Blix urges nuclear-free Middle East

Iraq's nuclear past and Iran's possible nuclear future should spur the world to make the Middle East - including Israel - a zone free of weapons of mass destruction, arms expert Hans Blix says.

    Blix says Iraq can still resurrect its nuclear programme

    Even without Saddam Hussein,

    the "new" Iraq still has the technical know-how to

    resurrect its nuclear bomb programme if it feels threatened

    by neighbours, Blix says.

    The former chief UN arms inspector, who helped oversee

    the dismantling of Iraqi weapons programmes, sets out

    proposals for a less "nuclearised" world in a 27-page

    epilogue to a new, paperback edition of his book

    Disarming Iraq, first published a year ago.

    In the intervening year, more evidence has accumulated to

    debunk US claims that Iraq had operational nuclear,

    chemical and biological weapons programmes - President George 

    Bush's stated reason for invading two

    years ago.

    American arms hunters now acknowledge the

    weapons did not exist.

    Criticism sharpens

    Blix's criticism of US leaders and their British allies,

    sometimes muted in the past, grows sharper in this updated

    book, published by Bloomsbury of London.

    Their "exaggeration and spin" and "shrill" claims "

    helped to mislead the world into believing there were

    stocks of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq ready for

    use", the Swedish former diplomat writes of the Bush White

    House and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

    "[Their] exaggeration and spin and shrill [claims]

    helped to mislead the world into believing there were

    stocks of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq ready for

    use"

    Hans Blix

    The chief US weapons hunter, Charles Duelfer, now

    concedes that Hussein's government

    had not built such arms since 1991, when UN inspectors,

    including experts of the Blix-led International Atomic

    Energy Agency, began destroying weapons stocks and

    equipment after the first Gulf war.

    In his report last October, Duelfer contended, without

    presenting hard evidence, that Hussein in 2003 "

    intended" to rebuild the weapons in the future.

    But Blix

    notes that Iraq would have remained under intrusive,

    open-ended UN monitoring for years to come, controls that

    the Bush administration

    repeatedly ignored in raising alarms over a supposed Iraqi

    threat.

    Know-how still exists

    Now, with the UN inspectors driven out by the

    US-British invasion, Iraq still has "the theoretical and

    technical know-how" to revive advanced weapons programmes,

    Blix writes, including the expertise built up by hundreds

    of Iraqi nuclear scientists and engineers in the atom-bomb

    project that was derailed by the 1991 war.

    Add to this neighbouring Iran's status as a "near nuclear

    weapon state" - one whose secretive programme is the subject

    of international negotiation - and the situation "should

    trigger a more active discussion of the idea of a zone free

    of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East,

    including Israel and Iran", Blix writes.

    Although Israel will neither confirm nor deny it, experts

    think it has 75 to 200 nuclear weapons.

    Blix notes that the 1991 UN Security Council resolution

    authorising the UN disarmament of Iraq envisioned a

    negotiated prohibition on WMD in the Middle East.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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