi cooperation
UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix said Thursday he has so far seen no evidence of a promised increase in Iraqi cooperation and that he is still considering Baghdad's offer to return for further discussions on disarmament.
Iraq asked Blix and International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei to return to Baghdad before February 10 to discuss issues the inspectors raised Monday before the U.N. Security Council. Blix and ElBaradei are scheduled to report again to the Security Council February 14.
Blix told the council Monday that Iraq has not fully accounted for its stocks of chemical and biological weapons and has not fully accepted its obligation to disarm under U.N. Resolution 1441.
Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz pledged Monday that his country would cooperate fully with U.N. inspectors but Thursday Blix said he had yet to see any change in the Iraqi stance.
Aziz said Monday that the only remaining issues between weapons inspectors and Iraq are overflights by U-2 spy planes and the private interviewing of Iraq scientists by inspectors.
But in a letter released Thursday from science adviser Gen. Amer al-Saadi inviting the monitoring chiefs to return, Iraq said it wants to "jointly study means of verification in disarmament issues" and to re-establish a "consolidated monitoring system."
Iraq's U.N. Ambassador Mohammed Aldouri delivered the letter to Blix personally Thursday evening, and spent about an hour inside Blix's office. Afterward, Aldouri said he hoped Blix and ElBaradei would return to Iraq.
"It's a question of war," Aldouri said. "We want them to come to Iraq to resolve differences."
But Blix said Thursday there had been no movement on the issues of the scientist interviews or U-2 flights.
"What we have said we need all the time is the presentation of more evidence -- that they have not been taking the questions seriously which were posed in the report with which they are familiar, and we would like to have responses to those questions," Blix said Thursday.
Also Thursday, world leaders continued a round of high-level consultations on the issue of Iraqi disarmament and President Bush Thursday for the first time said he would welcome a decision by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to go into exile.
Warning that the timetable for diplomacy was now "weeks not months" Bush said, "for the sake of peace, this issue must be resolved."
Speaking before meeting with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi at the White House, "Hopefully, it can be done peacefully. Hopefully, the pressure of the free world will convince Mr. Saddam Hussein to relinquish power.
"And should he choose to leave the country along with a lot of the other henchmen who have tortured the Iraqi people, we would welcome that, of course."
Bush's comments marked the first time he has endorsed the prospect of exile for Saddam. But, he added, "The goal of disarming Iraq remains the same, no matter who is in charge of the government."
Bush also met Thursday with Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal. Saudi Arabia is among several Arab nations trying to convince Saddam to step down.
The Bush administration is threatening military action if Iraq does not account for weapons of mass destruction and fully cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell will go before the U.N. Security Council February 5 and the White House has said he will present newly declassified intelligence the administration says shows Iraq has been keeping close tabs on weapons inspectors and racing to sanitize sites before they arrive for inspections.
Bush received a boost Thursday from Berlusconi and seven other European leaders, who declared their solidarity with the U.S. position.
In a statement published in newspapers across Europe, the leaders said the September 11 terror attacks on the United States "showed just how far terrorists -- the enemies of our common values -- are prepared to go."
"We know that success in the day-to-day battle against terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction demands unwavering determination and firm international cohesion on the part of all countries for whom freedom is precious," the statement said. (Full story)
CNN.com's Iraq Tracker has further developments in the standoff with Iraq.