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  Nuclear Inspectors Praise Iraq

By Waiel Faleh
Associated Press Writer
Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2001; 9:19 a.m. EST

BAGHDAD, Iraq –– U.N. nuclear experts praised Iraq for cooperating with an inspection completed Wednesday, but refused to say whether they had found any evidence Iraq was restarting banned weapons programs.

The visit came as Iraq prepared to sit down with the United Nations to determine whether broader monitoring of its nuclear and other weapons programs could resume, and as the new U.S. administration made clear it will take a hard line on Iraq.

Iraq also said Wednesday that it would welcome a U.N. team to work out how to spend $530 million authorized by the United Nations for use in rebuilding the country's ailing oil industry.

Under the U.N. oil-for-food program, Iraq can sell its oil but its proceeds, monitored by the United Nations, must go for humanitarian needs and other specific uses. Iraq is under sanctions that can only be lifted once U.N. inspectors confirm it has ended its programs to develop chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

Almost all of those inspections have been halted since 1998, when the U.N. inspection team pulled out of Iraq ahead of U.S.-British bombings. It has not been allowed back since.

The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, however, has continued its inspections focusing on Iraq's nuclear capabilities. Last year it said in a report that it couldn't be sure that Iraq wasn't rearming.

Ahmed Abu Zahra, head of the four-man IAEA team, said that in its latest visit, "everything went well, we found good cooperation from our counterparts in Iraq and from the Iraqi Atomic Energy Organization."

But he refused to comment when asked whether the group had found evidence Iraq was rehabilitating its nuclear weapons facilities.

Abu Zahra said the team had inspected and measured nuclear material containing low enriched, natural and depleted uranium. He said the data collected would be further analyzed and the results made public later.

In talks with the United Nations scheduled to begin Feb. 26, Iraq is hoping to move toward ending the sanctions, while the United Nations will push for the return of weapons inspectors. Iraq has demanded that sanctions be lifted immediately, saying it has rid itself of its weapons of mass destruction.

U.S. intelligence reports suggest that Iraq has been rebuilding plants capable of producing chemical or biological weapons – a claim Iraq denied Tuesday, calling it the "first lie" of the newly-inaugurated administration of President Bush.

Iraqi Oil Minister Amer Mohammed Rashid said U.N. experts would arrive in mid-February to discuss plans on boosting Iraq's oil exports with the $530 million authorized by the U.N. Security Council in December.

Rashid said Baghdad wants rebuild a pipeline though Syria and build a new one through Jordan.

Iraq exports its oil from two terminals approved by the United Nations: the southern terminal of Mina al-Bakr on the Persian Gulf and Turkey's Ceyhan terminal on the Mediterranean.

Iraq has begun work on its side of a pipeline to Jordan's Red Sea port of Aqaba, but the Jordanians have yet to start building their side of the pipeline. A pipeline through Syria to a Lebanese port on the Mediterranean lays idle.

© Copyright 2001 The Associated Press

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