When 60 Minutes interviews nuclear watchdogs

This week on 60 Minutes, correspondent Lesley Stahl sits down with Rafael Grossi, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Grossi is the man charged with holding the world back from the brink of nuclear war, keeping an eye on countries like Russia, Iran, and North Korea.

Twenty years ago, the nuclear watchdogs at the IAEA and the United Nations were closely focused on Iraq. In November 2002, 60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft spoke with Hans Blix, a former IAEA chief who was at the time heading the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission.  

Blix and his team were just about to enter Iraq to search for evidence of weapons of mass destruction, or WMDs. “What they find, or don’t find, may well determine if the United States goes to war against Iraq,” Kroft reported at the time.

Kroft’s report would prove to document the lead-up to the U.S. invasion — though not in the way many were expecting.  

As Kroft reported in November 2002, Blix’s team was made up of 280 weapons inspectors from around the world. The international experts had access to helicopters, surveillance planes, and state-of-the-art detection devices, some of which had been specifically designed for the mission. UN Security Council Resolution 1441 had given the team unimpeded, unconditional, and unrestricted access to any site in Iraq, and had authorized them to take Iraqi scientists and their families out of the country to be interviewed.

While previous inspector teams had faced Iraqis anticipating their every move, Blix told Kroft he was confident his team would now be able to surprise the Iraqis. 

“We will go to many places which they are not anticipating us,” Blix said. 

Two months after Kroft’s report aired, Blix made a bombshell announcement. In January 2003, Blix said that, after almost 400 inspections, he and his team had uncovered no “smoking guns” in Iraq. 

But later that month, in his State of the Union address, President George W. Bush indicated that he continued to view Iraq’s WMD capabilities as a threat. Implying that Iraq was still trying to develop nuclear weapons, Bush said, “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”

On March 7, 2003, Mohamed ElBaradei, then-director general of the IAEA, joined Blix in a report to the UN. According to ElBaradei, the IAEA had concluded that documents purporting to show Iraq shopping for uranium in Niger were, in fact, forged. 

Less than two week later, the U.S. invaded Iraq.

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