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Blix: 'There is a very strong power behind us'

Hans Blix
Hans Blix

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Editor's Note: CNN Access is a regular feature on providing interviews with newsmakers from around the world.

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Following the first day of weapons inspections in Iraq, Chief U.N. Weapons Inspector Hans Blix sat down with CNN Correspondent Christiane Amanpour for a wide-ranging interview.

AMANPOUR: Thank you for joining us. So there, you have the report. You've obviously been briefed by your own people. How, in your mind, did today go, the first day?

BLIX: I think it went as we had expected it. After all, we have had long discussions with Iraqis about the practical arrangements, precisely because we want to avoid any clashes that are unnecessary. And it worked out as it should.

AMANPOUR: Now, your own spokespeople in Baghdad have indicated that, in fact, you're going to spend weeks looking at sites that have been previously inspected, checking monitoring equipment, doing stuff that has already been done and not going to new sites. Is that correct?

BLIX: We have a vast number of old sites, 700 or more of them, and we can select new sites.

You take, for instance, a missile factory, where they are allowed to make missiles that can go 150 kilometers but not longer than that. But if you have such a factory, there could be a possibility that they make missiles which are reaching further. So you may have to go to it many times.

Similarly, a chemical factory may be able to produce both chemical weapons and something that is innocent, that is needed. And you have to go and see were there any traces of any illegal production.

AMANPOUR: So are you planning in the first few days to make surprise visits at sites that have not been inspected before?

BLIX: Well, we aren't going to tell anybody, and least of all media, where we're going in the next few days. But we will certainly -- surprise visits are everywhere, yes. We are not giving notice in advance. But the inspectors go to where they want to go, and when they arrive at the place, they tell them, "This is where we want to inspect."

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you a couple of technical questions that may be determined, in fact, as in the end you just talked about missiles. There are missiles that are legally possessed by the Iraqis, and then there are missiles that they're not allowed to possess -- long-range missiles.

Let's say if you go to an area where -- or your inspectors go -- where there are the appropriate kinds of missiles there, would your inspectors be able to tell whether these missiles have been modified, tinkered with, adapted to be long-range, and therefore prohibited?

BLIX: Yes, I think they would. They are very advanced experts. They know what material they are looking at.

AMANPOUR: And what about in terms of chemical or biological agent? We know in the past that there have been many gallons, tons of agents imported. The Iraqis have accounted for a number of gallons of that. And then, according to reports, there is stuff that hasn't been accounted for.

What happens if they say, "Well, you know, here's the 600 gallons that we accounted for. We just don't know what happened or we don't know what's going on with the remaining quantity."

BLIX: We think that they should account for all of what they have produced. And they should also show us how much did they produce in the first place. That has to be proven. Because otherwise, we cannot exclude the possibility that something is left.

If I take the case of anthrax, for instance, they gave the information that they have produced about 8,500 liters, but it could have been more. I mean, technically, capacity would have gone up to 25,000 liters if they had made use of the capacity.

And that it is to declare that they destroyed it all. But we didn't [have] full accounting that it was destroyed. So then we can not exclude that there could be something left.

AMANPOUR: And that would be a material breach? I realize the Security Council has to make that decision but is that a central point here?

BLIX: If we were to find it, yes. If we were to find this quantity, and a quantity they haven't declared, that would be a material breach, yes. If we do not find it, well, then it's still an open question, as far as we are concerned.

AMANPOUR: But what if there's intelligence that shows that material has been imported and they don't account for it?

BLIX: Well, intelligence is intelligence. If they simply say, "We have intelligence telling us that," that's interesting, but it's not evidence.

AMANPOUR: So where is the burden of proof here?

BLIX: We maintain that the burden of proof is on Iraq. And they object that they say, "Anyone who is arraigned before a tribunal is acquitted if a prosecutor cannot prove the case." And we say, "You are not in a criminal tribunal. You are in a situation where you want to create confidence that Iraq does not have any anthrax or anything else that is prohibited. And that takes more than that there's no evidence of it."

AMANPOUR: Can I ask you this matter that was raised in the last couple of days? There are reports that when you were briefing the Security Council in the last couple of days you have said that you expressed a certain amount of understanding or sympathy for Iraq's claim that it would not be able to fully comply with the Security Council demand that it provide a complete and detailed declaration of its civilian and military capabilities, chemical, nuclear or biological. Is that accurate?

BLIX: No, absolutely not. Under the resolutions, the Iraqis are obliged to give a complete account of all the military progress they have within 30 days. And that's perfectly all right. They should be able to do so.

AMANPOUR: They're also asked to provide an account of all their programs in the civilian sector: nuclear, chemical or biological.

BLIX: The same thing, within 30 days, which are not weapons purposes, then. And the only thing I have said is that they have a big petrochemical industry; if we are asking them to provide an account of all the programs in that chemical sector that may be a little difficult.

Iraqis actually didn't raise that with us. They said that, "Are we going to report every program, production of slippers by chemicals, or what not?"

They didn't ask about the timing.

AMANPOUR: So you fully expect them to account for everything that they have by December 8th?

BLIX: By December 8th they should account for it all. I would, but they may come back and say that "Sorry, but in the chemical sector we can't go that far."

I don't think it's a big issue, actually, I think. And the Iraqis are worried about the extent of it but they didn't raise any point about the date of it.

AMANPOUR: What do you not think is a big issue?

BLIX: Well, the fact that I said in the Security Council that this may be a little difficult to account for the whole -- all programs in the chemical sector, much has been made of that particular comment and as you cited it it sounded as if I have sympathy with the problem for giving the whole declaration.

I did not do so, nor did I express any sympathy. I said that there could be difficulties.

AMANPOUR: Let's talk about sensitive sites. You have said that the Iraqi side has remarked that entry into a presidential site or a ministry is not quite the same thing as entry into a factory. What do they mean?

BLIX: Well, it's hard to say. You know, so-called sensitive sites in the past were subject to a special procedure around which the inspector would have to await the arrival of a higher-up official that was supposed to coordinate it. And the entry into presidential sites were also subject to a very special procedure on which you have to have a number of ambassadors or high diplomats present. And it took a couple of days before you can organize it.

This is all done away with under the new regime. And the talks that we had in Vienna, Mr. ElBaradei and I, Iraq has agreed that we would have immediate and unconditional and unrestricted access to any sensitive sites. And the Security Council decided the same would apply to the presidential sites. So as far as we are concerned, there is no difference between them.

I think what the Iraqis wanted to say that, "Well, look here. There's some dignity attached to these places." Well, that's possible. But they're the same procedures that apply.

AMANPOUR: So you will go in there, no holds barred?

BLIX: Of course. And we will do it with the same professional and correctness, whether it is presidential or sensitive or anything else.

AMANPOUR: They also told you -- as we know, the next key milestone is December 8th, the declaration.

BLIX: Right.

AMANPOUR: They have basically said to you and to the world that, "We do not have weapons of mass destruction."

BLIX: Well, that is what they have said until now. I don't think in diplomacy...

AMANPOUR: What have you said to them?

BLIX: Well, I have said to them that many governments think that they have such weapons. And we have said to them that the Security Council clearly states that this is the last opportunity they have to declare it. And therefore I did say that they should look into their stocks and their stores, whether there is something. And if so, declare it.

And if they don't say they have something, then they ought to give a full account; they ought to give much more documentation than they have in the past to try to convince that everything is gone.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you about searching for these weapons. I've heard from an administration source, an administration official, that they intend to look at the declaration, study it carefully, and if it doesn't include things that they believe the Iraqis have, that they will then notify you, notify your team and lead you to them. For instance, missiles, Scuds, things like that.

Is that appropriate? Will you follow that strategy?

BLIX: Well, we want to have the information from member states about any sites where there may be prohibited items. And we go to them. Even before the declaration. If I had tomorrow an indication of such a site, well, we might go there after -- the day after tomorrow.

AMANPOUR: But if there is information provided to you after this declaration comes in and they say, "Well, this wasn't on the list, and we have a strong belief that this is there," this is where...

BLIX: Well, I think if they say that publicly the things will be gone the next day, before we get there.

AMANPOUR: No, but to you.

BLIX: And if they say do it privately, confidentially, yes, we may well go there, if it's plausible.

AMANPOUR: What does that mean, if it's plausible?

BLIX: Well, they have to give us some suggestion that it is based upon something, that they're not just pulling us by our noses.

AMANPOUR: Do you think that might happen?

BLIX: Well, we are not supposed to trust anybody, so we have to assess the value of a site.

We are not just people -- governments cannot just tell us, "Go there," and we go there. No, we decide ourselves where we go and therefore we have to have some reason to go to sites.

AMANPOUR: Have you read the administration's CIA dossiers and also the Blair dossier that was publicly released, you know, several months ago, weeks ago?

BLIX: Yes. Yes, I have seen it.

AMANPOUR: And do you agree with those?

BLIX: Well, I'm not supposed to agree with them. I read them and they have -- I take the British dossier, for instance, they will say up and down pages that, "Intelligence tells us this, or intelligence tells us that." Well, it may well be true. We are not contradicting them. But at the same time I'm not confirming what they say because simply stating that, "Intelligence says this," is not evidence.

And I think we have to be effectual and see what is evidence.

AMANPOUR: As you know there's a drumbeat of criticism against you. Hardliners in the United States administration, their allies inside and outside of government basically don't think you're up to the job. Things like "weak" have been bandied around, "wimp" has been bandied around.

Can you do this job?

BLIX: Well, I had 16 years at the International Atomic Energy Agency and being responsible for that organization, and I was elected, re-elected three times, unanimously. I could have been elected a fourth time, re-elected a fourth time if I wanted. And I was unanimously picked by the members of the Security Council.

I think that the governments have confidence in me. There are a number of private individuals who are skeptical. Well, that's their business. But I have not had any criticism from any government.

AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you this. You talk about your head, your position as head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA, from, I believe it was from '81 to '97.

As you know, as everybody knows, under your stewardship, Iraq was very close to producing a nuclear weapon at a time when you and your organization gave it a carte blanche, if you like -- not a carte blanche -- you called it exemplary cooperation. And basically, you missed what was going on, as some people say, right under your nose.

BLIX: Well, the whole control system -- verification system of the IAEA was worked out by governments. And so, we were mandated to act in a particular manner. Now, that included going to declared installation, not going to undeclared installation. And this is where the Iraqis mainly produced their -- tried to make enriched uranium. So the system was set up by the governments in this manner.

Moreover, we were not the only ones who did not see. The CIA didn't know what was going on, and they were not restricted as we were. Even the Mossad in Israel didn't know.

Iraq was an extremely closed society at that time. I know an ambassador told me that he lived there for four years and never been able to meet his neighbor. So moving around was impossible to us.

AMANPOUR: That may be the case but there were also provisions made for certain level and intensity of inspections, certain sizes of, let's say, uranium and this and that was under -- you had to inspect them every three months or whatever. In any event, what they seemed to have done was to have made their weapons smaller.

BLIX: No, not really. Now, it's true that there were certain procedures for how often should we go to sites which contained so and so much of fissionable material. But this was nothing that really impacted upon the Iraqi program. They tried to enrich uranium themselves, and they failed in doing that. They only get very, very tiny quantities. They didn't have time to do it.

At the end and close to the war, they started a crash program in which they had intended to take the fissionable material under safeguards. But they never succeeded in doing that.

AMANPOUR: We have to go to a break, but I want to ask you one more question on this using the powers at your discretion. This new U.N. resolution is very clear and very tough, including it allows you to take Iraqi scientists and their families out if you feel that's the only way to be -- or if that's the only way to be able to get information out of them. And you've already said that that seems to be impracticable and unworkable. Why is that?

BLIX: Well, this sounds almost as if you were, sort of, cloak- and-dagger agency to put people in the trunk of the car and drive them out. And I don't think that's what the inspectors are for, nor do I think that we are an abduction agency.

If people come to us with -- and they say, "We don't want to leave the country." What shall we do? Shall we take them out anyway? I can see the practical difficulties. That's what I refer to.

AMANPOUR: So you don't think you'll be bringing any scientists out?

BLIX: Well, if they come, if they want to, yes. We will be ready to facilitate it. That's the word of the resolution. Yes, we will do that.

But what if the Iraqis stop it? We cannot force it. We are not an army.

AMANPOUR: What is the most challenging thing for you to find, these weapons of mass destruction, or whatever you're looking for there? Is it that they become more sophisticated in hiding things? Is it that they're more mobile now? What is it that's going to be the hardest thing for you to do your job?

BLIX: I think both the factors you mentioned are hard, yes. They could hide things underground. There is nowadays ground-penetrating radar, so there are means of getting there. And they could also be defectors who would tell us or some might give us as a tip. They're mobile. Things are also -- they enjoy -- they report to the effect that they have the laboratories, mobile. And to catch that is not an easy task.

There could also be dispersion of things in the country. If you look for documents they could be dispersed in the private houses of people. There are quite a lot of things.

Of course, the techniques of finding things have improved very much and Iraq has been enormous stimulation to it. But at the same time, the Iraqis have also learned quite a lot. So if they are hiding things, well, they have -- might have learned quite a lot.

AMANPOUR: And how are you going to do this job effectively with a fairly small number of inspectors right now? I think it's 17 or so on the ground right now; you expect 100 or so by the end of the year. But the last time they had nearly 300, and it was still a huge and too unwieldy job for those inspectors to be able to complete.

BLIX: I don't think they had in the field on any one inspection more than something like 50 inspectors. And that is a fairly big swarm anyway.

I mean we are not a military organization, after all. So when we go to a factory, they did what they use to call freeze the site; let's say, they would surround it and people would go around at the other end to see that nothing is taken out. They would have a helicopter in the air above them, et cetera. And they might be sure that what was in the building was there.

Now there is, of course, a risk study if they have documents that they might have in advance prepared places where they could tuck them away when the inspectors are coming. So there are many difficulties, and the surprise element is an important one.

AMANPOUR: Well, let's talk about the surprise element. I mean, obviously, the White House, this administration has pretty much made it clear that it would like you to go and do confrontational inspections or surprise inspections, go to very sensitive locations to test Saddam Hussein's willingness to cooperate and to see whether this is a go or whether it's just the same old same old.

BLIX: Well, we'll be ready to go anywhere where we think, as I said, it's plausible that there could be something. If they are hiding something then likely if they would deny us access. And denying access would then be like a smoke -- it's not finding a smoking gun, but finding the smoke, and that would be a very serious matter.

If they deny us access, we will report it to the Security Council. But even a delay of some little time will also be something that might be reported to the council.

AMANPOUR: Do you consider that your job could lead you to be a trigger for war?

BLIX: We would not be a trigger for war. But, of course, if we report a violation of some kind, that is for the Security Council to assess. We are not the ones that decide war and peace. It's the Iraqi and their behavior on the one hand, and the Security Council and its members on the other hand that decide on peace and war.

We will be factual. We will be objective. We will report as honestly as we humanly can.

AMANPOUR: Well, there are many people who don't think that you want to do, sort of, in-your-face aggressive inspections.

BLIX: I don't think that aggression -- aggressive inspections is a purpose, per se. But if you demand that -- you have the right to come in somewhere and you demand it. I don't know whether you call that aggressive. We'll demand it wherever we want to go in.

AMANPOUR: I want to ask you about your time again as IAEA chief inspector. Back in '94 or in the early '90s you also were looking at the North Korean program. And we have recently learned that the Clinton administration in '94, around then, was considering a preemptive strike on North Korea precisely because you had reported back that they were not allowing you the access to be able to accurately verify their weapons of mass destruction; their nuclear program. Tell me a little bit about that, because you haven't spoken about that.

BLIX: Well, the North Korea has opened up to us for safeguards inspection in '94, maybe it was. And I was the first Westerner, outsider who was invited to see the reprocessing plant there. Then we sent in the inspectors and they were given a sample of the plutonium that they had reprocessed. And they took the isotopic composition of that. They were also given a liquid, a waste solution. And they analyzed that.

And when you reprocess uranium, spent uranium, you will also always get a little plutonium in the waste. And they analyzed it. And the isotopic composition was not the same as that of the reprocessed plutonium. So we drew the conclusion that they must have reprocessed more than once. And they only admitted once. And there must be hence be more plutonium than they had declared. That was the beginning.

I mean, some people accused the IAEA of not finding things. We were the ones who found it and we reported it to the board of governors. And that started the crisis in -- when it came to the Security Council.

AMANPOUR: So you did, sort of, have it on your shoulders then, or at least you were one of the principal actors in what could have been war on the Korean Peninsula?

BLIX: Certainly it was -- no, in this sense that we reported honestly to the board of governors and to the Security Council. But it's they who decide how will they will act. Will they use force or will they not use? That's not us. We have only the duty to report honestly.

AMANPOUR: Why do you think that you will be any more successful this time in trying to get to the bottom of many, many years of programming in Iraq on these weapons of mass destruction when there has been, you know, considerable cheat and retreat as some people call it, some, you know, failure from the inspection sides in the past?

BLIX: Well, it's a very difficult task. We have no illusions that it's going to be easy. But there is something that is different now from what it was in 1991, and that is the backing of the Security Council.

In 1991, when we went in -- I remember it well -- in the summer of 1991, we had a team of IAEA inspectors. And they went to a truck park. And we took pictures of the trucks going out. And then the Iraqis started to shoot in the air. And the Security Council didn't like that, so they sent me and Mr. Ekeus and (a member) of the Disarmament Department in the U.N. down to Iraq to talk to them, get assurance that they wouldn't do it again. Now, that was not a very strong reaction. I think if somebody were shooting over the heads of inspectors today, it would be very different situation.

So the most important thing for us in the new resolution is that the inspector's demands are backed up, and therefore we think will be respected, respected by the Iraqis.

Does that mean that we would be arrogant? No. We will be correct all the way through and professional all the way through. But there is a very strong power behind us.

AMANPOUR: Have the Iraqis given you anything, in terms of what they've said, in terms of making early declarations, in terms of filling gaps in information that they've already given you that, you know, clearly wasn't full disclosure? Have they shown you that they are going to do differently this time?

BLIX: We expect to read the declaration as to come the 8th of December. But already at the meeting that we had with them before inspections started, they handed over to us a number of CD-ROMs concerning the dual-use items, their semi-annual declarations that they -- we had a backlog of from 1998 up to now. We have analyzed those already.

AMANPOUR: Because I read that there was some instance where they hadn't given full information on missile programs, and they said they were going to fill in. What's that?

BLIX: Yes, yes. This was something they have told us in the semi-annual declarations. And they told us when we were in Baghdad now that, yes, they had found that there was something further that they should add to it, and so they supplemented.

We had, of course, also found a number of shortcomings, and we told them about that. And they promised that they would rectify that.

AMANPOUR: So do you think that they will, as time continues and as this process goes on, come up with the things that they say they have forgotten to disclose in the past?

BLIX: I hope so. I hope that it will come up everything, whether they have forgotten it or not. If they have simply not declared it in the past, well, this is the opportunity to do it.

AMANPOUR: And on that note, thank you very much, indeed, for joining us.

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