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Iraqi Government Accepts Security Council Resolution

Aired November 13, 2002 - 11:59   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Joining me this hour with all the latest developments are CNN's Richard Roth -- he's in New York; John King -- he's over at the White House; Kyra Phillips -- she's in Kuwait City. At U.N. headquarters today, the top Iraqi envoy said his government is eager for inspectors to get back to work.
First of all, let's begin with our senior United Nations correspondent Richard Roth.

Richard, give us all the details.

RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR UNITED NATIONS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's an eight-page letter in Arabic. It's still being translated. U.S. officials are concerned that there might be some other language that needs to be explored, perhaps some conditions. It's happened in the past when Iraq has submitted writings and government declarations. However, the Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations says there are no conditions in this. However, as you noted, he described its bad content.

But nevertheless, Iraq announcing to the world it will accept the terms of that Security Council resolution that gave Baghdad a seven- day deadline in which to comply. Iraq's ambassador says his country is acting in the cause of peace.


MOHAMMED AL-DOURI, IRAQI AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: It shows always the peaceful ways and means, and this is a part of our policy vis-a-vis to protect our country, to protect our nation, to protect the region also from the threat of war, which is real, and everybody knows about it, what does that mean, the threat -- the American threat against Iraq.


ROTH: Iraq acting, despite the parliament decision which really wasn't treated that very seriously at the United Nations. The Iraqi letter submitted to senior U.N. officials. Kofi Annan was out of the building. It's been transmitted to the Security Council. The acting president of the Council said it was met with acceptance by the Security Council, but diplomats want to study the letter closely -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And the U.N. weapons inspectors, Dr. Hans Blix's team, they're prepared to leave, at least some of them, as early as Monday, November 18. Is that right, Richard? ROTH: Yes. They are set, Blix, and a small team to set up a headquarters. They will go from Cyprus to Baghdad on November 18 on Monday.

BLITZER: The headquarters will be in Baghdad this time. I believe the last time around it was usually outside of Iraq in the Persian Gulf in one of the Emirates. Why the change now to Baghdad?

ROTH: Well, Bahrain was not that eager to have the weapons inspectors hang out. There is also a push to keep more of the people inside Iraq, instead of treating it as sort of the remote site, even though it's the destination of the inspectors.

So, they want Baghdad to be the focus. Cyprus was also a hospitable transit point, but now, all eyes are going to go into Baghdad. And the U.N. weapons inspectors still want to set up bases in Mosul and Basra and other cities, as they start to look for weapons of mass destruction, which today, Iraq's ambassador again said his country does not have.

The next key timetable, of course, within that 30-day window, Iraq has to present a full dossier of WMD, something Britain and the U.S. says it does possess.

BLITZER: WMD being weapons of mass destruction. Richard Roth at the United Nations, he is watching all of this very, very closely for all of us here at CNN.

Let's review the timetable that the United Nations Security Council approved last Friday, November 15. Let's put it up on the screen. That's the date this Friday when the Iraqis were supposed to accept this U.N. Security Council resolution. They have, of course, now accepted it two days in advance.

December 8, that's the next time timetable, the 30 days when the Iraqis must declare what weapons of mass destruction programs they have. They must make a full and honest declaration. That could be a flash point as we all know, December 8.

Then there's December 23, the full-scale U.N. weapons inspections must begin by December 23, although, as we know, Hans Blix and is team are prepared to leave Monday to begin setting up the logistics for all of that.

And then finally, by February 21, 2003, next February 21, Hans Blix, Dr. Mohamed El-Baradei, the representative of the International Atomic Energy Agency, they must declare to the U.N. Security Council what they found, what they didn't find -- their report by February 21, all of which we're watching, of course, very, very closely.

The U.N. secretary general, Kofi Annan, of course, is watching all of this very closely as well. He's due to meet with President Bush over at the White House later today.

Let's get a little preview of the reaction over there. Our senior White House correspondent, John King is standing by -- John. JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, very careful reaction from the administration so far. This move was not unexpected.

White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan saying, "This just the first deadline; we will see" -- that, a reflection of the administration's skepticism that over time, Iraq will keep its commitments that it will not violate the terms of this new resolution.

And I can tell you one thing that raised alarms instantly here at the White House. The Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations, as you were just discussing with Richard Roth, said that Iraq has no fear of inspectors, because Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction.

When that deadline 25 days from now approaches for Iraq to file a report to the United Nations, administration officials say if Iraq holds to that position and files an official document saying it has no weapons of mass destruction, that then we will be at yet another crisis point. What appears to be a diplomatic breakthrough right now, Iraq accepting this resolution, could then become more of a posture toward a military confrontation if it is the position of the Iraqi government that it has no weapons of mass destruction -- Wolf.

BLITZER: John, last week, the president met with Hans Blix, Dr. Mohamed El-Baradei, today, he is meeting with Kofi Annan -- all of which suggests that he's trying to at least project the view out there that the United States and the United Nations are working hand-in- glove. Is that a fair assessment?

KING: It is a fair assessment right now. Mr. Bush, we are told, will applaud Secretary-General Annan, for his vigorous diplomacy in getting, despite all of the frustration and all the differences of opinion, helping to massage the process, if you will, to get to that Security Council resolution.

As for Dr. Blix and Mr. El-Baradei, the president and other top officials told them in their meetings they wanted the inspections regime to be robust. They also told them that if there came to be a discrepancy, if Iraq says it does not have a weapons program -- the United States believes it does -- that the United States is willing and eager to share its intelligence with weapons inspectors.

So again, if Iraq says it has no weapons programs, this administration, we are told, will give its intelligence to the weapons inspections teams and urge them to immediately go knocking at the most sensitive sites in Iraq and put any commitment by Saddam Hussein quickly to the test.

BLITZER: John King over at the White House -- thanks very much.

Let's go to Baghdad now, where they're obviously watching all of this very carefully as well.

CNN's Rym Brahimi is the in the Iraqi capital. She is joining me now live. Rym, if you can explain this to me, I think our viewers here in North America would be grateful. Why on one day does the Iraqi so- called parliament, the National Assembly, unanimously reject -- recommend rejecting this U.N. Security Council resolution, and then only 24 hours later, the Iraqi government sends a letter to the United Nations accepting it? What's going on here?

RYM BRAHIMI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the rejection by the Iraqi parliament of that resolution was really geared at external consumption, if you will. This was really something they invited the international media here in Baghdad to attend that debate at parliament. And what was interesting was that when they recommended that the Revolution Command Council reject the resolution, they also voted to authorize, was the wording, President Saddam Hussein to make that decision himself, to make the decision that he would deem appropriate.

Now, interestingly, what was reported in the Iraqi news, in the official Iraqi news here, was only that the parliament had authorized the president to make the decision, to make that ultimate call, and whether or not to accept the resolution. Nowhere was it reported in the Arabic official media here that the parliament had rejected that resolution.

So, it was clearly sending a message, mainly to the outside world, saying, well, we might end up accepting it, but we will do so in protest. We don't like this resolution. I think that was the message.

But of course, there is a lot of pragmatism here in the Iraqi leadership, Wolf. And I think it was very clear to them that they had very, very little choice -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Rym Brahimi joining us once again from Baghdad -- Rym, thanks very much.

Let's get some assessment now of what this may mean for those United Nations weapons inspectors about to leave as early as next week for Baghdad.

I am joined by David Albright. He's a former U.N. weapons inspector himself.

What is your assessment? What's going to happen to Hans Blix and his team as they open up shop in Baghdad, directly in the Iraqi capital?

DAVID ALBRIGHT, FMR. U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: Well, the first thing they're going to have to do is just reestablish a headquarters, get their transportation arranged, get communication set up, and then make a plan. I mean, this is -- they have a formidable task in front of them. The implementation of the resolution is certainly going to be harder than actually getting the resolution. And so, the first test is going to be this declaration.

BLITZER: I asked John King -- or Richard Roth actually, our U.N. correspondent, earlier, why they're setting up shop in Baghdad this time. The last time, as you remember, they set up headquarters in Bahrain.



ALBRIGHT: I don't know. I think Bahrain is a better place, and it may just be that the Bahrain government...

BLITZER: Cypress is the stepping point, but there will be an office in Baghdad from which they will operate, and they want other offices around the country as well.

ALBRIGHT: No, that's better, because if you have another office, then you can stage an inspection operation from that office. You can also reach more Iraqis. So, it's a good plan to have more offices in Iraq.

BLITZER: Now, you read carefully the unanimously-approved U.N. Security Council resolution of last Friday. That does have some significant differences from the inspections you and others earlier participated in throughout the '90s. What about the whole issue of security for these inspectors?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I think, unfortunately, as an inspector, you do have to take a risk. I mean, you can't -- it's very difficult to work out a system where you would be protected, or that you would use armed forces to enter sites. I mean -- and it's also sending the wrong signal: Either Iraq cooperates, or it's viewed as noncompliant with the resolution. And so, you just have to take that risk as an inspector.

Now, one thing that's stated...

BLITZER: But will these inspectors this time around go around with armed security guards, not Iraqis, we're talking about others from the United Nations?

ALBRIGHT: No. No, they will have guards at their facilities, but, no, the guards will not go with them. And that there was -- I think there's a fairly substantial support for the idea that it's better not to have the guards and just take the risk. I mean, you go out in pairs. You never go out alone. When you're on inspections, you go out with a lot people.

But it can lead to a situation that could actually be quite dangerous for the inspectors if there are guards. I mean, the Iraqi guards at facilities are already trigger-happy. They've often had orders of, shoot anyone who comes in.

And so, it's better to meet them unprotected, than to meet them with guns and potentially have everything escalate out of control.

BLITZER: This December 8, 30-day deadline, for the Iraqis to certify what they have in terms of their weapons of mass destruction, the programs that may be under way -- biological, chemical and nuclear -- if they don't tell the truth that time, that could be a flash point.

ALBRIGHT: That's right. And I think for the United States and Britain, I mean, they're going to look carefully at this declaration, and if they judge it as incomplete or incorrect, I think that will probably be enough for them. Now, for many other members of the Security Council, they'll probably want better evidence.

And so, regardless of the quality of the declaration, the inspection efforts should proceed and sites should be looked at, and in essence, build a case that Iraq is not complying.

BLITZER: All right, stand by, David. I want to come back to you.

But joining us now on the phone from Cairo is Amr Moussa, the secretary-general of the Arab League.

Mr. Secretary-General, thanks so much for joining us.

You've heard the word, like all of us, that the Iraqis have now officially notified the United Nations that they have accepted the U.N. Security Council resolution. This is what the Arab League asked them to do when they met in Cairo over the weekend. So, I assume you're pleased by this latest development.

Mr. Moussa, I don't know if you can hear me. Can you hear me?

All right, we're going to fix that line with Amr Moussa, the secretary-general of the Arab League in Cairo. Once we've worked that technical problem out, we'll get right back to him.

But David Albright, a former U.N. weapons inspector, still here with me in our Washington studio.

What's going to be the biggest hurdle that Hans Blix and his team will have, assuming, assuming -- this is a big if -- the Iraqis do cooperate?

ALBRIGHT: Well, the biggest hurdle that they're going to face is getting enough people in the field designing the strategy to check sites. I mean, they need good intelligence information from the United States and other countries, and they need to design inspections that aren't going to be exposed early to the Iraqis.

They also are going to have to get to the Iraqis themselves to interview them, and that's going to be a big test of Iraqi cooperation. Are the Iraqis going to allow their scientists to be interviewed by Blix and the other inspectors without minders?

And so, I think that for the bottom line, though, is that they're going to have to develop confidence that what Iraq is saying is true and that Iraq intends to cooperate, and also not pull punches. They have to be firm in this inspection process. BLITZER: I've heard from other former inspectors saying that 200-300 inspectors in a huge country like Iraq, even if the Iraqis pretend to be cooperating, it's unlikely they're going to ever find anything, given how sophisticated they've been able to be, especially over these past four years without any inspections under way whatsoever in hiding various capabilities.

ALBRIGHT: It's definitely a challenge for the inspectors to uncover things. And in fact, the way that they have to approach this is not they're looking to determine that Iraq is complying in the initial stage, but that Iraq is not complying.

And so, they need to go out and test whether Iraq intends to comply. I mean, they can't determine that question in three months, but they certainly can start to get an answer to noncompliance. And non-cooperation equals noncompliance.

BLITZER: I'm told that Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab League in Cairo, is now on the phone.

Can you hear me, Mr. Moussa?


BLITZER: Thank you very much.

Tell us your reaction to the news out of the United Nations that the Iraqis have now officially accepted the U.N. Security Council resolution.

MOUSSA: This is a positive step and indicates the acceptance by Iraq to comply with the Security Council resolution, especially that Iraq has already informed the secretary general over a month ago that Iraq is ready to welcome back the inspectors without conditions, and also to give them unfettered access. So, this...


BLITZER: Mr. Moussa...


BLITZER: Mr. Moussa, do you expect the Iraqi government of President Saddam Hussein now to fully cooperate with the U.N. weapons inspection teams that will be entering Iraq?

MOUSSA: Yes. Yes, indeed. I do expect that.

BLITZER: You do expect that, that there will not be any effort to conceal or, as U.S. officials call it, "cheat and retreat?"

MOUSSA: No, no, why should we assume that they would be treating or hiding weapons? The inspectors will have clear and definite unfettered access to all places they decide or they want to inspect.

Therefore, let us give those inspectors the chance to do their job with the cooperation of the government of Iraq. And the whole world now is looking for this development. We'll observe, we'll follow the mission of the inspectors. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the cooperation of Iraq...

BLITZER: I know...

MOUSSA: The cooperation of Iraq and a professional work by the inspectors.

BLITZER: I know that the Arab League met in Cairo over the weekend. The Iraqi representative was there as well at the foreign ministers level. I carefully read the statement that you released at the end of your meeting. You did say, not only you urged the Iraqis to accept the U.N. Security Council resolution, but you also included a warning that any attack against Iraq would, in effect, also be an attack against the entire Arab nation. that seemed to be a threat to the United States, to the Bush administration. Is that a fair reading of that?

MOUSSA: The -- that paragraph in the resolution of the Council of Ministers of the Arab League did quote the unanimous resolution by the leaders of the Arab countries at the summit conference in Beirut last March. This is just a quotation of that resolution. This is a position unanimously adopted by all Arab countries months ago, and this continues to be the position of all Arab countries.

But, now we're not talking about war or about military action. We are talking about the mission of inspectors and how to make it a successful one. So, I suggest that we stop talking about war and talk about that mission, and hope and work that that mission would be accomplished in a cooperative way between the government of Iraq and the inspectors, with the commitments on both sides to be carried honestly and in a professional way.

BLITZER: Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab League, it was kind of you to join us from Cairo. Let's hope that this process obviously does work.

We're going to get some reaction to what's going on now from our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre.

Jamie, what are they saying where you are?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, the interesting thing, Wolf, is that it's not unexpected that Iraq would accept the U.N. resolution at this point.

And in fact, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld has laid a series of things Iraq that could do in the coming weeks and months that could essentially complicate things for the United States, and the ironic part about it is the more cooperative Iraq is, or appears to be, the more complicated the problem becomes for the Pentagon.

The worst-case scenario, in terms of the U.S. attempting to disarm Iraq, would be a scenario under which Iraq allowed the inspectors in, they actually found some weapons of mass destruction, and then Iraq would simply declare that whatever the inspectors have found to be the totality of its weapons of mass destruction program. That would lead the United States in a position of, as was said, you know, can it accept yes for an answer?

The problem is the U.S. is convinced that Iraq does have weapons of mass destruction and has hidden many of them, some of them in underground locations that would be extremely hard for inspectors to find.

What is easier is if Iraq defies the inspectors, makes their job complicated. Then the course of action for the United States -- military action -- is fairly clear. But if this plays out where Iraq is able to appear to be cooperative every step of the way, and even admits that there are some weapon systems or elements of weapon systems that are found, that vastly complicates things.

Now, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld raised this very question in remarks on Monday night to a group here in Washington, and asked himself the question: "What do we do if we get to that point where Iraq appears to have been compliant, while we know it has weapons of mass destruction?" And he simply said, "It's too soon to say what the U.S. would do in that situation."

So, Wolf, the ironic thing about it is the complicated situation for the United States and the military in terms of planning is the question of what happens if Iraq continues to say yes -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jamie McIntyre with that good analysis at the Pentagon -- thanks very much. Jamie, for that.



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