Hans Blix, the UN chief weapons inspector, lashed out last night at the "bastards" who have tried to undermine him throughout the three years he has held his high-profile post.
In an extraordinary departure from the diplomatic language with which he has come to be associated, Mr Blix assailed his critics in both Washington and Iraq.
Chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix. In a newspaper interview Blix has described certain members of the US administration as "bastards" who set out to undermine him. (AFP/File/Stan Honda)
Speaking exclusively to the Guardian from his 31st floor office at the UN in New York, Mr Blix said: "I have my detractors in Washington. There are bastards who spread things around, of course, who planted nasty things in the media. Not that I cared very much.
"It was like a mosquito bite in the evening that is there in the morning, an irritant."
In a wide-ranging interview Mr Blix, who retires in three weeks' time, accused:
- The Bush administration of leaning on his inspectors to produce more damning language in their reports;
- "Some elements" of the Pentagon of being behind a smear campaign against him; and
- Washington of regarding the UN as an "alien power" which they hoped would sink into the East river.
Asked if he believed he had been the target of a deliberate smear campaign he said: "Yes, I probably was at a lower level."
Before he had even flown to Iraq to relaunch the sensitive weapons inspections after a four-year hiatus last November, senior US defense department officials were excoriating the septuagenarian as the worst possible choice for the post.
It was just the beginning. By autumn, the happily married father of two was being branded in Baghdad as a "homosexual who went to Washington every two weeks to pick up [his] instructions".
"The Iraqis were spreading that rumor about me early in the autumn and then I heard the counter-rumor that I had told my wife, Eva, about this rumor and that she said she had never noticed it. My alleged comment to her," he said, breaking into laughter, "was that nor had I." But the criticism clearly hurt.
A lot of the sniping "surely came" from the Pentagon, said Mr Blix, who has since won plaudits for his handling of the unenviable brief of divining whether Iraq had disarmed.
Staff attached to the UN monitoring and inspection commission, headed by the Swede for the past three years, openly say there is no love lost between hawks in the Bush administration and their mission.
Mr Blix, a former foreign minister, prefers to remain sanguine. "By and large my relations with the US were good," he said, reiterating his belief that the Iraqi regime would likely never have complied with any of the UN resolutions around disarmament had it not been for the presence of 200,000 US troops in the region.
"But towards the end the [Bush] administration leaned on us," he conceded, hoping the inspectors would employ more damning language in their reports to swing votes on the UN security council.
Washington, he claimed, was particularly upset that the UN team did not "make more" of the discovery of cluster bombs and drones in March.
He said Washington's disappointment at not getting UN backing for an attack was "one reason why you find skepticism towards inspectors".
The life-long civil servant -who is looking forward to returning to a shared life with his wife in Stockholm as he turns 75 - said he was convinced that "there are people in this administration who say they don't care if the UN sinks under the East river, and other crude things".
Instead of seeing the UN as a collective body of decision-making states, Washington now viewed it as an "alien power, even if it does hold considerable influence within it. Such [negative] feelings don't exist in Europe where people say that the UN is a lot of talk at dinners and fluffy stuff."
That was especially worrying given President Bush's openly proclaimed belief in the doctrine of pre-emptive strikes. "It would be more desirable and more reasonable to ask for security council authority, especially at a time when communism no longer exists and you don't have automatic vetoes from Russia and China," he said.
Similarly it would be much more "credible" if a team of international inspectors were sent into Iraq instead of the 1,300-strong US-appointed group now conducting the search for weapons of mass destruction, he said.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003