Hans Blix: Responding to Iraq
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RAY SUAREZ: Responding to Iraq’s report on its weapons of mass destruction. We hear first from Hans Blix, executive chairman of the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, UNMOVIC. Blix appeared at the Security Council along with Mohamed al-Baradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Blix joins us now from the U.N.
And, Dr. Blix, how would you sum up your overall conclusions at this point?
HANS BLIX: Well, we had received their report, declaration, about 10,000 pages from Iraq, and we had hoped that it would clarify a lot of issues that remained open since 1998. It did give information about peaceful programs concerning biology and chemistry, but it did not really shed any new evidence on the chemical weapons and biological weapons program. And this is a disappointment.
RAY SUAREZ: Were there cases of the presence of dual-use technologies, of specific chemicals and other agents that you knew to be in the country from previous inspections that simply weren’t mentioned by the Iraqi report?
HANS BLIX: Oh, yes. They give a good deal of information about the… especially the missile program, which is permissible up to missiles of a range of 150 kilometers. And there are various questions that arise in this context. But the more disturbing, I think, is that on the chemical weapons program and the biological weapons program, we have not received the assurance — above all not the evidence — to allow us to rule out that they still keep weapons of this kind.
RAY SUAREZ: For its part, Iraq responds that one of the reasons so much of the report resembles earlier reports is that there is nothing new to report. They simply don’t have the things that it’s alleged that they have in the country.
HANS BLIX: That’s right. And they have not changed their position. They say there was nothing left, and they still continue to say that. So it’s not surprising that there is no new… nothing new on that score. However, what we need is evidence. The U.S. and the U.K. say that they have evidence that the Iraqis retain weapons of this kind. We do not have such evidence here, but at the same time, we do not have the evidence from Iraq that they have finished it. And hence, our conclusion is that one cannot have the confidence that the weapons are gone.
RAY SUAREZ: There are a long list of chemical and biological agents or the materials needed to create them that Iraq maintains that it has destroyed. You say there’s no evidence. What evidence would there be of something that’s been destroyed?
HANS BLIX: Well, for instance, you would have records of the destruction. They have said they destroyed all the biological weapons already in the summer of 1991. And one would have thought that they would have some record of that action. If they did not, well, then there would be some people who took part in the operations, and there were supplied in the past some diaries by some people. But it is an inadequate amount of evidence that has been supplied. And they would need to dig into their archives, into their budgets, into their reports, et cetera, and witnesses.
RAY SUAREZ: When you say people who have been involved in the operations, does the state of play now make it more desirable, imperative perhaps, that scientists who have been involved in these programs in Iraq in the past be taken out of the general population, perhaps along with their families, and interrogated as to the operations of these production programs or their destruction or any information they may have during the 1990s?
HANS BLIX: Well, that sounds relatively simple, but in practice, it’s not so easy. It remains an option that we certainly don’t rule out. But at the same time, if you want to lift someone out of a country that has a totalitarian regime, you have to ask yourself: How is it to be done? It’s said that they should be with their families; well, in Iraq that may mean a much larger group of people than from here and if they don’t get all the people coming out from the immediate family, they may have distance relations who may be in jeopardy if they go. And if you take out a scientist, the first thing the government would probably do is to see where did he work and then go to that site and destroy whatever the person worked with.
So when the inspectors come, there won’t be anything. There are also questions of going to another country, will that country give them asylum, political asylum, if they ask for it. So there are many practical problems with this that will have to be examined. It is not a panacea. There are many other ways in which we can look for evidence.
RAY SUAREZ: But has it grown as a possibility, given what Iraq provided in the way of evidence?
HANS BLIX: Well, it’s one way. But you know, there are many other intelligence… the best thing that we could get would be if any member state would tell us, we have evidence that they keep weapons of mass destruction somewhere, rather than the round-about way to get knowledge about it from some defector.
RAY SUAREZ: You’ve called today’s report an intermediary report on the way to a final determination. What does Iraq need to do now, between today and the generation of a final report, to plug up some of these omissions, to be forthcoming where they haven’t been in the past? Can they do it?
HANS BLIX: Well, I should think they can. They have denied that they have any more documentation, but the fact is that they found a lot of documents relating to Kuwait some months ago, and I think that if they dig into their archives, they can probably find more than we have been given in the past. And we would expect them to try to do that. In fact, they have not even allowed inspection until the threats of action against them became very strong. And I think that the present situation they realize is very risky for them, and that they, therefore, have good reasons to dig more deeply.
RAY SUAREZ: So the burden of proof is on Iraq. It’s not just a question of merely opening gates and doors to your men and women, but doing something more?
HANS BLIX: Yes. The burden of proof is on them, if they want to create confidence that they do not have any weapons of mass destruction left; the burden of proof is not on us to run around in every house in Iraq to search for it. We do go around and we check into industries, chemical industries, for instance, or pharmaceutical industries, into military installations. And so we can check a good deal. But you cannot check in every nook and corner of a large country. Above all, there’s difficulty of course in finding things underground or anything that is mobile.
RAY SUAREZ: When it comes to approach from here on out, do you have a choice between just setting up and continuing to go about your work, or behaving more like a prosecutor might in the course of a criminal investigation and set out to prove that Iraq still does have weapons of mass destruction?
HANS BLIX: Well, if we find something, if we have a hot lead, and can find something, that, of course, would be proof. But there are things that are different now from what they were in 1990… during the ’90s. One thing is that the technology has advanced very much. We can today buy satellite images commercially, we can use drones over the ground; we have a very sensitive environmental sampling. We have ground-penetrating radar. So there are quite a lot of new techniques, which would make it more difficult for Iraq to hide anything.
And certainly the fact that we can go to any site in Iraq, whether presidential sites or anything else, makes it very difficult for them to produce something in large scale above ground. As to production of biological weapons, well, that requires very little space. As you know in the United States — in the U.S. you haven’t found the person who produced the anthrax yet. So I think that shows how difficult it will be.
RAY SUAREZ: Do you have the resources and the staff you need to press the Iraqis between now and the generation of the final report?
HANS BLIX: Yes, we are rapidly building up our forces there. Actually, the Security Council would have allowed us to start the inspections next week. We have already been in operation for quite some time. We have 90 inspectors in the country. Very soon, we’ll have seven helicopters there, we will have drones there and we are building it up very, very rapidly. So I’m rather confident on that score, but it’s a fairly big and difficult operation.
RAY SUAREZ: Were there western interests, companies, governments that perhaps unwittingly, perhaps knowingly, aided Iraq in acquiring either material or technological sophistication that it wouldn’t have had otherwise?
HANS BLIX: Yeah, there are companies all over the world — whether the United States, and Germany, Brazil, Japan, et cetera — who have supplied material to Iraq which was of use in their build-up. Most of them probably delivered to Iraq in the — not in the awareness that the country would develop a weapons program. And very likely most of it was not illegal for them to do, but some of it landed in the weapons program. Some of them might not have been so innocent. That’s also possible.
RAY SUAREZ: Will we in the public get a chance to see those names and those companies at any point?
HANS BLIX: No, we… well, not if you ask us because we think we’d like to go to these companies, and if the first thing you do is publish their names, I don’t think they’ll be very forthcoming. In practice in the past, they have been helpful when the material has been kept confidential; a lot of leads have come through them. We do not keep the names away, however, from the governments in question in the countries where they are because if the government finds something illegal, they should be able to prosecute them. So it is not total immunity.
RAY SUAREZ: Were any of these transfers illegal at the time they were made, according to Iraq, in the report?
HANS BLIX: Well, in the past, there have been illegal transactions in Germany, for instance, there have been prosecutions of people who illegally exported secrets to Iraq, yes.
RAY SUAREZ: Dr. Blix, thanks for joining us tonight.