Divided Security Council awaits Blix's assessment

David Usborne
Friday 07 March 2003 01:00 GMT
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An anxious world will listen keenly today as Hans Blix, the chief weapons inspector, returns to a divided United Nations Security Council to offer what is likely to be a moderately upbeat report of where Iraq now stands in meeting its disarmament obligations.

Mr Blix insisted yesterday that it was not for him to declare whether the crisis would end with war or a peaceful resolution. But his words may determine anyway whether there will be conflict or not.

Britain and America, which are pushing hardest for a resolution opening the way to war, may not be pleased by what Mr Blix has to say. Since submitting a written report to the Council last week, Iraq has taken some new steps to ease the wrath of the West.

Iraq is destroying its al-Samoud 2 missiles, which exceed a UN-imposed range limit. So far, it has crushed about 28 of the weapons. And it has begun excavating a site where it insists it destroyed bombs containing anthrax in the early 1990s. It has allowed more of its scientists to be interviewed. And it has given Mr Blix some documentation.

Noting that Iraq was now showing a "great deal more" co-operation, including allowing seven new interviews, Mr Blix pointed in particular to the crushing of the missiles. That, he said, was "the most spectacular and the most important and tangible" evidence of real disarmament.

"They [Iraq] must regard it as a bitter pill, but at the same time they are aware that that is the kind of action which really shows to the world that they are co-operating," he said in an interview published in Sweden yesterday.

And Mr Blix seems to give Iraq credit for stepping up its efforts to convince the West that it has eliminated its VX and mustard gas weapons. "They are also incredibly keen in their attempts to persuade us that they have got rid of all their anthrax and VX, but that is more difficult for them," he said.

So far, however, the fresh documents from Iraq seem to offer little new information.

What Mr Blix will not do today is offer his own assessment of what the Security Council must do next. But he makes no secret of his own hope that inspections will be allowed to continue. The last three months' work would be made worthless by a US decision to go to war now.

That, of course, could happen by next week, in which case all that Mr Blix would have left to do would be get his inspectors out of Iraq safely. "It is obvious that it is a failure for the entire international community if disarmament, verified by inspections, fails," he said. "It is lamentable."

Mr Blix, 74, a former Swedish foreign minister, is clearly feeling the burden of his position. But he wants history to record that whatever happens now, he will not be answerable personally. "People are longing for me to give either the green or the red light. But that is not reality. It is the Security Council that makes the decision," he said.

This could be Mr Blix's last appearance before the Council. If war begins within days, his job is over. Yet, those against war fervently hope that is not the case and were already suggesting yesterday that he may be asked to make another report on 17 March.

Mr Blix is still behaving as if inspections will continue into the summer. By the end of March, he is due under existing UN resolutions to list of "remaining disarmament tasks" that Iraq must undertake.

These could be turned into benchmarks, or tests, against which Iraqi compliance would be measured. But all talk of such benchmarks infuriates London and Washington because they spell many more weeks of inspections.

¿ In a separate report released today, the UN disputes Iraq's claim to have destroyed 21,000 litres of biological agents, including anthrax, in 1991. Iraq declared 8,445 litres of anthrax but the UN estimates that Gulf War germ agents included about 10,000 litres of anthrax.

"There is credible information ... that indicates that the bulk agent, including anthrax, was in fact deployed during the 1991 Gulf War ... It seems highly probable that the destruction of the bulk agent, including anthrax ... did not occur." Mr Blix said Iraq had to somehow prove its account.

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