Hans Blix, the United Nations' former chief weapons inspector, said yesterday that Libya's disarmament plans showed that Iraq could have been contained without "rushing to war".
Dr Blix spoke out as Colonel Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, said that snap checks of nuclear sites in his country could begin as soon as next week.
The oil-rich state, which is on the US list of sponsors of terrorism, said last week it was abandoning plans to build an atomic bomb and other weapons of mass destruction.
But Dr Blix rejected claims that it was the war on Iraq that had forced Colonel Gaddafi's hand and said that his willingness to co-operate with the UN underlined the power of sanctions.
The former weapons expert also repeated his belief that Saddam Hussein almost certainly destroyed his stocks of biological and chemical armaments after the 1991 Gulf War.
He added that Syria was "very likely" to be producing similar weapons today, although there was little or no evidence to support claims that it had a nuclear program.
Interviewed on BBC Radio 4's Today program., Dr Blix said that Libya's agreement to a trial for the Lockerbie suspects and its deterioration under sanctions showed the impact of non-military means.
"Years of pressure has meant that Gaddafi has gone a slow path to this result ... the country has been worn down," he said. "So, I think one could just as well say that the example shows that perhaps Iraq could also have been handled with continuous containment." Dr Blix said that he did not deny that military pressure was important and the American and British build-up had forced the Iraqis to let weapons inspectors back into the country last year. "The question is whether at the end they were not too rushing towards the war. After all, we had only been there for three and a half months and before that you had a period of four years in which there were no inspections," he said. "The rush was probably caused by the fact that so many military people had been amassed near Iraq and that the hot season was approaching so the hand was forced."
Colonel Gaddafi yesterday invited the world to come to Libya to see for itself that Tripoli was not concealing banned weapons. "We don't want to hide anything," he told CNN.
© 2003 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd