http://news.independent.co.uk/world/politics/story.jsp?story=412792

Blix: America jumped to a conclusion over weapons

By Anne Penketh

06 June 2003

Hans Blix, the chief UN weapons inspector, said yesterday that it was "not justified to jump to the conclusion" that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction simply because Saddam Hussein's regime had failed to account for missing arms.

His parting shot to the Security Council will bolster the anti-war camp, which believed the Iraqi threat did not justify military action.

Mr Blix's public remarks were as carefully worded and neutral as his previous statements before the Iraq war.

His comments were interpreted in London as an implicit criticism of the spin by politicians who, amid the furore over Iraqi weapons in recent days, have pointed to his reports to as the original justification for the war.

The Government already stands accused of having "sexed up" intelligence reports to produce its report last September which claimed that Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruction in 45 minutes.

Tony Blair and Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, used to reel off figures from Mr Blix's reports to the Security Council to accuse Iraq of holding 8.5 tons of anthrax, 3.9 tons of deadly VX nerve gas, 6,500 chemical bombs and other banned armaments. The Government argued that military action had to be taken because of the "unique threat" posed by the Saddam's weapons arsenal which they said could end up in the hands of terrorists.

Peter Kilfoyle, the former defence minister, said that Mr Blix's intervention would further weaken the Government's case over weapons of mass destruction and add to uncertainty as to whether they existed. "This is going to go on and on and build up and build up it would have been sensible in my view to have had an independent inquiry," he said.

In New York, the British ambassador to the UN, Jeremy Greenstock, said: "We have jumped to no conclusions."

Mr Blix stressed yesterday that his weapons inspectors had " not at any time during the inspections in Iraq found evidence of the continuation or resumption of programmes of weapons of mass destruction or significant quantities of proscribed items - whether from pre-1991 or later. He added: "As I have noted before, this does not necessarily mean that such items could not exist. They might - there remain long lists of items unaccounted for - but it is not justified to jump to the conclusion that something exists just because it is unaccounted for."

Mr Blix was yesterday briefing the 15 ambassadors of the UN Security Council on his final regular report before he retires at the end of the month. The ambassadors went into closed session after the Swedish diplomat's presentation, covering the last three months since the inspectors were withdrawn ahead.

Mr Blix expressed the hope that now Saddam was gone, "it should be possible to establish the truth we all want to know". He also said that his inspectors were ready to return to Iraq. The Bush administration, which made a reluctant approach to the UN before launching military action without UN authorisation, is so dismissive of Mr Blix and his weapons experts that it has sent its own teams into Iraq to search for weapons. So far there have been no confirmed discoveries of any weapons of mass destruction, despite visits to 230 suspected sites over the past 11 weeks.

The US administration has also expressed frustration that scientific aides to Saddam now in US custody are continuing to stick to official denials about weapons of mass destruction. Mr Blix noted that neither the former United Nations Special Commission (Unscom) weapons inspectors, who left Iraq in 1998, nor his own UN monitoring team that succeeded Unscom, had made "significant finds of weapons".

He said: "The lack of finds could be because the items were unilaterally destroyed by the Iraqi authorities or else because they were effectively concealed by them."

Iraq consistently argued that it no longer held any biological or chemical weapons, or ballistic missiles capable of hitting its neighbours.