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Showdown: Iraq: Bush Reminds Lawmakers He'll Bend Only So Far in Name of Bipartisanship

Aired October 1, 2002 - 12:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: On the eve of the Senate debate on a use of force resolution, President Bush reminds lawmakers he will bend only so far in the name of bipartisanship. Joining me now with the latest from their respective beat, CNN's Kelly Wallace -- she's over at the White House -- CNN's Jane Arraf -- she's in Baghdad. A little bit later, I'll be joined by CNN military analyst, the former NATO Supreme Commander General Wesley Clark.
The president is said to be hoping for an agreement on the wording of a congressional resolution before a breakfast meeting that's scheduled tomorrow with congressional leaders over at the White House. To that end, he's practicing some gentle persuasion.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I appreciate all the members of Congress working to come up with a resolution that sends a clear signal to the world that this county is determined to disarm Iraq, and thereby bring peace to the world.


BLITZER: Let's go over to the White House; Kelly Wallace is standing by. Kelly, what's the issue, what's the problem in getting this resolution passed?

KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, White House officials thought things were going smoothly and moving quickly, that they were within reach of an agreement, and then you have this bipartisan proposal pushed by Democratic Senator Biden and Republican Senator Lugar, a proposal that would really restrict the authorization to use force, solely to focus on dismantling Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. Democrats and Republicans think this is a way to get the strongest bipartisan support for any resolution.

You heard the president say he doesn't want anything to tie his hands. I talked to a senior official just a short time ago, who said, look, this bipartisan proposal is simply too restrictive, too narrow. It doesn't go as far as that 1998 legislation, which calls for regime change in Iraq. So the administration will keep pushing hard, hoping for an agreement, again, at the time of that breakfast tomorrow morning -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Is it just the Republican Senator Lugar, a very influential member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, or are there other Republicans who are also not necessarily 100 percent aligned with the White House?

WALLACE: That is the key question, Wolf. It appears that Republican Senator Chuck Hagel is also on board with his bipartisan proposal. But you know, he has had some criticism of the administration's approach and has encouraged the White House to get as strong international support as possible. So the key is if the bipartisan proposal could attract more Republican support, if that would become an issue for this White House.

Republicans will say, such as Senator Chuck Lugar's office, Richard Lugar's office, excuse me, that this would be a way to get strong bipartisan support, as many Democrats and Republicans as possible behind the president. It will be an issue for the White House if more Republicans start backing that bipartisan measure -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Kelly Wallace at the White House. Kelly, thanks.

For days now, Democrats on Capitol Hill have sought to narrow the president's authority to launch a second Gulf War, while somehow providing for a multilateral effort.

Our congressional correspondent Jonathan Karl is standing by.

A little bit more on this haggling, this negotiation over the wording of a resolution. How serious of a problem is it from the vantage point of Capitol Hill, Jon?

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, what's important here, Wolf, is that it's not just Democrats that have been seeking to narrow the president's authority, but as you heard Kelly Wallace say, it's also two very prominent Republicans on foreign policy questions. Dick Lugar, the second most senior Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, and Chuck Hagel, another member of that committee, they have both talked about narrowing the president's authority to wage war against Iraq, and that has forced the White House to come back to the table to negotiate with Democrats about narrowing the resolution.

And right now, we've been told by Congressman Dick Gephardt, the top Democrat in the House, that negotiations are going quite well. They're satisfied that the White House is making some good-faith effort to make some changes that will please Democrats. Not getting everything they want, but something they believe attend of the day that Dick Gephardt at least will be able to live with.

Over in the Senate, Democrats are not quite as happy with how negotiations are going on, and There's talk of Democrats coming forward with an alternative proposal, one you heard mentioned, the proposal by Joe Biden and by Dick Lugar, a Republican, that would narrow the president's authority, but also another proposal by Carl Levin, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee. It would actually require the president to first wait for the U.N. to act on this. That's something that's completely unsatisfactory to the White House and Republicans here. So there is still a lot of back and forth going on, but both sides say negotiations are moving forward, and we expect that by tomorrow, there will be debate on the floor of the Senate on this resolution.

BLITZER: John Karl, on Capitol Hill, thank you very much. And as far as United Nations Security Council resolution is concerned, we're hearing today from our State Department correspondent Andrea Koppel, the Bush administration may be ready to accept two resolutions. In what could be a serious concession to the French, the U.S. is apparently quietly drafting a pair of new measures, one of which would tell Iraq to comply with prior resolutions. The other would spell out the consequences if it doesn't.

France, Russia and China are resisting one new single resolution that has teeth, and all have veto power in the U.S. security -- U.N. Security Council. Iraq, meanwhile, has made it clear it will not accept any new resolutions that change the terms of reference from previous weapons inspections. On the other hand, the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz will fully assist inspectors and will prove there are no weapons of mass destruction.


TARIQ AZIZ, IRAQI DEP. PRIME MINISTER (through translator): The things that Washington says are all untrue. They have no proof. Iraq does not threaten anyone. Our relations with our neighbors are good. It is ridiculous to say that Iraq is threatening America. We took the important decision of letting the inspectors back, and that proves that Iraq doesn't have any weapons of mass destruction.


BLITZER: Let's get the latest from inside Baghdad right now.

Our CNN Baghdad bureau chief Jane Arraf is standing by.

Jane, what's the headlines coming out of Baghdad today?

JANE ARRAF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the Iraqi president is basically making the point that while he's agreed to let those inspectors back in and essentially pick up where they left off four years ago, he hasn't agreed to anything else.

What you're hearing behind me, by the way, is the call to prayer from a mosque here. It's a busy street that we're on, and life is going on normally. But the tension certainly is rising, particularly with this latest pronouncement from the cabinet. That says, as you noted, that no new resolutions. And what that refers to, essentially, is the palaces. Iraq will not agree to unrestricted access, changing the rules for entering chose presidential palaces -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Is there any sense, any new sense today that the inspectors will actually arrive October 15th, as has been tentatively scheduled.

ARRAF: Well, assuming that they can get over this rather large hurdle of whether there is going to be a new U.N. resolution, yes, Iraq has very much has taken on board the message from all the allies coming to it, including in Turkey, to Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, that this is basically their last chance, they have to let those inspectors back in. That's a given. The question is, what are they going to be able to do once they get here?


BLITZER: We'll be watching, as of course you will as well. Jane Arraf in Baghdad, thank you very much.

It's been nearly four years since the last weapons inspector inspectors left Iraq. During much of the 1990s, Our next guest led the weapons inspections.

Joining us now live from Stockholm, Sweden, the former UNSCOM chairman Rolf Ekeus.

Ambassador, thanks for joining us.

Give us your assessment right now on the play of events. Do you believe that the stage is set for resumed inspections that will be productive?

ROLF EKEUS, FMR. UNSCOM CHAIRMAN: It is clear that will be. I think it is clear there should be inspections. And if there will be constructive depends on the players. I believe that on the U.N. side, it has done what is necessary. It's assembled a very good team. They have prepared themselves very carefully. If we go for history, it shows that the inspectors at that time were close to completely successful in weeding out hidden and prohibited weapons.

BLITZER: Do you believe the Iraqis over these past four years, though, have come up with new and more sophisticated ways to hide potential weapons of mass destruction?

EKEUS: I'm sure of two things. One is that Iraq has not been quiet -- acquiring new weapons after the old ones were destroyed, because they know how to do it. And secondly, they learned a lesson, that last time, the inspectors really found the stuff and they, of course, have studied techniques and methods.

But we have to recall also that inspection teams have been -- they have been training, and considering and worked out also their counterploys to master the resistance from the Iraqi side.

BLITZER: I know that you've been looking carefully at that dossier that the British Prime Minister Tony Blair released last week outlining what he said were the threats from Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Do you agree, bottom line, with what Mr. Blair says?

EKEUS: There were some points I could not fully agree, fundamentally agree with it. But it was overstating the -- Iraq's missile capability was clearly overstated, if they don't show anything better. Because we -- the earlier inspection team destroyed fundamentally all of the Soviet-delivered Scuds which Iraq played around with during the '90s.

However, the second part, which covered what has happened since the inspections were finished were, I think, that was reasonably good assessment. But you notice there was no proof. What was there was a decent analysis of Saddam and leadership and of their intentions. And I think I would subscribe to the probability of quite a number of new capabilities, especially biological weapons and chemical weapons there. But also, unfortunately, nuclear. The missile is a rather tricky thing.

BLITZER: When you say the missile thing is a tricky thing. You don't believe they really have the sort of medium-range ballistic missiles along the lines of the Scuds or the Al-Hussein's (ph) that they earlier had that could threaten at least neighbors of Iraq?

EKEUS: Iraq acquired a huge number, more than 800, up to 900 Soviet Scuds in the '80s, and they consumed them, of course, in the various wars against Iran and Israel, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and so on. They were hiding some, they were destroying some, and the inspectors found some. But we made a full accounting of all these, because we had all the numbers from the Russians, so we could have a complete list.

However, that doesn't exclude that Iraq has tried to copycat, or through reverse engineering, produce new missiles with less accuracy.

The other problem is that Iraq was allowed to produce shorter range, shorter than 150 kilometers, roughly 90-miles range missiles. And there, we can fear that they have manipulated those into longer range. To some degree, I would bet that they've been doing that during these last four years. So I would say short, middle-range missiles capability. We must definitely account for capability delivering, probably all biological and chemical weapons.

BLITZER: Ambassador Ekeus, always good to speak with you. Thanks so much for joining me.

EKEUS: Thank you.


Far in Name of Bipartisanship>

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