Posted by Lilly from ? (126.96.36.199) on Tuesday, November 19, 2002 at 12:42PM :
November 19, 2002
As Arms Inspectors Arrive, Row Erupts Over US Smears
Team leader says attacks by hawks 'unhelpful'
by Helena Smith in Larnaca and Ewen MacAskill
The United Nations chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, yesterday accused hawks in Washington, who are bent on going to war with Iraq, of conducting a smear campaign against him.
The extent of the tension between Mr Blix and elements of the US administration burst into the open on the day that he led UN weapons inspectors back to Baghdad for the first time in four years to renew their search for chemical, biological and nuclear-related weapons.
Key figures in the Bush administration have criticized Mr Blix in recent weeks, claiming he is too weak to stand up to the Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein, and that he may fail to find the weapons that the CIA claims have been hidden by the Iraqis.
In an interview with the Guardian in Cyprus, the last staging post before his flight to Baghdad, Mr Blix rounded on his critics. Asked whether he thought US hawks were behind the smear campaign, Mr Blix said: "You can say there's some truth in that judgment."
Mr Blix and the head of the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA), Mohammed el-Baradei, who will join the inspections, later arrived in Baghdad aboard a cargo plane with the black letters of the UN painted on its side. Amid chaotic scenes at the airport, Iraqi and Arab journalists pressed the inspectors on whether they expected friction with the US. The inspectors insisted they did not expect it.
Mr Blix's report, which will be presented to the UN security council early next year, could be the deciding factor in whether or not there is war in Iraq. The US whispering campaign against Mr Blix, a former Swedish diplomat, may be designed to undercut any report that is favorable to Iraq.
The US vice-president, Dick Cheney, and the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, have both said they do not believe the inspectors will succeed in disarming president Saddam, and their aides have anonymously briefed against Mr Blix who failed to detect Iraq's nuclear program in the 1980s when he was head of the IAEA.
Richard Perle, a Pentagon adviser and an associate of Mr Rumsfeld, said in London last week: "If it were up to me, on the strength of his previous record, I wouldn't have chosen Hans Blix."
In his first response, Mr Blix said yesterday: "I haven't seen the criticism myself but I have heard about it. I don't see the point of criticizing inspections that have not taken place... it's not very meaningful."
He described the accusations that he was not up to job as "not very meaningful, and certainly unhelpful."
One of his team also dismissed the criticism, rejecting the allegation that Mr Blix had failed to find evidence of the nuclear program"That's absolutely wrong. Back then inspectors were only allowed to visit sites that were declared," the inspector said. He added that the powers now available to the inspectors, such as the ability to visit sites without prior notice, did not apply before the 1991 Gulf war.
Washington's alarm over Mr Blix intensified after a recent speech in which he said he favored cooperation with the Iraqis rather than confrontation. His colleagues said Mr Blix was acutely aware of the animosity aroused by the last team of inspectors who were accused by Iraq of abrasive behavior and of spying for the US.
The inspectors, who sought and destroyed Iraqi biological, chemical and nuclear-related weapons after the Gulf war, abandoned Baghdad in December 1998, claiming Iraqis were obstructing their work.
Mr Blix, 72, who came back from retirement to take over the job, has done much to change the culture of how inspectors work.
The 26-strong UN team was formally welcomed at the airport by General Hosam Amin, head of the Iraqi monitoring directorate, a group of scientists, engineers and military personnel.
Mr Blix and Mr el-Baradei held talks with Gen Amin and his officials last night. Mr Blix and Mr el-Baradei are due to leave Iraq tomorrow after talks with Iraqi officials.
The advance team that arrived with them will prepare the office, accommodation and communications for the arrival of the inspectors next week. Mr Blix said preliminary inspections could resume next Wednesday, with full-scale checks starting after Iraq files a declaration of banned weapons programs, if any, by December 8.
The arrival of the UN team coincided with air attacks on Iraqi defensive positions. The Iraqis fired back, a move the US insists contravenes the UN resolution passed this month.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002
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