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Blix Report Is Key to Outcome at U.N.

The chief weapons inspector may sway the divided Security Council in its decision on the use of military force.

March 07, 2003|Bob Drogin | Times Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS — Hans Blix, chief U.N. weapons inspector, was a busy man Thursday, if his datebook was any indication.

Jack Straw, Britain's foreign secretary, stopped by Blix's 31st-floor corner office to chat. So did several Arab foreign ministers. John Wolf, the U.S. undersecretary of State who oversees nonproliferation issues, came by. So did a Canadian delegation.

On Wednesday, Blix juggled phone calls from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan; Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's national security advisor; and Mohammed Douri, Iraq's ambassador. He has met diplomats in recent days from at least seven other countries and was too busy to see visitors from three more. He has had lunch with John D. Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador, at a nearby Basque restaurant.

Blix's popularity is no surprise. He will deliver a critical report today to the bitterly divided Security Council on Iraq's compliance with U.N. disarmament demands. His words -- even his tone -- may well determine whether the Bush administration can win the nine council votes it needs for a resolution to authorize a war against Saddam Hussein's regime.

Blix says he isn't swayed by all the diplomatic courting, cajoling and arm-twisting. Blix said he reports only facts and doesn't tailor his reports to please either those who are willing to go to war or those who aren't. "I am not going to make political judgments," Blix told reporters here Wednesday. "I can see some people are irritated by that."

But war against Iraq would mean "serious failure" for the U.N. disarmament system, Blix said. And that would mean failure for Blix, who has devoted the last two decades to using peaceful means to reduce the world's arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.

Partly as a result, even some of Blix's longtime supporters are questioning whether the 74-year-old Swedish diplomat has begun shading his comments in an effort to prolong inspections in Iraq and stave off war.

"He's getting into the peace camp," said David Albright, a former U.N. inspector in Iraq and longtime Blix ally. He said Blix has become an "advocate" of extending inspections. "He's begun to undermine his own credibility."

A British diplomat agreed.

"Blix's entire career has been in disarmament," he said. "Of course he wants to see inspections succeed. He wants more time to make them work. But we can't just sit by with crossed fingers, hoping that [the inspectors will] turn up something."

Bush administration officials are sharper in their criticism. They were furious that Blix this week described Iraq's destruction of 28 Al-Samoud 2 missiles as "real disarmament." Blix has ordered Iraq to destroy more than 100 missiles because they violate U.N. requirements.

The Iraqi actions, countered a U.S. official, were "drips in the ocean, not disarmament.... This is a tiny part of a huge arsenal."

Administration officials were also upset when Blix publicly challenged Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's interpretation of satellite photos and other U.S. intelligence after Powell presented the material to the Security Council last month.

U.N. inspectors have been unable to confirm most of Powell's charges, including his claim that Iraqi spies obtain advance notice of searches and secretly move weapons and other materials before inspectors arrive.

"I think Dr. Blix took umbrage at the suggestion that Iraq knows in advance of the inspections," said Ron Cleminson, a Canadian diplomat who serves on the 16-member board that oversees the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission that Blix heads. "Because the teams themselves don't know in advance."

Powell repeated many of his charges in a speech Wednesday in Washington, adding that new U.S. intelligence shows Iraq is secretly building new ballistic missiles while it publicly destroys others.

That too came as news to Blix. U.S. officials have not given the inspectors specific information to verify that charge, an aide said.

"I believe they're using what we're giving them," a U.S. intelligence official said. "But Saddam is spending a lot of time moving stuff around. And our insights into what he's got and where are not perfect. It's a big country."

Robert J. Einhorn, former head of disarmament at the State Department, said the White House has in effect decided that the inspections are irrelevant, whatever Blix tells the council today.

"The account is closed," Einhorn said. "The administration is not going to give the inspectors new leads. As far as they're concerned, the job is done."

Einhorn said Blix has "done a very, very hard job very skillfully.... Both sides feel he's been balanced to a fault. That is, both sides feel if he were really honest he would lean more to their side, but that he doesn't to appear to be fair to the other. And that's frustrating everybody."

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