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Russia Seeks Return of UN Inspectors to Iraq to Find Explosives

(Bloomberg) -- Russia asked the Security Council to consider sending United Nations weapons inspectors back to Iraq following a report that 376 tons of powerful conventional explosives are missing from a facility south of Baghdad.

"We have to react to the disappearance of the explosives in Iraq and the willingness of some officials to welcome the renewal of the inspections in Iraq," Russian Ambassador Andrei Denisov told reporters after asking the council to put the matter on its November agenda. "How can we just ignore the facts? It is dangerous."

U.S. Ambassador John Danforth said that while the Iraq Survey Group would look for the missing explosives, Security Council involvement in the matter wasn't needed. The U.S.- appointed Iraq Survey Group searched the country for weapons of mass destruction, without finding any illegal arms.

"This is more a matter of tracking down the facts than just to have a debate about it," Danforth told reporters at the UN. "The U.S. is very interested in this, of course, and takes this matter with great seriousness."

The U.S. holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council in November.

The Security Council adopted a resolution in June calling on the panel to "revisit" the mandate of the UN weapons inspectors at some future date. The inspections' agency still functions with funds left over from the UN's oil-for-food program in Iraq.

Looted Explosives

The Iraqi Ministry of Science and Technology reported Oct. 10 that the explosives were looted from the al-Qaqaa facility "due to lack of security," according to a letter yesterday to the Security Council from Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN's nuclear watchdog. The UN agency informed U.S. officials in Vienna of the theft on Oct. 15.

The explosives, which could be used to detonate nuclear weapons, were at the site the last time UN inspectors were there in March, 2003, shortly before the beginning of the U.S.-led war to topple dictator Saddam Hussein's regime, according to IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming. The IAEA had identified and sealed the explosives shortly after the 1991 war to expel Hussein's forces from Kuwait, she said.

Iraq's interim government has mixed feelings about the return of the inspectors, Iraqi envoy to the UN Said Ahmad said.

`It would be good if they could complete the dossier. Iraq would be in favor of that," Ahmad said. "But it was a very bad experience for Iraq before. They always said they needed more time. They didn't settle anything."

Chinese Ambassador Wang Guangya said his government would support the return of inspectors "when conditions permit."

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