Hans Blix today delivered his report which possibly satisfied nobody, but left the door open for discussion as to how to manage the crisis.
In his report to the UN Security Council, Dr. Blix stated that Iraq has always complied with the demands of the UNMOVIC team and that access to sites was readily available. During the inspections, it was discovered that Iraq had developed Al Samoud 2 missiles, which exceed the 150 kilometre range stipulated by the ONU, contrary to Iraq’s claim that these missiles do not exceed a range of 149 km.
Dr. Blix also stated that Iraq had to explain the whereabouts of chemical agents which were unaccounted for, namely anthrax and VX gas, which he described as “probably the most important problem” at the moment, and Baghdad will be expected to provide more information.
Dr. Blix added that access to Iraqi scientists was difficult because these either refused to collaborate or insisted on an Iraqi official being present during the interviews.
However, he pointed out that evidence presented as “hard facts” by Colin Powell was no more than speculation because of its ambivalence and said that the inspectors have to base their reports on evidence “which they themselves can assess and present in public”.
After Dr. Blix, Mohammed El-Baradei, Chief Inspector of the International Atomic Energy Agency, stated in his report that “The inspectors did not discover any prohibited nuclear activity in Iraq”.
The reaction from the rest of the world, and in particular the members of the Security Council, was mixed. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov declared that force should only be used as a last resort since there is a clear sign that Iraq is cooperating with the inspectors. Ivanov’s immediate reaction to the report presented by Hans Blix was that “The inspections are being carried out calmly and with the cooperation of the Iraqis. Access is being granted to the places for inspection without any impediment, even the more sensitive places.”
He added that the inspections should continue to assess whether or not Iraq is a threat to regional security and if so, the weapons should be destroyed. He said that the great majority of countries are in favour of a continuation of the process of inspections, under the orders of the UNO.
The position of Russia was backed up by France and Germany. French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said “The inspections are producing results” and should be explored “until the end”, whereas Germany Joschka Fischer, Foreign Minister of Germany, said any military action could destabilise the region and “the path for diplomacy has not reached its end”.
The reaction from the war camp, the UK and USA, was predictably hawkish. Jack Straw, the British Foreign Minister, concentrated on the negative details in the report but not on the general theme, praising Iraq for its spirit of openness and cooperation. He chose instead to reiterate that Iraq has not complied with previous UN Resolutions and quoted examples of the aggression by the Baghdad regime against its neighbours.
For US Secretary of State Colin Powell, “more inspections are not the answer”. What is necessary, he stated, is that “Iraq fulfils Resolution 1441 of the UN Security Council “immediately, actively, fully and unconditionally”.
The gesture by Saddam Hussein, master of brinkmanship, one hour before the reports, to issue a presidential decree halting all weapons programmes and banning the importation of more weapons might have given him the edge in gaining the benefit of the doubt for those who are opposed to an immediate attack.
At present, this appears to be the majority of countries, leaving London and Washington isolated in the war camp. Tomorrow’s demonstrations for peace around the world will show how strong public opinion is on the issue.
Timothy BANCROFT-HINCHEY PRAVDA.Ru