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2006-06-02

Fmr. Chief UN Weapons Inspector Hans Blix Calls for Permanent Worldwide Ban on WMDs

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Former U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix called for a permanent worldwide ban on nuclear, chemical and biological weapons on Thursday. The recommendation is the central finding of a major report issued Thursday by the independent Weapons of Mass Destruction commission, which was headed by Blix. [includes rush transcript]

The Commission concluded that "there has been a serious, and dangerous, loss of momentum and direction in disarmament and nonproliferation efforts."

Blix also cautioned the United States against attacking Iran and North Korea. And he estimated Israel has a total of 200 nuclear weapons even though the country has never acknowledged it even has a nuclear weapons program.

At a press conference at the United Nations, Blix said it is too dangerous for any country to have nuclear weapons.

  • Hans Blix: "The American Rifle Association says that weapons are not dangerous in themselves, only the people who hold the weapons. And I can see a sort of echo on that in the view also of the nuclear weapons, that the nuclear weapons are not dangerous, per se, only dependent on who has them. Now the commission does not accept that argument. We say that, yes, governments, individuals can be more or less reckless in this world, but the weapons, per se, are dangerous anywhere, anytime. If you look at the U.S., there are lots of weapons on hair trigger alert, and the same applies to Russia. They are dangerous anywhere where they are. And if you say that, well, let’s simply look at the actors who has them, well, sadly actors change also, governments change in different countries. You may be satisfied and say that these are very responsible people, they won’t do anything, but the next day that government may be overthrown, they may have another one. So the view of the commission now, they say that these weapons are dangerous in anybody’s hands. That doesn’t exclude that some can be more reckless than others."

Blix also called on Iran to stop its uranium enrichment program. But he acknowledged that it is understandable why Iran would feel threatened by the United States. He recalled the U.S.-led coup that overthrew the democratically elected government of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953.

  • Hans Blix:"We think Iran is described as a threat, in their enrichment of uranium, is described as a threat to the whole world, and the commission is also of the view that it would be desirable that Iran refrain from going on with enrichment of uranium. But one must also try, if you want a solution for this, to look at the issue from the side of the Iranians. They see 130,000 American soldiers in Iraq and they see American bases in Pakistan and in Afghanistan and more American military activities to the north of them. They remember that Mossadegh, who was elected premier, was ousted with subversive methods from the outside. So it is not inconceivable that some groups in Iran may feel that their security is being threatened from the outside."

Blix also criticized the Bush administration for ignoring the findings of UN weapons inspectors ahead of the Iraq war.

  • Hans Blix: "The conclusion I draw is that for the future, it is desirable to rely upon international inspection, professional international inspection, and also to make use of national intelligence. I’m not against it, but national intelligence must not remote control international verification. They must give them tips, because they have means which the international inspection does not have. They have the means of listening, they have the satellites, they have the spies, etc. International inspection does not operate with that, but international inspection has the possibility of going into the sites, into the buildings, and to demand, "We want to see this, we want that." These are things that these governments cannot use. So a combination of this is desirable for the future. That’s one principle lesson I draw from the case of Iraq. "

To discuss Blix’s remarks and the report from the Independent Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission we are joined in the studio by John Burroughs, executive director of the Lawyers" Committee on Nuclear Policy.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: At a news conference at the United Nations, Blix said it’s too dangerous for any country to have nuclear weapons.

HANS BLIX: The American Rifle Association says that weapons are not dangerous in themselves, only the people who hold the weapons. And I can see a sort of echo on that in the view also of the nuclear weapons, that the nuclear weapons are not dangerous, per se, only dependent on who has them. Now the commission does not accept that argument. We say that, yes, governments, individuals can be more or less reckless in this world, but the weapons, per se, are dangerous anywhere, anytime. If you look at the U.S., there are lots of weapons on hair trigger alert, and the same applies to Russia. They are dangerous anywhere where they are. And if you say that, well, let’s simply look at the actors who has them, well, sadly actors change also, governments change in different countries. You may be satisfied and say that these are very responsible people, they won’t do anything, but the next day that government may be overthrown, they may have another one. So the view of the commission now, they say that these weapons are dangerous in anybody’s hands. That doesn’t exclude that some can be more reckless than others.

AMY GOODMAN: Hans Blix also called on Iran to stop its uranium enrichment program, but he acknowledged it’s understandable why Iran would feel threatened by the United States. He recalled the U.S.-led coup that overthrew the democratically elected government of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953.

HANS BLIX: We think Iran is described as a threat, in their enrichment of uranium, is described as a threat to the whole world, and the commission is also of the view that it would be desirable that Iran refrain from going on with enrichment of uranium. But one must also try, if you want a solution for this, to look at the issue from the side of the Iranians. They see 130,000 American soldiers in Iraq and they see American bases in Pakistan and in Afghanistan and more American military activities to the north of them. They remember that Mossadegh, who was elected premier, was ousted with subversive methods from the outside. So it is not inconceivable that some groups in Iran may feel that their security is being threatened from the outside.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Blix also criticized the Bush administration for ignoring the findings of UN weapons inspectors ahead of the Iraq war.

HANS BLIX: The conclusion I draw is that for the future, it is desirable to rely upon international inspection, professional international inspection, and also to make use of national intelligence. I’m not against it, but national intelligence must not remote control international verification. They must give them tips, because they have means which the international inspection does not have. They have the means of listening, they have the satellites, they have the spies, etc. International inspection does not operate with that, but international inspection has the possibility of going into the sites, into the buildings, and to demand, "We want to see this, we want that." These are things that these governments cannot use. So a combination of this is desirable for the future. That’s one principle lesson I draw from the case of Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: Former chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix. To discuss his remarks and the report from the Independent Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, we’re joined by John Burroughs. He’s executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy. We welcome you to Democracy Now!

JOHN BURROUGHS: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response, and how important is what Hans Blix has to say?

JOHN BURROUGHS: It’s extremely important. The commission basically is saying that the focus has been on proliferation for the past decade or so, and it’s time to start putting the focus back on elimination of the weapons worldwide, whether they be in Pakistan or the United States. The commission says there have been three waves of proliferation. Proliferation began in 1942 in Los Alamos. There were the five weapons states to begin with: the United States, Russia, Britain, China, France. Then came India, Pakistan, Israel. That’s the second wave. Then the third wave was Iraq, weapons program reversed; Libya, weapons program reversed; North Korea, probably has nuclear weapons; Iran, might or might not, might be seeking to have a weapons capability. So the commission is saying, we’re facing this problem of proliferation, but it really goes back to the very beginning, and therefore, proliferation has to be reversed where it began, and that’s the United States.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And the commission is also critical of the new United States role, in terms of taking more unilateral actions, as opposed to in terms of participation in international treaties around nuclear weapons, no?

JOHN BURROUGHS: Absolutely. In the mid-1990s, there was a surge of multilateralism. The Non-Proliferation Treaty was made permanent. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was negotiated. But then things started sliding backwards. In 1999, the U.S. Senate rejected the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, refused to approve it for ratification. 2002, the Bush administration withdrew from the ABM Treaty. Then the Bush administration negotiated a treaty with Moscow, which wasn’t really a treaty. It didn’t have any verification of the reductions. So the Blix commission is saying it is time to return to the multilateralism that was tried in the ’90s.

AMY GOODMAN: And, John Burroughs, how significant is it that Hans Blix named Israel as a nuclear power?

JOHN BURROUGHS: It’s not particularly significant, because it’s well known that Israel is a nuclear power. But there was — a lot of the Blix commission report is basically taking things that have been said for a long time and saying we should still do these things that we were talking about a long time ago. But one new thing was the Blix commission said there should be steps taken towards a weapons of mass destruction-free zone in the Middle East. And one place to start would be with a freeze on production of nuclear fuel that can be used in reactors or in bombs, both in Iran, but also in Israel. So I thought that was a useful suggestion.

AMY GOODMAN: And, finally, you’re talking about the Bush administration, the history, but you also look at Clinton’s involvement in escalation.

JOHN BURROUGHS: In 1994 — Clinton had been in office for two years — the United States adopted a nuclear posture review, which reaffirmed Cold War policy. That sort of set the template for what was going to unfold in the years to come: the lack of reductions, the eventual rejection of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. It was also in the 1990s that the United States began to talk about using nuclear weapons to respond to biological or chemical weapons, threats or attacks. So a lot of what we’re seeing during the Bush administration was set in motion during the Clinton administration.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And this commission, the actual formation of the commission, what were the forces that brought it about?

JOHN BURROUGHS: In 2000, the Non-Proliferation Treaty agreed to a program of action that would have led to a nuclear weapon-free world. The United States agreed to that. That was during the Clinton administration, but it became readily apparent soon that that program wasn’t going to be carried out. So then the Swedish government formed this commission to at least form a parallel track to talk about the proposals and the needs.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us, John Burroughs, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy.

JOHN BURROUGHS: Glad to be here.

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