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Transcripts of Interviews

Transcript of the Interview with IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei and Dr. Hans Blix, Former Head of UNMOVIC

CNN Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer

Aired March 21, 2004 - 12:00 ET

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

Joining us now from New York, the U.N.'s former chief weapons inspector, Dr. Hans Blix. He's also the author of an important new book recounting his search for WMD entitled "Disarming Iraq."

Dr. Blix, welcome back to "LATE EDITION." Congratulations on the new book.

And one of the key points you make in the book, and we'll get right to it, is that the war really wasn't justified; that the inspections at the time a year ago were going well.

You write this: "I felt the armed action taken was not in line with what the Security Council had decided five months earlier. Had there been any denials of access, any cat-and-mouse play? No. Had the inspections been going well? Yes. True, they had not resolved any of the open disarmament issues, but in my view, they had gone much too well to be abandoned to justify war."

That's a controversial statement, because Bush administration officials continue to insist the inspections had not been going well and fundamentally were a waste of time. I want to get your elaboration on that.

HANS BLIX, FORMER U.N. CHIEF WEAPONS INSPECTOR: Well, I think it's clear that in March when the invasion took place the evidence that had been brought forward was rapidly falling apart. And we had called attention to a number of the points.

One was that there was a tendency on the U.S. administration to say that anything that was unaccounted for existed, whether it was sarin, or mustard gas or anthrax.

Another one related to the case that Colin Powell presented to the Security Council about a site in which they held that there had been chemical weapons and that they had seen decontamination trucks. Our inspectors had been there and they had taken a lot of samples, and there was no trace of any chemicals or biological things. And the trucks that we had seen were water trucks.

And, of course, the more spectacular of all was what my friend Mohamed revealed in the Security Council, namely that the alleged contract by Iraq with Niger to import yellow cake, that is uranium oxide, that this was a forgery, and the document had been sitting with the CIA and their U.K. counterparts for a long while, and they had not discovered it. And I think it took the IAEA a day to discover that it was a forgery.

BLITZER: And you're referring to Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, who'll be joining us momentarily, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Among other things you also write this in the book, in the aftermath of your meeting with President Bush before the war: "He explained to us that the U.S. genuinely wanted peace. With some self-deprecation, he said that, contrary to what was being alleged, he was no wild, gung-ho Texan, bent on dragging the U.S. into war."

What was your assessment meeting him at that time?

BLIX: Well, I think he wanted to show to us and to the world that the U.S. was genuinely throwing their support behind the inspectors. And we did get a lot of support and information, and some equipment as well. But, of course, what he didn't tell me was how long would that patience be, how long would they actually support the inspectors. And I think they lost their patience much too early.

I can see that they wanted to have a picture that was either black and white, and we presented a picture that had, you know, gray in it, as well. But the truth is that, in March, the evidence was rapidly falling apart for them.

BLITZER: And all of us, of course, remember the testimony, the statement that Colin Powell, the secretary of state, delivered before the U.N. Security Council. You were there. You write this in the book.

You write: "Colin Powell had been charged with the thankless task of hauling out the smoking guns that in January were said to be irrelevant, and that after March turned out to be non-existent."

Was it your sense, when you listened to Colin Powell testifying that day, with the CIA director behind him, the U.N. ambassador, John Negroponte behind him, that he was simply making this stuff up?

BLIX: No, that was not the feeling I had at the time. My feeling was rather this was interesting stuff, and I will let my experts look at it. And there are a number of things we could not check. For instance, there were intercepted telephone calls, and who they were between and who had intercepted them we didn't know. So I could certainly not say that this was evidence that was irrelevant.

But there was enough in it that resulted and I came back later to the council later on, and I said that to the council. I called attention to the fact that the evidence was shaky. We had - I told that to Condoleezza Rice, as well, so I think they were aware of it, but I think they chose to ignore us.

They had come so far, them having a couple hundred thousand men in the desert, and seeing the hot season in front of them, that maybe they were politically have needed of something very spectacular to call it off or to delay armed action.

BLITZER: Also joining us now from Vienna, Austria, is Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei. He's the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors the world's nuclear weapons.

Dr. ElBaradei, thanks very much for joining us.

You remember those days very, very vividly. You were sitting at the U.N. Security Council that day when Colin Powell made his statement. What was going through your mind as you saw war clouds develop?

MOHAMED ELBARADEI, DIRECTOR GENERAL, IAEA: Well, clearly, Wolf, the nuclear file was somewhat different from chemical and biological. With regard to the nuclear file, we were pretty convinced that we haven't seen really any evidence that Iraq resumed its nuclear weapon program, because we knew we dismantled that program in 1997, and our focus was to see whether anything has been resuscitated between '98 and 2002.

We didn't see that. As Hans was mentioned, there was a question of the uranium importation, there was a question of that tubes but these two stories we clearly realized that they did not support the conclusion that Iraq was restarting its nuclear weapon program.

With regard to chemical and biological - and that was Hans Blix fight - I think the situation was more complicated, because, although there was not much good intelligence, the presumption - and I think that was also shared by Hans, shared by many members of the Council - that because Iraq had them before, because it had accused them before, and there was no record of either destruction or production, there was this nagging question: Do they still have them?

And, frankly, because there was - we were dealing with a regime that was brutal, that had used chemical weapons in the past, the level of tolerance was very low, and the level of suspicion was extremely high. And - I think that's how we should look at - the question in context, frankly, yes.

BLITZER: You remember what Dick Cheney said, the vice president of the United States, only days before the war started. And I'll put it up on the screen. He said: "We believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons. I think Mr. ElBaradei, frankly, is wrong. And I think if you look at the track record of the International Atomic Energy Agency in this kind of issue, especially where Iraq's concerned, they have consistently underestimated or missed what Saddam Hussein was doing."

When you heard Dick Cheney say that a year ago, what were you thinking?

ELBARADEI: I was thinking that he was not really seeing what I see on the ground. I haven't seen anything on the ground at that time that support Mr. Cheney's conclusion or statement, so - and I thought to myself, well, history is going to be the judge.

BLITZER: Well, history has been the judge to a certain degree.

Dr. Blix, David Kay, a man you know, a former U.N. weapons inspector, then went back after the war as a U.S. weapons inspector, came back after many months in Iraq and basically said, "Couldn't find any weapons of mass destruction."

Listen precisely to what he said before the U.S. Congress upon his return.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID KAY, FORMER HEAD, IRAQ SURVEY GROUP: Let me begin by saying we were almost all wrong, and I certainly include myself here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Were you wrong, too Dr. Blix, in your prewar assessment about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction?

BLIX: No, I think we were right. But we could not say definitively that there aren't any weapons of mass destruction. As Mohamed ElBaradei said a moment ago, their were things unaccounted for. It meant they could either exist or not exist. So we could not affirm that they weren't there, but we - at least we didn't fall into the trap that the U.S. and the U.K. did in asserting that they existed.

BLITZER: Dr. ElBaradei, let's flash forward to some current issues on your agenda, the agenda of the IAEA right now, Iran specifically, the effort to disarm, to get rid of Iran's nuclear development program.

What's the key issue right now? How close is Iran to building a bomb?

ELBARADEI: Well, Wolf, I think I'd like to, for a moment, say that, to me, what's important from Iraq is what we learn from Iraq. We learned from Iraq that an inspection takes time, that we should be patient, that an inspection can, in fact, work.

In Iran, I think we have made very good progress. We made marked progress. We have now learned a lot about the Iranian program. Iran had agreed to fully suspend its enrichment program as a confidence-building measure, so we have to acknowledge we have made a good headway along our effort to make sure that Iran program is completely for peaceful purpose.

However, in the process we have discovered, Wolf, that this is a sophisticated program, it's an extensive program and it's a program that has been undeclared for over 15 years.

And in that context, as you understand, there's a lot of still skepticism that something might still be hidden. The fact that they have not declared to us some of the R&D lately have increased that skepticism.

And my answer to Iraq...

(AUDIO GAP)

ELBARADEI: ...if they want to clear their name, and for us to be able to conclude that the program is completely for peaceful purposes.

Part of the problem in Iraq, Wolf, was the opaque nature of that Saddam Hussein regime. We should not forget that. For a couple of months, their cooperation was not by any way transparent, for whatever reason.

But one of the lessons that, if a country really want to show to the world that its programs are peaceful, weapons-of-mass-destruction program are peaceful, they ought to be transparent, they ought to take a proactive approach.

BLITZER: Dr. ElBaradei, Dr. Blix, unfortunately we're out of time. Thanks to both of you for joining us on "LATE EDITION."