(CNSNews.com) - Chief U.N. Weapons Inspector Hans Blix says two weeks after he last reported to the U.N. Security Council, it's not what inspectors have seen that concerns them - it's what remains unaccounted for.
In his much-anticipated "progress report" to the U.N. Security Council Friday, Blix said UN inspectors have not found any Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, if they still exist. He said inspectors did find a "small number of empty chemical munitions," which should have been destroyed.
However, Blix added, "many proscribed items and weapons are not accounted for."
Blix said he can't jump to the conclusion that Iraq still has proscribed weapons. However, he admitted, it's possible. "If they exist, they should be presented for destruction. If they do not exist, credible evidence to that effect should be presented.
"In the current situation, I would expect Iraq to be eager to comply," he said.
On the issues of anthrax, VX nerve agent, and long-range missiles, Blix said Iraq must be more forthcoming in providing evidence needed to satisfy the inspectors. "It is not the task of inspectors to find such evidence, he said. "Iraq itself must squarely tackle this task and avoid belittling the questions."
Blix said Iraq does have missiles that exceed the permissible range set by the Security Council, and he also noted that Iraq has a missile casting-chamber, which inspectors previously ordered destroyed. Said Blix, "Iraq has declared that it has reconstituted these chambers," which could be used to produce motors for banned long-range missiles. He said the missile system is "proscribed."
In the past eleven weeks, U.N. weapons inspectors have conducted more than 400 inspections of more than 300 sites, Blix told the Security Council.
The inspections have included the use of ground-penetrating radar, he said, noting that Iraq continues to cooperate on giving inspector access to the sites they want to visit.
"Through the inspections conducted so far, we have obtained a good knowledge of the industrial and scientific landscape of Iraq as well as of its missile capability, but as before, we don't know every cave and corner," he said.
However, he added, the current round of inspections is "effectively helping to bridge the gap" between the time the inspectors left Iraq in 1998 and when they returned in 2002.
Blix said inspectors continue to build up their capabilities, and he expressed satisfaction that the number of Iraqi "minders" who follow the inspectors has dropped from an initial ratio of 5 minders per inspector to a ratio of 1 to 1.
Blix said more than 200 chemical and more than 100 biological samples have been collected so far; more than 75 percent have been screened, and "the results to date have been consistent with Iraqi declarations."
South Africa offers advice
While in Baghdad, Blix said, he met a delegation from South Africa. It was there to explain to Iraq how South Africa gained the world's confidence in dismantling its weapons program.
"I've just learned that Iraq has accepted an offer by South Africa to send a group of experts for further talks," Blix said.
How much time?
In concluding his remarks to the U.N. Security Council, Blix addressed a question he said he hears frequently: How much more time do the U.N. inspectors need to get the job done?
"The answer depends upon which task one has in mind," Blix said - the disarmament task (getting rid of weapons of mass destruction) or the monitoring task (making sure Iraq doesn't launch into a forbidden activity).
Monitoring is an ongoing task - open-ended, Blix said.
By contrast, the task of disarmament has a shorter time span. He said it's regrettable that Iraq didn't cooperate with arms inspectors in 1991. "If Iraq had provided the necessary cooperation in 1991, the face of disarmament...could have been short and indeed sanctions could have been avoided."
The process could still be short, "if I thought immediate, active and unconditional cooperation" with weapons inspectors "would be forthcoming."
Secretary of State Colin Powell was among the diplomats who gathered at the U.N. headquarters Friday to hear Blix present his report.
Powell is pressing the Bush administration's case that Iraq is in material breach of U.N. Security Council resolutions, but that's a harder line than Blix seemed willing to take on Friday.