Iraqi officials pledged Tuesday to provide "full cooperation and full transparency" to U.N. experts trying to determine whether Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction, a senior U.N. official said, raising hopes among an advance team of inspectors that their mission could be spared the evasions that plagued similar previous efforts.
The inspectors logged their first full day of work here, with about two dozen technicians starting to rehabilitate offices that have lain dormant since the last inspectors pulled out of Iraq in 1998. The top two U.N. officials responsible for the process, chief weapons inspector Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, met with senior Iraqi officials, including Foreign Minister Naji Sabri and Gen. Amir Saadi, a presidential adviser coordinating Iraq's inspections policy.
Blix and ElBaradei said they left their meetings feeling optimistic that Iraqi officials understood the gravity of the situation and that they would attempt to comply with the rigorous inspections mandated by a U.N. Security Council resolution passed Nov. 8. Iraqi officials also promised to meet a Dec. 8 deadline set by the resolution for providing a full account of Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear facilities and programs, they said.
"Within 30 days, as the resolution says, a report from Iraq will be submitted on all the files, nuclear, chemical, biological and missile files. We are hopeful. We are in fact quite sure that things will work out much better than before," Saadi said.
Although Blix and ElBaradei said Iraq's pledges can be evaluated only after spot checks begin later this month, the U.N. mission has clearly commenced on a far more amicable footing than previous attempts, with both sides saying they will do their utmost to work with each other.
"In our meetings today, all Iraqi officials have committed to provide us with full cooperation and full transparency," ElBaradei said.
"We heard today from the Iraqi side that they will do _ and I think I'm quoting them correctly _ that they will do everything that is humanly possible to cooperate with both organizations to move forward," ElBaradei said. "We hope that we'll see that commitment translated into reality when we start our inspections."
During the first two days of their three-day visit to Baghdad, Blix and ElBaradei have refrained from delivering public warnings to Iraq that they won't abide by attempts to interfere with their work. Instead, they have emphasized their desire to be objective and unbiased, and they have said that compliance would result in the lifting of U.N. trade sanctions, something that Iraq has long sought.
Iraq has long insisted that it possesses no more weapons of mass destruction. But Blix suggested its officials take another look, indirectly pointing at a possible way to save face if Hussein's government feels it needs to revise its stand. "We have tried to impress upon them to look into their stocks and their stores to see if there is anything that should be declared," Blix said.
Blix and ElBaradei's conciliatory approach has differed from that of the Bush administration, which is pushing for early, intrusive inspections of presidential palaces and other sensitive sites. But aides to both men said it is essential to first build trust between the inspectors and the Iraqis.
One example of the differing approaches concerns antiaircraft fire on U.S. and British warplanes. In recent days, U.S. officials have asserted that Iraqi efforts to shoot down planes patrolling no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq constitute a breach of the U.N. disarmament resolution. Iraq considers the patrols a violation of its sovereignty and frequently shoots at allied planes.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan took issue with the Bush administration's interpretation, telling reporters in Kosovo: "I don't think the council will say that this is in contravention of the resolution that was recently passed."