It's been more than five years since Hans Blix left his post as U.N. chief weapons inspector. In the months before the U.S.-led invasion, Blix was on the search for weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. They were never found.
Blix famously opposed the war that followed, calling it "illegal." He maintains that, given a few more months to complete inspections, he could have convinced the intelligence community that there were no WMDs in Iraq. In one meeting with the Bush administration, Blix remembers Paul Wolfowitz, a Pentagon deputy under then-Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, asking, "but don't you believe there are weapons of mass destruction?"
"If I did, I would have put it in a report," Blix said he answered.
Blix now lives in his home country of Sweden, where he chairs the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission. ABC News interviewed Blix in Abu Dhabi, where he was speaking in favor of nuclear energy adoption in the Middle East. The United Arab Emirates and at least a half dozen other Arab states have stated intentions to pursue a nuclear energy program.
ABC News: From the latest IAEA report on Iran, what did we learn about the state of their nuclear program?
Hans Blix: Not very much new. It said that [the IAEA] cannot confirm that there is intent about nuclear weapons. But they've never been able to do that ... however much they search and don't find anything, that isn't going to change the attitude in Washington or London. They'll say, maybe they don't have intention now but they could change in two months' time.
ABC: Are you concerned by Iran's intent?
Blix: The commission that I headed took the view that it is desirable to persuade Iran to walk back from the enrichment program because it has already increased tensions very much. Western powers came out and said they could facilitate investments and economic relations, we can support them to get into the World Trade Organization, we believe in civilian nuclear power industry. But first they must suspend enrichment. I'm skeptical about this last point, the conditionality. For Iran, the building up of the program is the trump card. And who throws away the trump card before the game starts? So I think that conditionality is silly.
In the talks so far, two cards have been missing which can only be given by the United States: one is an assurance against attack -- a commitment not to attack from the outside and not to try to change regime from the inside. The other point is about diplomatic relations. This is a card that has not been used, though it's been talked about in the press, like the possible [American staffed] U.S. Interest Section in the Swiss Embassy
ABC: What lessons from the Iraq experience, in terms of nonproliferation, could be applied to the Iranian case?
Blix: I think they were motivated by different things. In most cases, countries that go for nuclear weapons are motivated by a perceived compelling need for security. In the case of Iran, I don't see that it is there. That gives me optimism. Another motivation countries have is prestige and the aim to get a seat at the table. That could be the case, a motivation [for Iran]. For that reason I think diplomatic relations are important. There are not compelling motivations for Iran to have nuclear weapons.
In terms of lessons learned, I think Iran has been insulted. I've always thought that humiliation is very, very bad between states. When Condoleezza Rice once spoke about Iran must "behave itself," I don't think that's a way to talk. The "Axis of Evil" might be good domestic politics, but it's not international politics if you want to negotiate with someone. If you don't like the other fellow, at least be correct.
ABC: Is there a military option? Some contrast Iran with the case of Osirak [the Iraqi reactor taken out by Israeli air strikes in 1981] and say a strike on Iran can't be effectively hit the same way. Do you agree?
Blix: As soon as you discuss what you can do with the military ... it's clear the military options have not proved that glorious. In the case of Iraq, it certainly did not prove glorious.
ABC: But it did take out Osirak, didn't it? It achieved that objective.
Blix: It took out Osirak, yes. But I don't think Israel is a threat to Iran. And Israel is a threat to Iran if Iran continues enrichment. Nor do I think Iran is a threat to Israel.
ABC: What do you think of what happened in Syria, the strike on an alleged nuclear facility?
Blix : I think it's mystifying ... Mohammed Al Baradei had a point, saying why didn't they come to us, ask for an inspection? Instead, they bombed. A bit more transparency, by those who often ask for transparency, would be desirable. What puzzles me now are reports from the IAEA that they've found some traces of uranium. That puzzles me because if it was a reactor, uranium is about the last thing you would introduce. If it were a reactor, that would mean it was practically ready.
ABC: What's your hope for the Obama administration in terms of nonproliferation and Iran?
Blix: I'm as hopeful as everyone else is ... all I've heard from him about nuclear disarmament is very positive. He has really taken onboard the initiative of Kissinger and Shultz and he has come out concretely in favor of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, to be reviewed again by the Senate.
Of course, there are parameters within which he has to move. But if Washington changes tune, if they want to go for disarmament, then something very important has happened. But it's not going to happen unless they get a détente first. I don't know if [the U.S.] is aware how much they have antagonized the Russians. There are two points there I think they must solve. One, the expansion of NATO -- I don't see that it is something essential, worth all of the trouble we have now. Second, is the missile sites in Eastern Europe. The missile sites anger the Europeans because the U.S. went directly to Poland and the Czech Republic without asking Europe or NATO. Later, they discovered that maybe it was a good idea to sell this also as a European interest.
To lose an empire is not easy. The British did it, and they learned how. The French did it, and they learned how. Then the Russians did it -- they have not quite learned how. And now I think the Americans should learn how to lose an empire.
ABC: From a weapons perspective, does anything worry you about having an expanded nuclear map in the Middle East?
Blix: We will need more energy in many countries. We are all worried about global warming. We are all aware of the need to restrain CO2. My first choice is energy saving ... but the second is expansion of the nuclear power. The renewables, yes, I'm not against them. But we need to grasp the sum of the physics. There's a difference in energy density of things. Wind is everywhere, but it needs to be harvested. If you take water, even that is concentrated in rivers and you need to get it into waterfalls. If you take the sunshine, it's everywhere, but also it needs to be harvested. Whereas, if you go to uranium, you get up to 50,000 kilowatt hours per kilogram of uranium, and that has some impact.
Nothing is without a risk. All energy sources have some risk, and I'm not saying nuclear is without some risk. But we have so far managed to keep it on an even keel. Long term, I'm more worried about global warming than about weapons of mass destruction.