Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix (searchsaid Wednesday the Bush administration criticized him but applied no pressure as his teams searched for banned weapons in Iraq. He denied a newspaper report that he called U.S. officials "bastards."

"I've had very good and correct relations with the Bush administration," he said. "I still do, I hope."

Blix, who oversaw a fruitless 3-month search for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, was questioned about an interview published Wednesday in London's Guardian newspaper, under the banner headline: "I was smeared by the Pentagon."

"I have my detractors in Washington. There are bastards who spread things around, of course, who planted nasty things in the media," Blix was quoted as telling liberal daily.

Asked Wednesday whether he used the word "bastards" to refer to the Bush administration, Blix replied: "No, no, absolutely not. I was talking about private individuals."

Assistant Editor Brian McDermott at The Guardian said in an interview late Wednesday, "Blix hasn't come back to us to contradict what we've published. We absolutely stand by what our reporter has written."

Blix, who is retiring on June 30, explained that some people have waged a campaign against him since before he became chief U.N. inspector three years ago. "There was a former Swedish prime minister who wrote about me a number of nasty articles," he said.

This was an apparent reference to former Swedish deputy prime minister Per Ahlmark who wrote in two U.S. newspapers in January that Blix, a fellow Swede, was soft on Iraq and was trying to appease Saddam Hussein. Blix said he hadn't seen Ahlmark since the 1970s.

"It's something he got from private sources -- not from the Pentagon," Blix said of the information in the articles. "It's not anything I lose sleep on."

Asked whether there was a smear campaign against him, Blix again referred to the articles by Ahlmark.

"There have been fairy tales told about both Mr. ElBaradei and myself and it's so low that I really don't feel like elaborating," he added.

 

Mohamed ElBaradei (searchis the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is in charge of nuclear inspections.

In Washington, Secretary of State Colin Powell (searchand U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan joined Wednesday in praising Blix.

"There is no smear campaign I am aware of," Powell said. "I have high regard for Dr. Blix. I worked very closely with Dr. Blix. I noted the president had confidence in him as well."

Annan, standing alongside Powell at the entrance to the State Department, said some press reports about Blix were unfair. "He did a good job. He had universal respect for his professionalism."

When asked whether the Bush administration pressured U.N. inspectors, Blix replied, "No, we had a correct relation with the Bush administration all the way through."

The United States and Britain justified attacking Iraq and ousting Saddam Hussein on the grounds he had biological, chemical and nuclear weapons along with the missiles to deliver them.

After the war, the United States barred U.N. inspectors from returning. But more than two months later, U.S.-led teams have failed to find illegal weapons after visiting more than 230 suspected sites -- and this has become a major issue in Washington, London and other international capitals.

The Guardian quoted Blix as saying American officials pressured him to use more damning language when reporting before the war on Iraq's alleged weapons programs.

"Of course, criticism -- there was some. At one time there was a question to the CIA to inquire about me and I didn't take that very seriously," Blix said, without elaborating.

He cited differences between the Bush administration and U.N. inspectors over interviewing Iraqi scientists. The United States wanted scientists taken out of the country, with their families, but Blix questioned the feasibility, citing possible requests for asylum and risks to relatives left behind.

Blix said "toward the end they (the Americans) would have been very keen to have us come out and say that ... (Iraq had) weapons of mass destruction."

"On our side we have at no time said that we think the Iraqis have weapons of mass destruction," he said. "We have said at all times that there are many question marks."

"We are interested in the Americans and the other inspectors there now coming to the truth," Blix said.