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Last Updated: Sunday, 29 June, 2003, 08:57 GMT 09:57 UK
Blix bows out of UN role

By Greg Barrow
BBC UN correspondent in New York

The chief UN weapons inspector, Hans Blix, retires on Monday after a tumultuous few months heading the search for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

In the end, Mr Blix was frustrated as much by the impatience of Washington and London to intervene in Iraq as he was by alleged attempts by the Iraqis to conceal their weapons programmes.

Hans Blix at the Security Council
Blix: Most would agree he departs with his integrity intact
Avuncular, inscrutable, and sometimes infuriating were all adjectives used to describe Mr Blix in the run-up to the war in Iraq.

He was an unlikely character to hog the international limelight. But for weeks the media followed his every step, hanging on each of his words to see whether this time Hans Blix would give more to the pro- or the anti-war camp.

But he gave little away and some say this marked Mr Blix out as a very special weapons inspector.

"I would say that Blix was probably the best," said Nathaniel Hurd, an independent adviser on Iraq.

"He was able to be punchy at times, vis a vis the Iraqis, vis a vis Washington, vis a vis all parties concerned, but at the same time he clearly was interested in being professional and not necessarily in being a grand figure on the world stage."

Consistent message

In the time Mr Blix and his team of inspectors spent in Iraq he could not say with any certainty whether Baghdad had or had not re-activated its chemical and biological weapons programme.

He wanted more time, but that was something Washington did not want to give.

If some little more time had been given to us, maybe we would have been able to come further in our exploration. But then there was no patience
Hans Blix
In an interview with the BBC earlier this month, he admitted he was mildly amused now that both America and Britain are asking for more time to complete their search for weapons of mass destruction.

"I am patient and I certainly will watch what they come out with - but I would make the comment, however, that that patience was not shown to us inspectors in the middle of March," he said.

"If some little more time had been given to us, maybe we would have been able to come further in our exploration. But then, there was no patience."

In the end, Mr Blix was never able to complete his work in Iraq - but in the eyes of many, he leaves his post in New York with his integrity intact.

Search for truth

"For those observers who have seen the UN and UN officials so often bend to US pressure, he at least was able to provide one example of an individual in a very high-profile position under great pressure trying to be professional and to do his job rather than to play favourites," said Nathaniel Hurd.

Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei
The chief inspectors wanted more time to complete their work
There is no disguising the fact that there was bad blood between Mr Blix and some of his counterparts, particularly those in the Bush administration.

But as he sets off for retirement, he says he only wishes them well.

"I would be as eager as anybody else would be to find the truth about the weapons of mass destruction," he said.

Mr Blix will return to Sweden, where he will watch developments from afar.

And he says he will be honing those skills developed in the search for Iraq's weapons - by hunting instead for field mushrooms and blueberries in the countryside around his home.

The BBC's Greg Barrow
"Hans Blix retires with his work left unfinished"

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