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Iraq to get passing grade

| Saturday, Jan. 25, 2003

VIENNA, Austria — The head of the U.N. nuclear agency will tell the Security Council on Monday that Saddam Hussein has done a "quite satisfactory" job of cooperating with inspectors in some areas but that they need more time to complete their search.

The White House dismissed the favorable assessment, but a senior U.S. official said the Bush administration was considering agreeing to let the inspections go on longer as a means of reassuring anxious European allies following a rift that broke out this week with France and Germany.

At the United Nations, key Security Council members — France, China, Russia, Germany, Mexico and now even staunch U.S. ally Britain — insisted that inspectors deserve more time for their disarmament work and that war must wait.

While other U.N. Security Council members are seeking ways to delay military conflict, the president will say in his Sate of the Union address Tuesday that the United States is getting ready for an invasion, White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett said yesterday. But the president won't go so far as to declare war on Iraq, he said.

"This is an opportunity for him to talk directly to the public about the prospect of war, to talk about why the world came together in the first place requiring the disarmament of this regime," Bartlett said. "This is not a declaration speech. This is not a speech where he will be declaring war."

In remarks to the Security Council on Monday, U.N. nuclear chief Mohamed ElBaradei will say his inspectors have gotten generally good cooperation from the Iraqis, spokesman Mark Gwozdecky said.

"Their report card will be a 'B' — quite satisfactory," he said.

However, White House spokesman Sean McCormack said: "It's pass-fail. Iraq either is in compliance or not. And so far Iraq has failed to pass the test."

European leaders, meanwhile, moved to calm the tensions with Washington.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said although there was "growing support" in Europe for Germany's position, his country's toughened stance against war "won't destroy the German-American relationship."

"We need to cool off on statements and rationalize," said the European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana.

Signaling the serious consequences of a potential military action, the State Department yesterday told its embassies around the world to alert U.S. citizens living and traveling abroad to be prepared for possible evacuation.

In the case of a war on Iraq, there is increased concern about possible retaliation against Americans. "If you're talking, as we are, about possible military action, it usually results in drawdowns or evacuations at a number of embassies around the world," a State Department official said.

In Iraq, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's son Uday added to those anxieties, warning that if Iraq is attacked, the United States would suffer calamities that would make Sept. 11 look like a "picnic."

On Monday, ElBaradei will argue that the inspectors, who returned to Iraq in November after a four-year break, need at least several more months, Gwozdecky said. ElBaradei will also say that the Iraqis "need to help themselves" by pointing the experts in the right direction.

ElBaradei, director-general of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, will brief the council on nuclear issues. Chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix will brief the council on Iraq's biological, chemical and missile programs.

Like ElBaradei, Blix is expected to praise the access Iraq has accorded inspectors. But he has increasingly criticized Baghdad over the past week for a number of failings, including blocking inspectors from using an American-made U-2 reconnaissance plane.

Blix will spend the weekend working on his presentation, which will build on an assessment he presented to the council on Jan. 9 in which he said inspectors hadn't found any "smoking gun" in Iraq.

Since then, his teams have uncovered 16 warheads which he said Iraq didn't adequately account for in its 12,000-page arms declaration. Inspectors also uncovered some 3,000 pages of documents at the home of an Iraqi scientist, some of which Blix said should have been mentioned in the weapons declaration as well.

Gwozdecky, the head IAEA spokesman, said ElBaradei will make a case for additional pressure on Baghdad to encourage Iraqi scientists to consent to private interviews with the U.N. inspectors. So far, the scientists have refused.

Iraq said the United Nations had asked to interview three scientists today. At least six others have refused to be interviewed without an Iraqi official present.

At the White House, spokesman Ari Fleischer said Bush considers the failure of Iraq to make its scientists fully available to U.N. inspectors “unacceptable.”

Maggie Farley of the Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.

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