BLIX SAYS HE SAW NOTHING TO PROMPT A WAR
31 Jan 2003
Source: New York Times, January 31, 2003
Blix Says He Saw Nothing to Prompt a War
By JUDITH MILLER and JULIA PRESTON
UNITED NATIONS, Jan. 30 — Days after delivering a broadly negative report on Iraq's cooperation with international inspectors, Hans Blix on Wednesday challenged several of the Bush administration's assertions about Iraqi cheating and the notion that time was running out for disarming Iraq through peaceful means.
In a two-hour interview in his United Nations offices overlooking Midtown Manhattan, Mr. Blix, the chief chemical and biological weapons inspector, seemed determined to dispel any impression that his report was intended to support the administration's campaign to build world support for a war to disarm Saddam Hussein.
"Whatever we say will be used by some," Mr. Blix said, adding that he had strived to be "as factual and conscientious" as possible. "I did not tailor my report to the political wishes or hopes in Baghdad or Washington or any other place."
Mr. Blix took issue with what he said were Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's claims that the inspectors had found that Iraqi officials were hiding and moving illicit materials within and outside of Iraq to prevent their discovery. He said that the inspectors had reported no such incidents.
Similarly, he said, he had not seen convincing evidence that Iraq was sending weapons scientists to Syria, Jordan or any other country to prevent them from being interviewed. Nor had he any reason to believe, as President Bush charged in his State of the Union speech, that Iraqi agents were posing as scientists.
He further disputed the Bush administration's allegations that his inspection agency might have been penetrated by Iraqi agents, and that sensitive information might have been leaked to Baghdad, compromising the inspections.
Finally, he said, he had seen no persuasive indications of Iraqi ties to Al Qaeda, which Mr. Bush also mentioned in his speech. "There are other states where there appear to be stronger links," such as Afghanistan, Mr. Blix said, noting that he had no intelligence reports on this issue. "It's bad enough that Iraq may have weapons of mass destruction."
More broadly, he challenged President Bush's argument that military action is needed to avoid the risk of a Sept. 11-style attack by terrorists wielding nuclear, biological or chemical weapons. The world is far less dangerous today than it was during the cold war, he said, when the Soviet Union and the United States threatened each other with thousands of nuclear-tipped missiles. On balance, "nuclear non-proliferation has been a success story," he said. "The world has made great progress."
Mr. Blix said he continued to endorse disarmament through peaceful means. "I think it would be terrible if this comes to an end by armed force, and I wish for this process of disarmament through the peaceful avenue of inspections," he said. "But I also know that diplomacy needs to be backed by force sometimes, and inspections need to be backed by pressure."
The decision to disarm Iraq through force was not his, he said, restating what has become a veritable mantra: It has to be decided by the "Security Council, and yes, by Iraq."
Mr. Blix reiterated his report's key finding that Iraq had not provided anything like the wholehearted cooperation he needed to certify that Saddam Hussein was not concealing nuclear, biological or chemical weapons. His concern about Iraq's attitude, he said, led him to refrain from explicitly asking for more time for inspections when he reported to the Security Council on Monday.
"I haven't pleaded for continuing inspections because I haven't seen a change of attitude on the part of Iraq," he said.
In the interview, Mr. Blix said that his examination of a liquid-filled warhead that inspectors had discovered in a bunker on Jan. 16 found no signs of any chemical weapons agent. The other 11 warheads found in the bunker were empty, he said, adding that scores of samples his team had taken across Iraq in the past two months had turned up "no trace" of either chemical or biological agents.
Mr. Blix spent hours Wednesday in a closed meeting being questioned about his report by members of the Security Council. Mr. Blix declined to discuss his session with the Security Council. But diplomats said that the United States ambassador, John D. Negroponte, had pressed Mr. Blix to make public the "indications" he referred to in his report that Iraq had made weapons with thousands of liters of anthrax it produced in the early 1990's.
Mr. Blix is said to have demurred, saying that the burden was on Iraq to prove that it had destroyed any anthrax weapons. He also assured Mr. Negroponte that he would probably be able to determine by Feb. 14 whether two missiles Iraq has declared it is developing exceed United Nations range limits. Mr. Blix stated in his report that the missiles seemed to be a "prima facie" case of a violation by Iraq of Council resolutions.
In the interview, Mr. Blix reiterated his longstanding position that "practical problems" prevented him from using the authority he was given to interview Iraqi scientists alone, without Iraqi government minders present, at a neutral place inside Iraq or outside the country. "We will at some point ask somebody if he is willing," Mr. Blix said, noting that inspectors were already "probing" the possibility of such interviews in their discussions with scientists during inspections.
As for Mr. Bush's charges that Iraqi intelligence agents were posing as scientists to be interviewed, Mr. Blix said he had seen scant evidence of it. "There were some occasions where people didn't seem very knowledgeable," he said. "But if it has happened, it's not from the top," and "it's certainly not anything that is common."
Mr. Blix said that the intelligence information being provided by Washington had improved of late. But diplomats and American officials said that tensions lingered over American suspicions that Iraq had infiltrated the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspections Commission, known as Unmovic.
Both sides agree that American satellites photographed what American analysts said were Iraqi clean-up crews operating at a suspected chemical weapons site they had identified within 48 hours after the information about the site was shared with Unmovic. But the diplomats say inspectors concluded that the site was an old ammunition storage area often frequented by Iraqi trucks, and that there was no reason to believe it was involved in weapons activities.
"It was a wild goose chase." one diplomat said.
But an administration official said there was "good reason" to believe the site was suspect, and that Unmovic had waited a week before visiting it.
"Whether something was removed, or whether it was ever there remains an open question," he complained. He noted that although the C.I.A. was still providing inspectors with sensitive information, concerns remained about Unmovic's ability to safeguard it.
"Iraqis may have bugged offices or hotel rooms of some Unmovic people," he said, noting there were "several examples" in which Iraqis seemed to have either "advance knowledge, or very good luck in going to places before inspectors."