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Swiss weapons inspector praises Iraqi compliance

Rolf List says the UN needs another year to complete its inspections Keystone

A Swiss disarmament expert has praised Iraq for its cooperation during United Nations inspections in the country.

Arriving back in Switzerland after a three-month assignment, Rolf List said his team had encountered no difficulties in gaining access to any suspected weapons sites.

List said that Iraqi authorities did not attempt to prevent his team from entering any of the sites they wanted to inspect, even when they were given only ten minutes’ notice.

“We always had immediate access to all the sites we went to inspect,” he told swissinfo. “They [the Iraqis] were very cooperative.”

The specialist Swiss customs official worked in a team searching for biological and dual-use weapons – goods and facilities that can be used for both civilian and military purposes.

The inspections took place under United Nations resolution 1441, which states that Iraq must allow inspectors to search the country for banned weapons of mass destruction. Baghdad has been threatened with military action if it fails to comply.

List’s team searched more than 100 sites, including civilian installations such as breweries, factories and universities, as well as military sites.

Weapons inspections

Responding to media criticism that it would be impossible to inspect all potential weapons dumps, List stressed that the inspectors had access to any site they chose. He said he did not believe the Iraqis were hiding anything.

The customs expert added his voice to those demanding that inspectors be given more time to continue searching for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

“War is no solution,” he said. “About a year should be enough.”

List cast doubt on United States claims that Iraq has been lying to inspectors in denying it has any banned weapons. He stressed that the searches have found nothing incriminating, although he added that this could change with further inspections.

“As Hans Blix has said, we haven’t yet found the smoking gun, but maybe later,” he added.

War and peace

However, List believes a US-led war against Iraq is now a more likely outcome than peace – a sentiment shared by the Iraqi people he encountered.

“The Iraqi people are prepared for war, they think war will come,” he said.

If inspections are allowed to continue, however, List may soon be re-joining his team. The Swiss foreign ministry said he could be sent back to Baghdad if the UN Security Council decides to extend the deadline for the inspections.

List, who comes from Basel, is one of only two Swiss with United Nations weapons inspections training.

Diplomatic battle

The Security Council is currently divided over whether to continue weapons inspections in Iraq or whether the use of force is now necessary.

The United States, Britain and Spain claim that Iraq can only be successfully disarmed by force, while France, Russia and China want to give inspectors more time to carry out their work. Other council members remain undecided.

Amid intensive lobbying, the US and Britain have delayed a Security Council vote on their proposed second UN resolution which is widely expected to pave the way for military action.

On Tuesday Washington rejected a proposal to extend the deadline for Baghdad to disarm, adding that members would be asked to vote on the new resolution before the end of the week.

swissinfo, Vanessa Mock and Joanne Shields

Rolf List, a Swiss disarmament expert, has spent the past three months working in a United Nations weapons inspections team in Iraq.

List described the Iraqis as very cooperative, adding his team had access to any sites they wished to search.

He said the United Nations Security Council should give inspectors at least another year to search Iraq, but believed that war is now more likely than a peaceful resolution.

The United Nations Security Council is currently divided over whether inspections should continue or whether to sanction a United States- led invasion of Iraq, to disarm the country by force.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR