Iraq handed over Saturday what it says are complete files on its banned non-conventional weapons programs - information that U.N. inspectors have sought for five years.
With three black folders in hand, chief arms inspector Rolf Ekeus told reporters that Iraqis surrendered files on chemical and biological weapons and surface-to-surface missiles.While the Iraqi move appeared to be a breakthrough, Ekeus stressed that the material had yet to be assessed or verified.
"What we received just a few hours ago - what we still haven't reviewed - are full, final and complete declarations on Iraq's weapons programs," Ekeus said upon returning from a four-day trip to Baghdad.
He now expects full disclosure on the country's nuclear program as well, perhaps by the end of the month, he said.
Under terms of the 1991 U.N. resolutions that ended the Gulf War, Iraq is required to destroy all its long-range missiles and halt its nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs.
Despite stringent economic sanctions imposed to encourage Iraq to comply with the resolutions, Baghdad authorities have systematically deceived and concealed information from U.N. inspectors, the United Nations says.
It was not clear why the Iraqis agreed to hand over the long-sought material at this time.
"I was very concerned when I entered Iraq . . . but coming out of the country I feel we've gotten somewhere," Ekeus said.
"They said `yes' to all our demands and handed us the declarations which, of course, we have to verify," he said.
Ekeus went to Baghdad on Wednesday after Iraqi authorities refused to allow U.N. inspectors access to five suspected weapons sites, despite demands by the U.N. Security Council.
During a news conference with Iraqi officials in Baghdad, Ekeus said Iraq had agreed to grant unrestricted access to all sites that the U.N. team or the International Atomic Energy Agency wish to inspect.
Ekeus, a Swedish diplomat who leads the U.N. Special Commission enforcing the dismantling of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, said Baghdad also agreed to "continuous meetings . . . at a high political level."
The meetings, likely to start in August, would involve Ekeus, Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, and the oil minister, Gen. Mohammed Amer Rashid, who formerly led the secret weapons programs.
Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister Riyad al-Qaissi told reporters: "I'm glad to say we reached agreement on all that we've discussed."
Qaissi did not elaborate on the agreement, but his announcement and that by Ekeus signaled the end of the latest confrontation between Iraq and U.N. weapons inspectors.
Iraq has been under crippling economic sanctions since its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
Last month, Iraq accepted a U.N. offer that would let it make limited oil sales to buy food and medicine. Afterward, Iraq expressed hope that the agreement would pave the way for removing the sanctions.
The United Nations says it will consider lifting the sanctions only if Iraq destroys its mass destruction arsenal, pays war reparations and accounts for some 600 people Kuwait says have been missing since the 1990-91 Persian Gulf crisis.