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Strong Denial From Former Soviet Republic With Close Ties to Iraq

Aired September 26, 2002 - 12:27   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: At United Nations today, a strong denial from a former Soviet republic with close ties to Iraq. It has to do with an allegation the United States has leveled at Ukraine. Here with that, our senior U.N. correspondent Richard Roth.
Richard, tell us what's going on.

RICHARD ROTH, CNN SR. U.N. CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, despite decades of sanctions on the nation of Iraq, how does the regime of Saddam Hussein in manage to rebuild sites even though United States and Britain have bombed away?

Well, the United States, says in one specific case, the nation of Ukraine plotted to sell Iraq a sophisticated early warning radar system. The foreign minister of Ukraine rushed to the United Nations today to deny the allegations. The foreign minister says they are groundless.

Nevertheless, the U.S. this week suspended a $55 million aid package to the nation of Ukraine. The foreign minister says his country is now open for investigation on this issue, the U.N., the U.S. can send anybody they want to probe the matter.

In fact, U.S. officials in the State Department hinting U.S. may very well do this. The foreign minister of Ukraine even said that the U.N. weapons inspectors that are supposed to go into Iraq can very well check this alleged early warning radar system out, and this system, Wolf, tips off the Iraqis that planes are approaching, but doesn't warn the pilots that they are being tracked -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Richard Roth, U.N. Richard, thanks very much.

And as the rhetoric heats up, you will be hearing more warnings for Americans around the world. That's a certainty. The latest has just been issued just hours ago by the U.S. embassy in Kuwait. It advises U.S. citizens to leave if they're worried.

CNN's Martin Savidge joins us from Kuwait City via videophone.

Now what is going on in Kuwait right now, Marty?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good evening to you, Wolf, from Kuwait. There are a number of interesting developments today, first, the foreign minister of Kuwait, that is Sheikh Sabah (ph), was returning from meeting at the United Nations in New York. He has asked by reporters to basically summarize the tensions in the region right now. The word he used "dangerous." He also said he wouldn't be surprised at all if Iraq used chemical weapons against Kuwait in retaliation for any U.S. military strike, primarily because there are U.S. military forces here. He said Iraq shown a tendency to use chemical weapons in the past.

Also, Kuwait is said to be getting more patriot missile batteries. Kuwait already has a number of them set up around populated areas, key government installations, airports, and also oil production facilities. These other patriot missiles said to be coming in would go to two airfields, currently used by U.S. and British warplanes to patrol the no-fly zone in southern Iraq.

And then this notice, I guess is the best word you can give, from the U.S. embassy to American citizens here, there are several thousand of them, essentially saying, that yes, if you are worried about the prospect of military action, if it bothers you, maybe you should heavily consider leaving the country, and at very least, if not, gather together your critical documents, your passport, and other essential items and have them in one place just in case you do have to leave in a hurry.

Of course, the U.S. embassy is saying that nothing is imminent at this point. It is simply standard operating procedure -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Martin Savidge in Kuwait City. Once again, Marty, thanks very much.

Everyone, it seems, is debating the very idea of a possible war with Iraq. Should the United States launch any attack, and when. Should it try to do it alone? Joining me here in Washington is Betsy Hart, of the Scripps Howard News Service, also Democratic strategist Robert Zimmerman is joining us from New York.

Robert, we've got a ton of e-mail. Let me read one that I just received and see -- get your reaction to this one.

Klaus e-mails us with this: "Will the U.S. continue to allow Saddam Hussein to remain in power, even though we now have evidence his Al Qaeda ties make him responsible for September 11? He needs to be eliminated immediately."

What do you say to someone like Klaus.

ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: He happens to be correct. Saddam Hussein is evil, and his regime is evil, and I think you've seen Democrats come together with Republicans and recognize the importance and need for regime change. The question, before us, though, is should preemptive action be taken, should we act unilaterally by -- as a first resort, or should that be last resort? Should our first step be to get a resolution through Congress, to go to the United Nations and try to work with the United Nations in terms of building a coalition? And if those tactics don't succeed, then of course international law truly protects our right for preemptive attack if that must be done.

BLITZER: Betsy, you can't disagree with that assessment, can you?

BETSY HART, SCRIPPS HOWARD NEWS SERVICE: Not entirely, except I think we are further down the road than Robert might have us believe. Keep in mind that Bill Clinton signed a declaration that we had to get rid of Saddam Hussein, that there had to be regime change back in 1998, which, by the way, Al Gore supported.

We have already gone down this road of inspections of, calling for getting those inspectors back on the ground in Iraq. The problem with that, Wolf, and, Robert, is that it muddies the waters. The president said we are for a regime change. Robert has said we are for a regime change. That is American policy. When we go to the U.N. Security Council, the waters get very muddied, and we start talking about inspections, inspections are not the answer. We can never inspect Iraq thoroughly enough. We know what they have been up to for the last dozen years. We have said we need to get rid of this regime. Now, is the time to act.

ZIMMERMAN: Betsy, the response from the House and Senate Democrats and Republicans, and from the administration is very clear, if we do not get unfettered access as diplomatic phrase is termed, if we do not receive unfettered access, if that's not the case, then clearly, the U.N. -- I mean, clearly, we have no choice for them to look at a military approach.

But the critical point here, Betsy, and the point Tony Blair made, is that is we have to pursue the diplomatic approach, we have to pursue a strategy of using our allies to disarm, and also be very mindful of the impact it has, in terms of our overall strategy of going after Al Qaeda.

BLITZER: Let me let Betsy respond, but I also want to read to you this e-mail we just got from George in Athens.

George, he says this, "President Bush is obsessed with war with Iraq for purely political reasons. It has nothing to do with national security. He should let the country move on to deal with more pressing issues like the economy and Social Security."

It's all a "Wag the Dog" kind of issue, according to George, in Athens.

HART: Well, let's talk about George's comments for a moment, but first back to Robert's. It just seems to me, as I said, we've gotten a little bit further down this road than maybe Robert would have us believe.

Now it may be that there is a political reason to put forth this idea of continuing with negotiations while we're going on the separate military track, which gets to George's points in the e-mail, and I don't entirely disagree with him. I think one of the mistakes that Bush has made is a allowing us, in a sense, to have this long running hand wringing, this national "Hamlet" over war with Iraq. It seems to me when he started this back in January, and he started dribbling out comments, and maybe we'll invade, and maybe we won't, that that was a mistake. He needed to decide one way or other, be a leader, make a case take, that case to Congress, keep it on regime change, even if to make the -- my friend Robert happy, he talked about a separate track of getting our allies on board, keep it on the notion of regime change and on Americans taking responsibility.

And I think, unfortunately, he's allowed this debate, the president has, to unravel a little bit, and that's what George in the e-mail refers to.

BLITZER: Robert, wait a second, Robert, I want you to listen to this e-mail we just got in from Steven in Springfield, Ohio, like many of our viewers, hammering Senator Daschle.

"Senator Daschle's shrill, politically motived accusations aimed at President Bush while he is leading the anti-terrorist war were outrageous. We can only hope that the president continues to focus his energy on the destruction of the terrorist supporters, including the regime in Iraq, despite these attacks.

Did Senator Daschle go too far?

ZIMMERMAN: I think Senator Daschle showed great, great deliberation and great leadership in terms of his comments, and I think also the fact that President Bush now seems backtracking from his comments several days ago at the Republican fund-raiser, I think, indicates that the administration recognizes they've got to stop the politicization of this war.

HART: But wait a minute -- I don't...

ZIMMERMAN: Betsy, I listened to you. I'd appreciate that courtesy. I think it is important to note Senator Daschle's comments were in response to an to outrageous statement, and it was an affront not just to his members, but to every member of the U.S. Senate, many of whom are war heroes, and to attack their patriotism, to attack their defense of our security is just not proper.

BLITZER: Betsy, you're going to have the last word -- go ahead.

HART: I thought Tom Daschle was about to dissolve in tears. It was totally over the edge, and what's wrong with politicizing this. The Democrats and Republicans were now seeing seem to have a fairly different view on how to proceed, and why not put that before the American people and say you have a choice to make in November, about what kind of representatives your going elect. It was appropriate. Daschle's comments were not.

BLITZER: We've got to leave it right there, unfortunately, Betsy Hart, Robert Zimmerman, thanks for joining us


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