But creating a safe haven where scientists can be interviewed abroad and their families can be put beyond Saddam's reach doesn't necessarily mean those scientists will agree to leave the country. UNMOVIC has made clear that it is unable to take Iraqi scientists abroad if they decline the invitation to travel. "We are not going to abduct anybody," said chief inspector Dr. Hans Blix last month. "And we're not serving as a defection agency." A hint of the problems that may arise emerged recently when UNMOVIC sought a private interview with an Iraqi academic, and the scientist himself insisted on an Iraqi government official being present. Not surprisingly, UNMOVIC is being tight-lipped over just who it plans to ask, and how the process of taking them out of Iraq may proceed.
Still, Baghdad will be far from comfortable at the prospect of individuals who may have damning evidence against the regime being allowed to spill the beans free from the threat of reprisals against themselves or their loved ones, and then defect to the West. But UNMOVIC is determined to conduct such interviews before its January 27 deadline for reporting back to the Security Council, and Iraq has been put on notice that any interference in the process will be viewed by the Council as the sort of demonstrable non-cooperation that would be taken as "material breach" that could trigger military action. Until now, Iraq has placed no obstacles in the path of the inspectors. Its response to UNMOVIC's efforts to interview scientists abroad, however, will be the toughest test yet of Baghdad's compliance.