February 14, 2003
By Mark Oliver
The UN's chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, today cast doubt on the significance of some intelligence offered by the US secretary of state, Colin Powell, in last week's speech on Iraq's weapons.
In Mr Blix's crucial report, which the US and Britain may use as a launchpad for military action, he told the UN security council that his team have not found any weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq, but that many forbidden materials remain unaccounted for.
Speaking at the UN's headquarters in New York, Mr Blix said that two satellite images Mr Powell showed to the council on February 5 did not prove that Iraq was clearing the site of forbidden munitions.
Mr Blix said: "The reported movement of munitions at the site could just as easily have been a routine activity as a movement of proscribed munitions in anticipation of an imminent inspection."
He added that there was no evidence that Iraq had advance knowledge that inspectors were coming to any particular site, as Mr Powell had alleged in his presentation. The Bush administration is pressing for military action to force Iraq to disarm, despite increasingly entrenched divisions about a war among key states. It will not be pleased at Mr Blix's questioning of Mr Powell's evidence.
Mr Blix said he welcomed intelligence from governments such as the United States on the hunt for WMD, but said: "Inspectors, for their part, must base their reports only on evidence, which they can, themselves, examine and present publicly. Without evidence, confidence cannot arise."
Mr Blix said weapons inspectors have "not found any such weapons, only a small number of empty chemical munitions, which should have been declared and destroyed".
But he added: "Another matter, and one of great significance, is that many proscribed weapons and items are not accounted for." Iraq must account for the status of anthrax, VX gas and long-range missiles, Mr Blix said.
He said: "One must not jump to the conclusion that they exist. However, that possibility is also not excluded. If they exist, they should be presented for destruction." If they do not exist, credible evidence to that effect should be presented, he said.
On the important issue of Iraqi cooperation, he said access to sites had been free of problems but that it could improve, particularly in allowing unfettered access to interview scientists. Numbers of Iraqi minders had fallen from a ratio of up to five per inspector, to around 1:1.
Mr Blix also told the security council:
- Inspections are bridging the gaps in knowledge on Iraqi arms
- Inspectors have taken 200 chemical samples and 100 biological samples
- Iraq has accepted an offer from South Africa to give advice on how to win confidence in its disarmament programme
- Private interviews with three Iraqi scientists "proved informative"
- Unfettered interviews with Iraqi scientists would be the best way for Iraq to convince inspectors it has no weapons of mass destruction, but none have so far been secured on the weapons inspectors' terms
- 50 litres of mustard gas have been found, a third of which has already been destroyed
- Some 250 inspectors, from 60 countries, are now in Iraq
Germany's foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, began today's proceedings by saying that Iraq had asked for a representative to sit at the table, which was permitted. The Iraqi representative sat with just one chair between him and Mr Powell, who gave a slight scowl as he sat down.
Mr Blix and Mohammed el-Baradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, had been expected to produce a "mixed bag" in their reports, giving Iraq some credit for access but also highlighting continuing problems.
Just hours earlier, the Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein, made a presidential decree banning all weapons of mass destruction (WMD), which has been described as a symbolic gesture but one which does meet a long-time UN demand.
President Saddam's decree banned the production or importation of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, or of any materials that could be used to make them. "All ministries should implement this decree and take whatever measures are necessary to punish people who do not adhere to it," the decree read.
The UN security council voted unanimously last November to send inspectors back to Iraq to look for WMD and passed a new UN resolution to that effect, but there is now disagreement about whether to use force to back up the resolution.
US may push for second resolution next week
Mr Blix's report is likely to have a bearing on whether, and in what form, the US and Britain push for a second resolution before any military action is launched. The Guardian reported today that the US and Britain will begin next week to push for a second resolution authorising war, to get it in place by the end of the month.
Russia, China and France, members on the permanent security council alongside the US and Britain, have called for more time be given to inspectors.
Also today, the Iraqi deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, promised the Pope that the Iraqi government would cooperate with the international community on disarmament demands, the Vatican said in a statement.
The statement, issued after a private meeting between Mr Aziz and Pope John Paul II, also said the pontiff had told Mr Aziz Iraq must "faithfully respect with concrete commitments" UN resolutions.
Millions of people are expected to take to the streets of towns and cities around the world this weekend, to protest against war in Iraq. Today some 150,000 people demonstrated for peace in Melbourne.