MEDFORD, Massachusetts -- Bush administration officials misled themselves on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and ''then they misled the world," Hans Blix, the former United Nations chief weapons inspector said yesterday.
Speaking at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, Blix criticized the administration's actions before invading Iraq in March 2003, but stopped short of saying it intentionally fooled the public on the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
''I've never maintained that the [Bush] administration deliberately misled" the public, said Blix, who headed the inspection team before the US-led military action in Iraq. ''I think they misled themselves, that we can see. And then they misled the world."
Asked at a press conference later what he meant, Blix said the administration interpreted satellite pictures and Iraqi defectors' information as evidence that weapons existed in Iraq when that information was, in his opinion, inconclusive.
''They took things they saw as conclusive," he said. ''They were not critically thinking. They wanted to come to these conclusions."
Invoking Roman mythology to describe the contrasting US and European approaches to Iraq before the war, Blix said the United States was ''like an impatient Mars quick to use its strong military force to solve problems, while Europe [was] like a patient Venus," opting for diplomacy.
A Bush administration official said the White House had not heard Blix's remarks and could not comment. But, the official said, ''the president has been very clear before on the reasons for going into Iraq."
In addition to the Bush administration, Blix criticized the news media for ''not devoting enough critical thinking" leading up to the Iraq war. Asked about New York Times reporter Judith Miller's recent admission that she and other journalists got it wrong on weapons of mass destruction, Blix said of the UN inspectors, ''We were not wrong."
In a story published Sunday in the Times, Miller was quoted as saying: ''WMD -- I got it totally wrong. The analysts, the experts, and the journalists who covered them -- we were all wrong."
Blix said, ''We did not say there aren't any weapons of mass destruction, partly for being cautious." But, he said, the inspectors had been to more than 700 sites in 500 places in Iraq, and ''we didn't find anything."
On the current attempts to negotiate an agreement on North Korea's nuclear program, Blix said it was ''positive" that Pyongyang said it was fully committed to nuclear disarmament talks in November and is showing flexibility on conditions for obtaining a light-water reactor. North Korea made those assurances this week, according to the governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson, who visited the country.
Blix, of Sweden, said there has to be a ''phasing in of trust" between the United States and North Korea before more progress can be made between the two countries.
On Iran, Blix said he doesn't think referring Iran to the UN Security Council would succeed in pressuring Iran to reach an agreement to restrict its nuclear program. Instead, Blix said, European countries need to sit down with Iran and offer it assurances like the ones North Korea is getting.
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