Inspectors Back More Time for Iraq - TheStreet

Updated from 12:21 a.m. EST

The U.N.'s point men on weapons inspections delivered a unified message to the Security Council Friday, saying that while no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq, there's no convincing evidence that none exist. Both Hans Blix and Mohammed ElBaradei appeared to support giving inspectors more time to do their job.

"Three months after adoption of resolution 1441, the period of disarmament could still be short if immediate, active and unconditional cooperation were to be forthcoming," Blix said.

That stance, which was echoed by ElBaradei and is at odds with recent Bush administration posturing, spooked investors, who apparently worried the U.S. is increasingly alone in its determination to force disarmament. After rallying during the Blix speech, the

Dow Jones Industrial Average

eased after ElBaradei's address, and was recently up 25 points to 7775. The

Nasdaq

held a 9-point gain at 1287. The Dow was plus-30 before Blix, the Nasdaq plus-5. Gold was recently down $5.50 to $352.20 an ounce, while the 10-year Treasury note was down 17/32 to yield 3.94%.

Blix said his team "has not found any such weapons, only a small number of empty chemical munitions, which should have been declared and destroyed." While the team has been granted unobstructed access to the sites, Iraq has also given few concrete examples of having destroyed illegal weapons, Blix said.

"Another matter, and one of great significance, is that many proscribed weapons and items are not accounted for. One must not jump to the conclusion that they exist. However, that possibility is also not excluded," Blix said. "If they do not exist, credible evidence to that effect should be presented."

Blix also said that the range of an Iraqi missile, the Samoud 2, exceeded its 93-mile limit.

In one unexpected statement, Blix suggested that evidence presented last week by the U.S. purporting to show Iraq evading weapons inspections wasn't conclusive. He said it was unclear if satellite photos shown to the council by Secretary of State Colin Powell really showed the unauthorized movement of weapons from a chemical plant.

For his part, International Atomic Energy Agency inspector ElBaradei praised a reported claim by Saddam Hussein Friday morning that he was banning weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and said his team saw "no evidence'' of continuing illegal activity.

"Since we arrived in Iraq, we have conducted more than 400 inspections covering more than 300 sites,'' ElBaradei said. "All inspections were performed without notice, and access was almost always provided promptly. In no case have we seen convincing evidence'' that the Iraqis knew an inspection was imminent.

The briefing was attended by the foreign ministers of Russia, China, France and Germany, as well as Powell. The Bush administration has warned that if it deems Iraq to be in material breach of U.N. resolutions after the speech, it would seek a resolution authorizing force against the country as early as this weekend.