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Retiring UN Arms Inspector Delivers Mixed Assessment of Iraq Developments - 2003-06-24

At a talk in New York, retiring chief weapons inspector for the United Nations, Hans Blix, questioned whether a lengthier diplomatic process would have helped in the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Mr. Blix said all of the western intelligence agencies he met with were convinced that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.

But, he added, the search for those weapons was hampered early and often by poor intelligence.

"The intelligence did not turn out to be very impressive. 'Shaky' is the word I've used. It is somewhat puzzling that you can have 100 percent certainty about weapons of mass destruction's existence, and zero certainty about where they are."

According to Mr. Blix, the sources of intelligence, Iraqi defectors, satellites, electronic eves-dropping, and spiesm all have their shortcomings. Consequently, he felt compelled to regularly voice skepticism about them.

Mr. Blix stressed that although he wishes more time had been granted to the inspection process for diplomacy's sake, the actual rewards would have probably been modest at best.

"I think that it's very likely that if we had been allowed to stay another couple of months, maybe we would have made some progress," he said. "Maybe they would have been more pro-active. But I doubt that you would have been able to say at the end of May or June that all of the unaccounted for stuff is now accounted for. I don't think that would have happened. It might have gone further, and we would have had to rely on the long term monitoring. But that, then, is containment, and they didn't have the patience for that in Washington. I understand that."

The U.S.-led coalition in Iraq has made it clear that it prefers its own weapons inspections team to the U.N.'s in the ongoing search for biological, chemical and nuclear weapons in Iraq.

But recounting his experiences in a speech to the private Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Mr. Blix said there are other reasons the U.N. inspectors are staying out of Iraq.

"U.N. inspectors operate in a peaceful climate," he said. "To go into a country which is under occupation, where there is a lot of use of force, where you cannot go around except with armed escorts, that would be a very different matter. And also, for a U.N. inspector to work hand-in-hand with an occupier would have been a little strange."

Mr. Blix thinks that, as time goes by, it gets increasingly unlikely that further inspections will turn up any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

As controversial as the issue of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq remains, Mr. Blix said the removal of Saddam Hussein was a positive by-product of the process, and the war.

"I think that the balance sheet has to be made later," he said. "Good things can come out of this. A horrible regime is gone. Maybe it will facilitate the peace process. We don't know yet."

Hans Blix steps down at the end of the month, after three years as chairman of UNMOVIC, the U.N. organization created specifically to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction.