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Blix's Final Words to Security Council on Iraq Are of Caution

June 06, 2003|Maggie Farley | Times Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS — In his farewell appearance before the Security Council, chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix said Thursday that Iraq's failure to account for its alleged biological, chemical or nuclear weapons did not mean that it possessed them -- or posed an imminent threat.

"There remain long lists of items unaccounted for, but it is not justified to jump to the conclusion that something exists just because it is unaccounted for," Blix told the council in his last scheduled report on Iraq before he retires at the end of the month. The inspectors' presence in the country, he said in his typically understated way, could have contained the threat until they determined whether Iraq was clean.

Blix's comments came amid controversy over whether the U.S. and British governments overplayed the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's regime to justify the war. But the former law professor neither forcefully validated nor disproved U.S. intelligence claims, other than saying that many CIA-provided tips "did not really square."

"We went to a great many sites, as you know, which were given to us by intelligence, and only in three cases did we find anything -- and they did not relate to weapons of mass destruction. But I am not thereby excluding that they might have better finds," he said. "I wish they would."

Blix also said that his weapons experts could return to Iraq on two weeks' notice to help the U.S. teams in their search for arms. His people would bring not only experience but also legitimacy to the hunt, he said, a nod to suspicions that the U.S. might plant evidence of weapons to justify having invaded.

"Anybody that functions under an occupation ... cannot have the same credibility internationally as international inspectors would," he said.

U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte told reporters after Blix's report that Iraq's failure to account for its weapons was just one of many ways that Hussein's regime had breached U.N. resolutions and thus invited a military intervention.

"To those who have questions about what has been discovered to date and what might be found, I think I would counsel patience" while teams examine documents and interview Iraqi scientists and officials, Negroponte added.

Although Blix, 74, will return home to Sweden at the end of the month "to pick mushrooms," the inspectors will remain at U.N. headquarters to catalog their efforts and to be on call -- if anybody wants them.

Washington has hired a number of former inspectors to join the U.S.-led search teams but has so far rebuffed the U.N. experts' offers of help, except for allowing a small team of nuclear inspectors to visit a looted nuclear facility outside Baghdad later this week.

As days go by without any discoveries in Iraq, pressure is mounting on U.S. and British intelligence services to disclose how they reached the conclusion that Iraq possessed nonconventional weapons and needed to be forcibly disarmed.

Blix, who has spent much of his career trying to prevent the spread of nonconventional weapons, was clearly disappointed that his team was not allowed to complete their mission. U.S. officials claim that Blix's team visited only 10% of the suspected sites identified by the CIA. Blix said that U.N. inspectors were able to interview only a handful of scientists.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times published Wednesday, Brig. Gen. Alaa Saeed, one of Iraq's top weapons scientists -- and the author of the 12,000-page declaration to the U.N. that Iraq was free of banned weapons -- insisted that all chemical agents and many records were destroyed by 1994.

In the Security Council session, Blix noted that U.N. inspectors had discovered few weapons since 1996 and he wondered aloud why Iraq's government would refuse to cooperate with the U.N. throughout the 10 years of inspections and endure continued sanctions if the regime truly had eliminated the arms.

"The lack of finds could be because the items were unilaterally destroyed by the Iraqi authorities, or else because they were effectively concealed by them," Blix told the council.

Now that the Iraqi government is gone, he said, "it should be possible to establish the truth we all want to know."

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