Hans Blix Heads Off Into the Sunset

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The exact role of the United Nations in a post-Saddam Iraq remains the subject of intense transatlantic debate, but one certainty is that chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix will have no part in it. "My contract expires at the end of June," Blix told TIME on Thursday, "and I do not propose to stay beyond that." Not that the news will likely have much effect on the Bush administration's plans. There has been strong speculation in diplomatic and political circles that the Pentagon is currently assembling its own team of weapons experts in Kuwait, possibly under the direction of former UN inspector Charles Duelfer, to search for weapons of mass destruction once Saddam's regime has been ousted.

Blix offered no specific reasons for his decision, although he drew attention to the fact that the mission of UNMOVIC, which he came out of retirement in March 2000 to lead, will have been dramatically altered by the war. "One phase is over and the U.S. decided that inspections were not an avenue through which you could achieve the verified disarmament of Iraq," Blix said. "Later on, there may be some long term monitoring of some kind, but that is a new phase.

"I was in retirement when I came here for one task, and when that is over if they still need someone to run the organization someone else can take over. I can go back and resume my research and writing about international law."

Blix took the UNMOVIC position after having served for 17 years as the Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (the UN atomic watchdog). He was summoned out of retirement by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan after Security Council members failed to agree on the nomination of fellow Swede Rolf Ekeus to head UNMOVIC. Blix's appointment was unanimously approved by the Security Council, and he led the inspectors back into Iraq last November following the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1441. Last Tuesday, Annan ordered the evacuation of all UN personnel from Iraq, a day before the start of U.S.-led military action against Saddam Hussein's regime.

In interviews and a Security Council appearance since the inspectors' departure from Iraq, Blix has been publicly critical of the U.S. for what he sees as a premature decision to terminate the inspectors work.