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Obama "raises hope" for peaceful Iran solution

Blix hopes for a new approach in the nuclear stand-off with Iran


The accession of United States President Barack Obama has paved the way to a peaceful Iran solution, according to former United Nations weapons inspector Hans Blix.

Blix believes the deadlock between the West and Iran over nuclear capabilities was made worse by the "contempt" shown by the former US administration. He also said that the Iraq war was lost rather than won.

Blix rose to prominence in 2000 when he was appointed by the UN to search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) poured cold water on the pretext to invade Iraq by finding no evidence of these weapons.

Speaking at the Alpine Symposium in Interlaken on Tuesday, Blix drew parallels between Iraq and the current situation with Iran, which the West has accused of enriching uranium to build nuclear weapons.

Blix said his hopes for a diplomatic solution to the stand-off were raised when Obama replaced former US President George Bush on Tuesday. The Bush administration had refused to enter negotiations with Iran, preferring sanctions and gunboat diplomacy instead, Blix said.

"The biggest difference with Obama coming to power is that he will be more ready to enter into direct talks. We should get a much more creative and positive attitude," he said.

"Bush was the worst for treating people without respect. The policy was that the US was the good guy and they would keep order among the unruly children of the world."

Iraq lessons

Blix said his experience of inspecting Iraq for weapons in the 1990s had taught him some valuable lessons about defusing tensions in the region.

"One of my experiences was: don't treat people with contempt, don't humiliate anybody. You do not get much for saying we will not talk to you. You can have diplomatic talks and take strong positions," he said.

The former Swedish foreign minister was also sceptical about the value of the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Apart from toppling dictator Saddam Hussein, the military has failed, according to Blix.

"The US and allies said they wanted to do away with weapons of mass destruction, but they did not exist. They wanted to stop links with al-Qaeda who were not in Iraq at the time, but have now arrived. They wanted to produce a democracy and they got anarchy," Blix said.

"If you don't have the right diagnosis of a situation, how can you have the right therapy?"

Swiss role

Blix appealed for all countries to downscale their stock of nuclear weapons (that he refers to as "toys for big boys"). And he recommended a broader approach to negotiations with Iran that looks at the nuclear capabilities of the whole Middle East region.

Blix added that Switzerland still has a role to play in mediating in the Middle East despite losing much of its influence as a global mediator in recent years.

Switzerland represents US interests in Iran through its embassy in Tehran and is the home of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). But it also produces many experts in the field of tracing weapons.

"When I was working for the IAEA we were frequently in touch with them about technologies that could be used to identify weapons of mass destruction," Blix told swissinfo.

swissinfo, Matthew Allen in Interlaken

Hans Blix

Hans Blix was born in Uppsala, Sweden, in 1928. He was a member of the Swedish delegation at the diarnament conference in Geneva (1962-1978 and was Swedish minister for foreign affairs (1978-1979).

He was appointed director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency IAEA (1981-1997). During this time, Blix directed inspections on suspected nuclear weapons manufacturing sites in Iraq.

Blix retired in 1997 but three years later was asked by then UN secretary general Kofi Annan to lead the UN's search for weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq.

Blix's investigation unearthed no evidence of WMD – a key pretext for the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. His findings were later confirmed by subsequent searches of the country.

Since 2003, Blix has been chairman of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, an independent body based in Stockholm and funded by the Swedish government, which analyses the distribution of WMD in the world.

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