International Papers

Blix Hans Down a Verdict

Plus, did al-Qaida buy nukes from Ukraine?

Former U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix has spoken out on the weapons of mass destruction controversy, and what he said, though delivered with his customary Nordic blandness, will have strengthened the case of those who argue that U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair based their attack on Iraq on false pretenses.

A story in London’s Guardian described Blix’s appearance on BBC television’s Breakfast With Frost show Sunday: “Dr. Blix said intelligence communities were too ready to believe the ‘tales’ of defectors, and [Bush and Blair] while not acting in bad faith, were too preoccupied with spin.” The story went on to report, “Referring to the government’s controversial dossier, with its suggestion that WMDs could be deployed [against Britain] within 45 minutes, he insisted: ‘The intention was to dramatize it, just as the vendors of some merchandise are trying to exaggerate the importance of what they have.’ ” The Daily Mirror, a staunch Blair critic, also highlighted the story, reporting that the prime minister had “stunned” Parliament last week when he said he did not know before the Iraq war started that “the intelligence was about battlefield weapons, not missiles which could strike UK bases.” The paper reported that this interpretation had been openly questioned by former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, who said he told Blair two weeks before the House of Commons voted in favor of war that the intelligence referred to battlefield weapons, which posed no threat to British territory.

The threat from al-Qaida may have just increased, however—at least if a story published Sunday on the front page of the London-based Arabic-language Al-Hayat is to be believed. The piece (which was picked up by the wires) was filed by the paper’s Islamabad correspondent and cited “sources close to al-Qaida” saying the group had acquired tactical nuclear weapons from Ukraine “after a visit by Ukrainian scientists to the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar in 1998, during which they met senior al-Qaida leaders.” The story, apparently based on the word of a single informant, went on to quote the source as saying that al-Qaida would only use the weapons inside the United States or in the event of a “devastating blow” with nuclear or chemical weapons that threatened the group’s survival.

Prince Charles will have been happy to make it into the Monday papers without a whiff of scandal. He made a surprise visit to Iraq and a surprising one to Iran over the weekend. The Iraqi leg was intended to raise the morale of British troops in the Basra area, but the purpose of the Iran stopover was more subtle. The prince’s entourage played down the visit as a “humanitarian” gesture, since Charles’ main purpose was to visit the earthquake-stricken city of Bam. However, the Daily Telegraph noted, “[I]t will inevitably be seen as a powerful signal of improving relations with Teheran’s clerical regime, a member of America’s reviled ‘axis of evil.’ ” The London-based Arabic language Al-Sharq al-Awsat went further, describing the visit as “historic” in the headline of its lead story. Indeed, this is the first time a British royal has traveled to Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution. The paper stressed that observers saw the visit as a sign that Britain “seeks to push for Iranian cooperation in Iraq and on weapons of mass destruction.”

The Arabic-language press was also fascinated by the latest tiff between the Saudi government and Qatar’s Al Jazeera satellite station. On Friday, Al Jazeera aired a videotape allegedly filmed by Islamist militants just prior to a bomb attack against a Riyadh residential complex last November. The tape showed the militants driving to the complex, but it also featured scenes of men training in a camp supposedly inside Saudi Arabia. The tape, which embarrassed the royal family by showing armed men apparently training freely in the kingdom, was plainly not to the liking of the Saudi authorities. In an interview Sunday with the Saudi Okaz newspaper, the deputy intelligence chief, Prince Abdel Aziz bin Bandar, said that by showing the footage, the station was effectively “inciting terrorism,” a tendency, he added, already visible at Al Jazeera prior to the Sept. 11 attacks.