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Background: U.N. Chief Inspectors

February 13, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT

SPENCER MICHELS: Hans Blix is said to have taken the weapons inspector job reluctantly three years ago. In fact, the man who’s now 74 had already begun his retirement when the U.N. asked him to head its Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, or UNMOVIC. Blix was a compromise candidate before the U.N. Security Council. The U.S. and Britain had pushed for Rolf Ekeus, who was considered tougher, but France, Russia and China opposed him.

RICHARD HOLBROOKE: We have further discussed a number of other candidates and found consensus on only one: Hans Blix of Sweden, another very distinguished international civil servant, whose career most notably included leadership of IAEA in Vienna.

SPENCER MICHELS: Blix began his career as a lawyer, and served in Sweden’s foreign service for two decades, including the post of foreign minister in 1978. From 1981 to 1997, Blix headed the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency. The IAEA monitors compliance with the nuclear non- proliferation treaty. Blix took the job at UNMOVIC, created specifically to disarm Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons, in January 2000. While at the IAEA, Blix oversaw inspections of nuclear power plants in North Korea and South Africa, as well as Iraq. But during his watch in the 80s, the agency did not detect Baghdad’s nuclear weapons program until the Gulf War ended in 1991. Mohamed ElBaradei succeeded Blix as IAEA director general. The new round of Iraqi inspections began in November. A month later, Blix resisted U.S. requests that he move aggressively to take Iraqi scientists out of the country for interviews.

HANS BLIX: And I have said that we are not going to abduct anybody, and we are not serving as a defection agency.

SPENCER MICHELS: Blix has also distanced himself from American rhetoric against Iraq.

REPORTER: Pres. Bush continuously accuses Baghdad of playing hide and seek. Does UNMOVIC share the same sentiments?

HANS BLIX: Well, I don’t want to express myself in those words. But, as you realize, there are things that have gone well, like the access, prompt access, like setting up of the infrastructure, where the Iraqis have been helpful. But there are other areas where we are not satisfied.

SPENCER MICHELS: In the days before his January report to the U.N., Blix denied that his inspections would end any time soon.

HANS BLIX: Well, we are not the ones who have established the 27th of January as the end of history. We were asked in that resolution to update the Council. Update is not a final report, it’s an updating about what has happened and what have you learned in these two months, and that’s what we’re going to do. And we can see a lot of work ahead of us, beyond that date, if we are allowed to do so.

SPENCER MICHELS: A few days later, at the Security Council, Blix noted several problems with Baghdad’s compliance.

HANS BLIX: Iraq appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance, not even today, of the disarmament which was demanded of it and which it needs to carry out to win the confidence of the world and to live in peace. Last weekend, when he returned to Baghdad, Blix said Iraq was starting to heed the mounting international criticism.

HANS BLIX: They gave is some papers which analyzed and gave some further information and we had some discussions with the scientists and that’s why when they talk about a beginning I have not seen this before and I think that was hopeful. We are not at all at the end of the road.

SPENCER MICHELS: This week a reporter asked Blix whether his report tomorrow represents D-day for his mission. Blix said “no, there are many days. Friday is an important day.”