With U.N. inspectors hastening the pace of inspections in Iraq, the United Nations' chief arms inspector, Hans Blix, said today that he would conclude an initial review of Iraq's 12,000-page declaration on its deadliest weapons by Friday and present the entire U.N. Security Council with a censored version of the report as early as Monday.
The Swedish diplomat told representatives of the 15-nation council and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan at a luncheon today that he expected the United States and the council's other four permanent members to advise him over the next three days about what information should be edited from the declaration. Colombia, which is serving as the council's rotating president, granted the five veto-bearing nations the power to review the unedited declaration to help Blix ensure that sensitive weapons know-how does not fall into the hands of nations or organizations pursuing illicit weapons programs.
Blix told the council behind closed doors that he intended to censor key sections of the declaration, including designs for the production of nuclear weapons, plans for converting short-range missiles into long-range rockets, and a list of foreign companies that aided Iraq in its production of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, council diplomats said.
Bush administration officials indicated today that they would tell Blix before the end of the week what elements of the report should remain confidential. But the White House said it would be "a considerable period of time" before Washington would provide a definitive judgment of the voluminous Iraqi declaration. "This process will be thoughtful, it will be deliberative, and it will be careful," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.
Fleischer said that a team of Arab language translators and intelligence specialists from various agencies had begun combing through the massive declaration for evidence of inconsistencies or omissions that would constitute a violation of Iraq's disarmament obligations. "They are in the beginning of that process," he said. "We want to take a look at this in its entirety and see what it is that has been declared by Iraq as well as to understand what may not be included."
Iraq's Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, accused the United States of compelling the Security Council president, Alfonso Valdivieso of Colombia, to turn over the council's only copy of the declaration Sunday night and of tampering with it. "This is unprecedented extortion in the history of the United Nations," the Iraqi Foreign Ministry said.
At the request of the United States, Valdivieso decided to authorize Blix to hand over the council's copy of the declaration to the five permanent members of the council to help the inspectors determine whether sensitive weapons information was contained in the document. U.S. officials took the declaration to Washington and made copies for the other four permanent council members. The decision drew a strong protest from Syria, the council's only Arab member.
Blix said his initial review is focusing on a key 3,000-page section of the declaration. It includes information on Iraq's activities since U.N. inspectors left the country in December 1998, on the eve of a U.S. and British bombing raid. It includes fresh information about a host of sites that the United States suspects are fronts for the development of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. "The bottleneck, frankly, is translation," he told reporters after the meeting. "We have about 500 pages in Arabic which need to be translated."
Blix said he and Mohamed El Baradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, would provide the council on Dec. 19 with their first preliminary assessment of the substance of the Iraqi declaration. "What we are now focusing upon are the things that could be risky. . .cookbooks for [weapons] proliferation," Blix said. "By next week we will have some news on the substance."
Norway's U.N. ambassador, echoing concerns of some of the 10 rotating council members, said that the decision to limit distribution of the declaration to the permanent members of the council should not set a precedent. He said the council's veto-bearing members -- the United States, Russia, France, China and Britain -- should not be granted privileges denied to the rest of the council.
Staff writer Karen DeYoung contributed to this report from Washington.