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U.N. Weapons Inspectors Allowed Private Talk with Iraqi Scientist

By John Daniszewski
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- BAGHDAD, Iraq

U.N. weapons inspectors interviewed an Iraqi biological warfare specialist in private Thursday night, the first time the country had allowed a scientist to meet alone with those searching for weapons of mass destruction.

The interview was announced by Gen. Amir Saadi, an adviser to President Saddam Hussein for the weapons inspection program. Earlier, Iraq announced that several of its scientists were willing to be interviewed in private -- a step demanded by the United States and Britain as an indicator that Iraq is willing to make full disclosure of its weapons.

There was no information on what was discussed in the session with the scientist identified only as Sinan.

A government official meanwhile repudiated charges that Iraq is cooperating with a suspected terrorist leader who was cited in a Wednesday speech by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell before the Security Council. To the contrary, the official said, Iraq has been trying since last November to locate and arrest the man linked to al-Qaida, as well as several of his associates, at the behest of Jordan.

Until now, Iraq had maintained that it was willing to make its scientists available to the U.N. team, but that the scientists themselves refused to be interrogated without a representative of the Iraqi government present, for fear their testimony could be misrepresented or misused.

U.S. officials, however, have been adamant that scientists be interviewed away from their government “minders,” saying that the scientists could face execution if they are found to have given away secrets to the inspection teams.

Some U.S. officials have called for the scientists to be flown out of Iraq with their families in order to be free of fear of reprisals from the Iraqi authorities.

Allowing private interviews with scientists was one of two key demands from chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix in a letter to Iraq.