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Chief U.N. Inspector Hans Blix

February 13, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


SPENCER MICHELS: Hans Blix is said to have taken the weapons inspector’s 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 the 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.

SPENCER MICHELS: Last weekend, when he returned to Baghdad, Blix said Iraq was starting to heed the mounting international criticism.

HANS BLIX: They gave us some papers which analyzed and gave some further information and we had some discussions with the scientists and that’s why when I 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.”

JIM LEHRER: And to Margaret Warner.

MARGARET WARNER: For more on Hans Blix, and his track record, we turn to: Jan Eliasson, Sweden’s ambassador to the United States. He’s known Blix personally and professionally for over 30 years.

Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, an anti- proliferation organization in Washington.

And Walter Pincus, a national security reporter for the Washington Post, who has covered nuclear weapons issues and Blix, himself, for decades.Welcome to you all.

Walter Pincus, beginning with you. Fair to say there is a lot of pressure on Hans Blix as he goes into this meeting tomorrow?

WALTER PINCUS: Well, he knows that what he says can have a great effect; it could even affect war and peace, and so he takes it very seriously. The last I heard they expect to be working on this particular report until late tonight.

MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Ambassador what, should we know about Hans Blix and his history and the whole approach he brings to this job?

JAN ELIASSON: Well, he’s a very skilled international lawyer, tremendous experience special advice for legal affairs in the Foreign Service of Sweden and he’s greatly respected for his correctness, his precision and a man of integrity. That’s the reputation that he has but also great human qualities. He’s a great sense of humor, he’s a hiker and a reliable person.

MARGARET WARNER: Gary Milhollin you’ve been quite critical of his track record. Explain that.

GARY MILHOLLIN: Well, he has as I think your tape said, was not the first choice for this job. And the reason for that I think is he had a rather poor record of discovering Iraq’s illicit nuclear weapon activities before the Gulf War and then after the Gulf War tended to overlook things that other inspectors thought were very important.

And then even during the ’90s he was seen as someone who was a reluctant player in any kind of an aggressive inspection. So I think that that’s the reason why a lot of us had concern about Mr. Blix, was that his approach, his style which was formed in his days at the International Atomic Energy Agency, really wasn’t suited for this particular task, which is more adversarial than cooperative.

MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Ambassador, that is an oft-repeated criticism about his record as head of the IAEA in the ’80s. What is your view of that – why they missed Iraq’s whole clandestine program?

JAN ELIASSON: Well, it wasn’t in that case only Hans Blix that missed that. We have very advanced intelligence services of the major powers in the world and it wasn’t quite discovered by them either.

We should also remember that the IAEA working methods were devised in a different environment than the working methods for UNSCOM, the one that my countryman, Rolf Ekeus, was working under. He had much more muscle to use while Hans Blix did not have those muscles.

MARGARET WARNER: Walter Pincus, you’ve covered all of this. What’s your view of this?

WALTER PINCUS: Well, I think as the ambassador says the IAEA rules before the Gulf War were that he could only inspect those facilities declared by Iraq and go no further.

What should be remembered is that Blix also was the one who when the time came with North Korea, it was his inspectors that found that North Korea was violating its rules under the IAEA and discovered their plutonium production.

MARGARET WARNER: Gary Milhollin, you wrote in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, you said, in response to this idea that it was IAEA rules that hobbled him, you said, Mr. Blix had a lot of discretion and always used it to reduce the effectiveness of inspections. Explain that. Give us an example.

GARY MILHOLLIN: Well the example I give in the article I wrote in the Wall Street Journal was that the IAEA defined its rules so as to be as little a burden as possible to those being inspected.

An example is that before the Gulf War Iraq – unbeknownst to the world — had enough highly-enriched uranium to make a bomb. Nobody knew that. The reason for that was that the IAEA took the position that as long as the material was not all at one site then it wasn’t enough to make a bomb or at least it wasn’t enough to make a bomb quickly enough so that the IAEA had to inspect it every three weeks, which their rules require if a country has enough material to make a bomb.

They were inspecting only every six months because their rules provided that if it were not all at the same place, then they didn’t have to inspect it so often.

That’s just one example of the way the IAEA has defined its mission. And it’s really defined its mission because it has another job, which is to promote nuclear power. And so and there are other cases.

After the Gulf War when it was discovered that Iraq had torn out the foundations of some buildings down several feet to hide activities, Mr. Blix really wasn’t really interested in that and wanted to give the Iraqis a clean bill of health and would have done so if a couple of U.S. experts, who were on the inspection team had not objected.

So it’s not just the IAEA rules. The rules are more flexible than most people think. It’s the way they were interpreted.

MARGARET WARNER: Has he spoken about that to you, Mr.. Ambassador, has Hans Blix about being deceived by Iraq, both in the ’80s and in the early 90’s what has he said about that?

JAN ELIASSON: Well, he pointed out the fact it wasn’t discovered by a lot of others either particularly major powers intelligence services. And he also pointed out the restrictions that he was working under.

We can spend lot of time on this but I think his report to the Security Council the 27th of January showed his style of working with this mandate that he has now. And I also think that he will prove that in the days to come.

MARGARET WARNER: Walter Pincus, you have interviewed him numerous times. Have you seen an evolution or has he expressed an evolution in his approach and how he felt about or what he concluded is a better way of phrasing it, what he concluded about being deceived both in the ’80s and early ’90s?

WALTER PINCUS: It really struck home with him and I think you have to look at what he has done since he’s taken on this job. The January 27th report, I think, he thought was factual and straight.

Essentially he’s a lawyer. He’s not a confrontational lawyer. He’s an international lawyer. So he mixes the law, which sets out rules, with diplomacy, and doesn’t believe that you get further by harassing people or by being vocal but he just keeps going ahead trying to find the facts and report back to the Security Council, which he feels that’s his job.

MARGARET WARNER: Would you agree with that characterization, Gary Milhollin, I mean, what kind of job do you think he has done since he’s had this new UNMOVIC post?

GARY MILHOLLIN: Well, I think I agree that his report on – recently — Jan. 27th was an excellent report. And it was quite forthright. He said that the Iraqis were cooperating on process — that is that they were allowing sites to be visited. But he said, also, that the Iraqis had not made a decision to cooperate on substance, that is, had not decided to really disarm.

The conclusion that you can draw from that distinction is that the process is a lot less important than the substance and until the substance is satisfied, that is, until the Iraqis really decide to disarm, that you can go on with the process for a long time.

Now Blix didn’t say that. But the inference or I guess the implication of what he said, the inference one can draw is that the Iraqis are not cooperating, they’re not cooperating on the main point, which is disarmament, and that’s really what the world is expecting him to say.

That is, I think his job is to say yes or no; the Iraqis are either cooperating on disarmament or they are not. And so far he’s avoided taking that position. He’s avoided writing that last paragraph.

And so I think now we have to look forward to his next report and I think he’s come to the point where he’s learned a lot and I see a good change in his demeanor and his performance. And a hope that he will finally tell us yes or no, whether he thinks Iraq is now cooperating on sub stance.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you think he’s unwilling to write that last chapter, last paragraph as Mr. Milhollin said. I noticed we ran in our tape piece, just today I gather, he said we’re not at all at the end of the road as if we need more time for inspection.

JAN ELIASSON: Well, he’s probably drafting his report tonight. I don’t know exactly how his thinking is ; but I can tell you one thing — he will give a factual and correct report.

He might note that some procedural progress has been made, U2 reconnaissance and the interviews, but he certainly knows and will most probably state that on substance very little has been done and that also inspections, even though great increase of inspectors will not help if cooperation is not forthcoming.

MARGARET WARNER: But is it fair to say he is a believer in inspections rather than going to war and that that drives him or not?

JAN ELIASSON: I guess all of us are believers and if there is a way without war that avenue must be pursued. That would be the goal of everybody including the President of the United States.

But we will now see what the report says and then it’s in the hands of the Security Council; he has great respect it’s the Security Council members that will now decide the course to take on the basis among other things on his report.

MARGARET WARNER: Walter Pincus you have been reporting this all day, what do you think we can expect tomorrow?

WALTER PINCUS: Well, I think he probably will say that cooperation or changes in cooperation has not been very impressive. But he doesn’t think the end is in sight in terms of cooperation. The irony is he’s going to report that the missiles that he has already analyzed, his staff has analyzed, are in excess of what is permitted. He’s already said himself that missile engines that they have imported the last few years are also in excess of what they’re allowed.

So the issue tomorrow may be that of whether’ he adopts for himself the idea that on his own, which he’s allowed to do, he calls for their destruction or whether he seeks the advice of the Security Council to back up that decision. That’s one of the things you’ll see tomorrow.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Walter Pincus, Mr. Ambassador, and Gary Milhollin, thank you all.