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Blix Says He Saw Nothing to Prompt a War

Days after delivering a 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.”

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.