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Iraq Accepts U.N. Resolution, 'Despite Its Bad Contents'

Aired November 13, 2002 - 11:30   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, once again, this isn't just a demand from the United States, but an international coalition. We want to go to London now, and that's where our Sheila MacVicar is standing by with international reaction.
Sheila, hello.

SHEILA MACVICAR, SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. We'll, we're still waiting for official reaction from Downing Street, the office and headquarters of Britain's prime minister. But obviously, Tony Blair has been a close ally of President Bush through this, was instrumental, indeed, in persuading the U.S. administration that the better course would be to go to the U.N., to try to seek unanimity, to try to seek consensus from the international community, through a new Security Council resolution.

On Monday night, Prime Minister Blair delivered a key foreign policy address here in London, and he talked about Iraq in that address, saying that there is no quarrel with Iraq's people, that Saddam Hussein knows what he has to do. He understands fully what the time line is for him to do it, and that it is his choice now, whether there is peace or war.

But something that will surely be playing in Tony Blair's mind, his advisers' minds this afternoon, a new poll commissioned by Britain's Channel 4 News, has found that, while 76 percent of Britains surveyed believe that military action against Iraq might be necessary, only 13 percent fully back the need for a strike against Iraq.

And more than that, on a scale of zero to 10, with 10 being total trust in a leader, 54 percent of those rated President George Bush at less than 2. That gives you a clue of some of the kinds of domestic pressures that Britain's prime minister is under here, as he goes forward with the perception that he is certainly President Bush's closest ally.

KAGAN: Sheila, this also comes on a day, the news of the release of this alleged Osama bin Laden tape, where he's very specific to countries that would come to the aid of the United States on any possible attack on Iraq. I would imagine that's getting a lot of play in Britain, as well.

MACVICAR: Absolutely. And one of the things we have to say is that, although there is generally a view through the European allies, with Germany being somewhat separate in this, but certainly the French sharing the view Iraq must be disarmed, something that we've heard again from French officials over the course of the last number of days.

There is still also a view here that the war against terror has not yet been won. And of course, if this tape from bin Laden does prove, indeed, is verified to be him, then that, again, will raise more questions. Europe has been on a state of heightened alert, has been this way now for some considerable period of time.

We know that there has been an alert issued to ferry ports throughout Western Europe. And we reported yesterday on how those ports were on a heightened state of alert, with fears that terrorist groups, perhaps Al Qaeda or linked to Al Qaeda, could put an explosive device on one or more ferries.

It's a very difficult time. And, clearly, although the most serious attacks were in the United States on September 11th, we've had the Bali bomb, there's been a series of other attacks elsewhere against U.S. Marines in Kuwait, the French tanker off the coast of Yemen. There is a view that we have heard, repeatedly, over the course of the last week or ten days or so, coming from European intelligence officials and political leaders, that there is a large -- there is a perception that there is a grave threat against targets in Europe and there is a great deal of concern because of that.

KAGAN: And because of that, and this is going back to your point about Tony Blair, how important and how heavy does it weigh on him, his political popularity, given his allegiance not just to the United States but, as you were mentioning, his close relationship to President Bush and to the cause of trying to disarm Iraq?

MACVICAR: Well, Tony Blair will not be happy with the results of this poll, because the other thing it says is that nearly half of those people surveyed think that Prime Minister Blair is behaving as, quote, unquote, "President Bush's lap dog" -- someone who has been portrayed in the tabloids as being too much at the beck and call of President Bush, has been too close to the American line on certain things, most particularly, with regards to conflicts with Iraq.

The notion that it was President Blair's intervention which helped move the U.S. administration towards accepting the U.N. as an appropriate vehicle in which to seek consensus, is something that has not really played very well here because, of course, the view of many in Europe is that the United States should not be acting in a unilateral fashion and should not be acting without consensus at a time when such a conflict could have major repercussions, not just in the United States, not just in the Middle East, but around the globe.

And so, this is something that he will, again, I think try to set himself, not only as an ally and friend of the United States and of President Bush, in particular, but he will, again, perhaps enunciating some things, some places where his policies differ, he may be putting forward some different ideas.

We heard him on Monday, for example, talk about the need for a Middle East peace conference. That's not an idea which is currently being embraced by the Bush administration.

KAGAN: Sheila MacVicar in London. Sheila, thank you.


HARRIS: All right. Now, I believe that we're being joined on the telephone right now by a former weapons inspector, Terry Taylor who's in Washington. Are you there, Mr. Taylor?


HARRIS: What do you make of these developments that we've just seen and heard in the last few minutes?

TAYLOR: Well, I'm not surprised to hear that Saddam Hussein has accepted the resolution. It seems, from what we heard, the Iraqi ambassador saying -- although we don't know the full contents of the letter -- that it's unconditionally accepted. But I think, given the vote of the U.N. Security Council, in other words, zero out of 15, in favor of the resolution and, of course, the military preparations by the U.S. and its allies, I think, really, Saddam Hussein's saw had he no alternative. And the history shows -- the early '90s shows this is a familiar pattern.

HARRIS: Well, based upon that pattern then, perhaps, if you were able to hear the comments that we had moments ago Jamie Rubin (ph), any sense right now, in your professional estimation, about what may happen 30 days from now, when this inspection period is actually underway or when it's over, actually, and we get to the point where the disarmament must actually take place? What do you think happens then?

TAYLOR: Well, I think the next, if you like, red flag, if I might put it that way, will be the declaration that Iraq is required to make within 30 days -- that's the 30 days you mention -- on its weapons of mass destruction program if, indeed, it has any. And I believe it has nuclear, biological, chemical and prohibited missile programs. What worried me, when I heard the ambassador talking about was that he said, well, we don't have any of these programs. And I think if the declaration is a kind of new (ph) declaration, we have none of these programs, I'm not certain that Washington will accept that as a credible declaration, so that might be the first hurdle required to be jumped.

HARRIS: Well, what is the signal then that that sends? Does that not send a signal that, perhaps, the cat-and-mouse games are not over and that they will continue, if we're seeing here in the same breath, you're hearing a message that says inspectors are welcome back, but they won't find anything, because there is nothing here, when many people know that to not be true or believe that to not be true?

TAYLOR: Right. Well, I think we can only tell when the declaration comes -- the one that's due within 30 days. But if it says we have none of these programs, of course, it could only be cat and mouse, but I think none in Washington would have difficulty in finding that credible. And so, they would not, perhaps, deem that as cooperation. That's why I think it's a very important step. I'd be very surprised if it was a completely a declaration of that kind that said we have nothing of this kind and it did not contain some new information, because I think that would be a provocative thing for the Iraqis to do.

HARRIS: Well, at this particular point then, what do you think that your fellow weapons inspectors are doing or preparing to do at this point in time?

TAYLOR: Well, there's a lot of logistical setting up to do, and they've got to set up their forward-operating base in Cyprus, which they'll launch the inspections from. That's where the inspectors come from, from all over the world. And then they go into Iraq itself. There's a lot of communications, computers. They have to set up the monitoring systems inside Iraq. They have to deal with all the procedures for overflights for the helicopters and transport arrangements and so on. There's a lot to do.

And Hans Blix of the (INAUDIBLE), that's the U.N. team, and Mohamed Elbaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency, have got to get all this in place within 45 days. It may not take them that long, but that's the maximum time they're allowed, before the clock starts -- the 60-day clock on the inspections start.

HARRIS: All right. Terry Taylor, thank you very much. Let's bring back Jamie Rubin, who was making the same comment or same point that we've just heard Terry Taylor make and I'm not surprised to hear, but he caught the same thing that you caught or the absence thereof, at least in terms of what was said by the Iraqi ambassador about the declaration of whether or not weapons exist in that country.

JAMES RUBIN, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, that's exactly right. And we may find 29 days from now, when they have to make a decision of what to put in this big document, this declaration, that Saddam Hussein at the last minute tells his people, OK, it's time to own up, because if I don't do active cooperation, if I don't admit to these programs, show the U.N. inspectors how to disarm the country, not allow them to try to figure out how to disarm the country, then the United States is determined to invade and overthrow my regime. And we still may get to that point, but I think it is very, very important in the coming weeks, until that day, for us to begin to have a serious discussion here in this country and between the United States and our allies of what exactly constitutes a material breach.

To say zero tolerance, as the president has, is a starting point, but what if there is some acknowledgement in this declaration that there are some programs, some chemical and biological programs that they've suddenly found, will that be good enough, or will we really expect Iraq to reveal the thousands of gallons of biological weapon material, the thousands of tons of chemical weapons material that the U.S. and British intelligence services have publicly said Iraq has and that, if it's not in that declaration, then we know that we're just in a modified form of the kind of cat-and-mouse games we've had with Iraq for many, many many months.

And so, I think it's crucial that a dialogue begin in defining between the United States, between the U.N. inspectors, between the French, the British, the Russians and other key countries, of what we're going to do if this declaration is false. Are we going to wait for the inspectors to go about proving that it's false or are we going to realize right away that Saddam Hussein is not going to disarm himself and we're going to have to disarm him.

HARRIS: Let me ask you about that. If there are so many holes in this or potential holes in this right now, does the U.S. have to take yes for an answer. Many have been coming in,they're saying that they've got to be willing to take yes for an answer. But we've seen what's happened in the past week with the president winning this vote with the U.N. Security Council, then with this big turnaround (ph) in the president's fortunes domestically here in the elections that we just saw take place here. And then we saw what happened with the Iraqi parliament vote. Does the U.S. necessarily even need to wait for all of that or take yes for an answer?

RUBIN: Well, if Iraq genuinely complies -- and by that I mean puts a declaration out on December 8th that contains a large number of weapons of mass destruction programs -- and if Iraq allows Hans Blix to go about confirming and destroying those programs and setting up monitoring systems, so that they can never be built again, if Saddam Hussein were to do that kind of 180-degree turn from his behavior over the last decade, I think it would be a tragic mistake for the United States to use force anyway. If, however, the situation is gray, where there's some disarmament on Iraq's part and some cooperation with the inspectors, that's when the decision becomes much more complicated.

HARRIS: Very much so. So then, on that point then, before we move on, what's the next step for Kofi Annan? We've been talking about the next step for the U.S., what's the next step for the U.N. Secretary General?

RUBIN: I think it's to talk to the president about this very issue, of what the U.N. inspection teams -- that is headed by Hans Blix, under Kofi Annan's supervision to an extent -- what will their posture be, if on day 30, before the inspection process gets fully up to speed, will Blix declare, positively or negatively, whether he thinks that declaration is full and complete or whether there are omissions, because the hardest part will come is if the United States thinks there's a false declaration, but the U.N. inspection chief, Hans Blix, refuses to comment, one way or the other, and then you come back into this debate about unilateralism, versus acting, within the U.N. The rest of the world will be looking for Hans Blix to be the judge of whether Iraq's in compliance or noncompliance. But if on day 30 the declaration is false and has omissions, the United States may not be prepared to wait for Blix to make that judgment.

HARRIS: So even though we've gotten this yes from the Iraqis, it's not a simple matter or a simple answer.

RUBIN: Not at all.

HARRIS: Jamie Rubin, thank you very much. Appreciate the insight and the expertise. Take care, friend.

RUBIN: Nice to be with you.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: And on Jamie's note of how this can turn into a very gray situation, it appears it's already there. On a day when it would appear this encouraging news, the Iraqis agreeing to the U.N. resolution two days ahead of the deadline, the wording that is in the letter and from the Iraqi ambassador, Mohammed Al-Douri, kind of cast a cloud over that. Let's listen to that, that took place just a few minutes ago at the United Nations.


MOHAMMED AL-DOURI, IRAQI AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: And I think we explain in the letter the whole Iraqi question dealt with here within the United Nations's activities. So we try to explain our position, saying that Iraq have and have not and will not have any mass destruction weapons. So we are not worried about the inspectors when they will be back in the country.


KAGAN: Well, there you have it, Iraqi Ambassador to the United Nations Mohammed Al-Douri saying they don't worry about weapons inspectors because they say they don't have these weapons of mass destruction, a statement that goes against what much of the world including the Bush administration believes to be the situation in Baghdad and across Iraq.

Let's go back to the White House and bring in our senior White House correspondent, John King, for reaction for this morning's news.

John, hello once again.

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hello to you, Daryn. Well, I can tell you this, if that, as the ambassador just explained, the Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations, if that is the position of the Iraqi government 23 days from now when Iraq must produce a list of its weapons of mass destruction, if Iraq produces no list and says it has no weapons of mass destruction, then what appears at this moment to be a diplomatic break through could quickly turn into a potential military confrontation because the Bush administration says that it has evidence, that Great Britain has evidence and that others have evidence that Saddam Hussein does indeed have stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.

White House officials reacting very calmly and carefully so far to Iraq's decision that it will accept the terms of the United Nations resolution. White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan saying simply this is the first deadline; we will see.

We heard from the president earlier today he will have zero tolerance for any Iraqi violations of the terms of this resolution. Senior officials here waiting to see the full text of that letter from Iraq. They say the president and the administration will accept no wiggle room in that letter. If it tries to say we will accept this part of the resolution, but not that part of the resolution, one senior official just simply quoting what the president said the other day, after the resolution was unanimously adopted by the Security Council, saying, now begins the hard part.

So a great deal of skepticism here at the White House that in time Iraq will fully comply with the resolution. Obviously, the president has a critical meeting this afternoon, it was critical to begin with, all the more critical now that Iraq is sending this letter to the United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan. Mr. Annan will be here for conversations with the president later this afternoon.


KAGAN: All right. John King at the White House. John, thank you so much. The story far from over, just continues to evolve. Thank you, John.


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