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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Iraq: The Weapons Hunt

Aired November 17, 2002 - 10:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HANS BLIX, CHIEF U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: We think we should look into their source of their stock and they should give us and the world a complete declaration.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Tomorrow, U.N. inspectors land in Baghdad for the first time in exactly three months -- three years and 11 months and two days. It will be the first on the ground test of the Iraqi resolve to prove they do not have weapons of mass destruction. For the next hour, we are going to show you how the U.S. got to this point, who the big players are and what's going to happen next. And we're going to do it in the way only CNN can, with correspondents and newsmakers around the world. CNN's Richard Roth is in Larnaca, Cyprus, Rym Brahimi is keeping track of the story in Baghdad and we'll get the latest at the White House from our Frank Buckley.

Right now, we're going to begin in Cyprus where the chief U.N. weapons inspector just landed a couple of hours ago and spoke to reporters. CNN senior U.N. correspondent, Richard Roth, who's been traveling with Hans Blix for much of this time, has been -- also been able to talk with members of the inspection team in Larnaca.

Richard, what are you hearing about their optimism about this mission and what happens next?

RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR U.N. CORRESPONDENT: Well, Carol, we're here on the seaside beaches of Cyprus, in the cold winds of Vienna, Austria. Behind me, the hotel that Hans Blix, chief weapons inspector, and Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the Key Nuclear Agency. That's where they're based overnight. They're going to be talking about issues tonight, go out for a private dinner and then tomorrow leave for Baghdad, Iraq.

At a press conference today, both men again repeating some of the same themes along this journey. They remain confident, but they're going to need the cooperation of Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLIX: We are determined to be an honest organ and subsidiary of the Security Council, and until now that is also how we have been perceived. Our composition is one that is normal for the United Nations. The first criteria is competence and skill. The second criteria is to seek all geographical distribution of our staff and we do have that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROTH: That's Hans Blix also referring to the geographic distribution of the nature of the makeup of the teams of the inspectors. As Blix vows complete neutrality, though many of the inspectors and the technicians will be Americans, Blix is still looking for any offers of nominations for inspectors from Arab countries. So far he just has it from Jordan.

Blix's day began in Vienna, Austria, which was an old home for him because he used to be the director general of the International Nuclear Atomic Energy Agency. And Blix just carries his own bags like a regular business traveler making his way through the Vienna airport. And it was there that I talked to him about finally going back to Baghdad for the first time now that he's been in the U.N. as the chief weapons inspector.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROTH (on camera): This is the final stretch today, right? How does it feel going back?

BLIX: This is the middle of the stretch. The final stretch doesn't exist in this world. But tomorrow, we hope to inspect -- go to Baghdad.

ROTH: What is the first target that you have in mind when you get to Iraq?

BLIX: Tomorrow, we hope to meet the representatives of the government and we hope to start the refurbishing of the premises that we have, logistics for our inspections. Then about a week after us, the first inspectors will arrive. And we are not telling anybody which targets they will go to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROTH: We're told by members of the team there are hundreds of potential sites. And Blix and ElBaradei, at the press conference in Cyprus, noted that there's -- quote -- "a lot of second guessing about the nature" and where they should go, in terms of the sites inside Iraq. But they are going to need the help of the Iraqi government, but they do know where they want to go. It all starts tomorrow in Iraq --Carol.

LIN: All right. Thank you very much, Richard Roth, some 700 sites that Dr. Hans Blix is interested in.

Let's go to Baghdad where preparations are now under way to receive some of these U.N. inspectors. A lot of work to be done just to get their headquarters set up. Rym Brahimi is standing by live in Baghdad with more on that -- Rym.

RYM BRAHIMI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Carol. Actually, I was just over at the U.N. headquarters this morning and indeed, we weren't allowed to go into the offices that were being prepared for the new team of U.N. inspectors. But we do understand that these offices are being refurbished and cleaned and just prepared for the new arrivals. They're all changing the number plates on the cars because the number plates of the former U.N. team has their former name, which was UNSCOM and now, they're trying to change that to UNMOVIC, which is the new name of the team.

Now, apart from that, a lot of people here are sort of preparing to see what's going to happen, when the inspectors arrive. I have to say there's quite a lot of skepticism, Carol, only because we know that the previous team of inspectors had complained of cat-and-mouse games and of deceit. But on this end, on the Iraqi side, the Iraqis had complained about spying and a bit of arrogance, attitude on the part of the UNSCOM members. So there's a little bit of maybe suspicion and mistrust, but on the whole, hope that this new team, as the newspaper -- the official newspapers put it, will be a professional team -- Carol.

LIN: Rym, there will be Arab nationals, though, serving as inspectors on this initial team. So does that offer the Iraqis some assurance that at least this team could be unbiased?

BRAHIMI: Well, in the face of it, it might. Although that's interesting, because when you come down to it and when you talk to people about that and when you say, well, you know, this time the team will be different. There'll be little less Americans, there might be some more Arabs, a lot of people are quite skeptical about that, too. They say, well, at the end of the day, they're still working for the U.N. and they're still under the influence of the United States, is what they feel. And even if the Arabs, they could very well be influenced by the U.S. and Britain into creating a crisis. So there is sort of hope maybe that it won't happen, but lot of people are still on their guard here it seems -- Carol.

LIN: All right, well, we won't know what happens until the inspectors hit the ground, which will be first thing on Monday. Thank you very much, Rym Brahimi, live in Baghdad.

Well, as the inspectors are on the move, so is the president of the United States. He is heading for a big NATO summit in Prague, in Europe. We're going to get the latest on the Iraq crisis from CNN's Frank Buckley in Washington.

Frank, the president, has he actually had a chance to express some of his feelings about any optimism, any hopes for the inspectors once they hit the ground in Baghdad tomorrow?

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the president and the Bush administration in general has been pretty clear that they are skeptical of anything that Saddam Hussein has to say or anything that may take place here, but they are hopeful that the inspections will take place. The president has made it clear over and over again that there will be what he calls a zero tolerance policy with regard to violations or delays. The president saying this weekend that if there's any defiance or delay by Saddam Hussein, it will be met with -- quote -- "severe consequences." Saddam Hussein also issued a statement of his own this weekend. In an open letter to the Iraqi parliament. Here's what Saddam Hussein said in his letter. It reads in part -- "We hope that the way we have chosen will achieve for those who have no foul agenda in the Security Council, their declared goal, which is to see the truth as it really is about Iraq being completely free of weapons of mass destruction." The letter goes on to say -- "Your enemy, the alliance between Zionism and the American administration and their satanic lackeys, has this time, after showing its claws and teeth, chosen to wage war unilaterally against our people."

Iraq says it has no weapons of mass destruction. The U.S. position is that there are, in fact, weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. By December 8, Iraq must declare what it has -- Carol.

LIN: Frank, the president has said that this is all part of a larger war on terrorism, and yesterday we got some indications that al Qaeda might have actually released yet another statement, a specific threat against the cities of Washington, D.C. and New York once again all related to whether there would be an attack on Iraq and Baghdad. How credible does the president think this statement really is?

BUCKLEY: Well, let's tell viewers what we're talking about. This is a letter that came to Al-Jazeera. This is the cutter-based satellite television network. It went specifically to a reporter there, an investigative reporter, who has contacts, who has in the past interviewed top al Qaeda leaders. His name is Yosri Fouda. The letter says -- he says that the letter came to him through, quote, previously tested channels and here's what the letter says, that we're talking about. It says in part -- "Stop your support for Israel against the Palestinians, for Russians against the Chechens and leave us alone or expect us in Washington and New York."

Now, just a few moments ago, Tom Ridge, the homeland security adviser, appeared in a taped interview with Wolf Blitzer for the program "LATE EDITION." He was asked about the letter. Here's what Tom Ridge had to say about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY DIRECTOR: The threats are threats we've heard before. The conditions to avoid future terrorist acts are the conditions we've heard before. And we know that New York and Washington continue to be potential targets for another attack.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BUCKLEY: And again, Carol, it's important to stress that CNN has not verified the authenticity of this letter, but clearly the federal government paying attention to it at least --Carol.

LIN: Absolutely. Yes. And federal agents also saying that they're hearing so much more chatter in the last several days from al Qaeda and al Qaeda operatives around the world. They're still not quite sure what it means, but an interesting edition here. Thank you very much. Frank Buckley, live in Washington. Well, still to come on the eve of the U.N.'s return to Iraq, we are going to take an in-depth look at several issues central to the mission. The current crisis is 10 years in the making. We're going to take a closer look at how we got here. Also, how do you restart a program that has been mothballed for four years? We are going to ask someone who's been there. And later, a closer look at Cyprus and why it's the front and center -- well, the center point on the world stage, as the U.N. launches inspectors' return to Baghdad. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LIN: Coming up, we're going to have a former weapons inspector join us on the nuts and bolts of this latest mission, but first we want to set the stage with some critical turning points, which will tell you how we got to this stage and we're going to start with some critical dates.

Tomorrow, the first United Nations inspections team is settle to arrive in Baghdad headed by chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix. Less than 10 days later, on November 27, the actual inspections are set to begin. And then on December 8, Iraq must report details on all its programs to develop and deliver weapons of mass destruction, which it says it does not have. And January 27 is the latest date for the inspectors to give their first required report to the U.N. Security Council.

And now those critical turning points we were talking about. How did we actually arrive at this current confrontation with Iraq? Well, it was a long road following the end of the Gulf War. And we're going to take a look at the fact file here. Consider this, back in 1993, the U.S. actually fired tomahawk missiles at a Baghdad factory. Two years later, a U.N. resolution passes allowing Iraq to begin exporting oil in exchange for food and medicine, a compassionate move because Iraqi civilians were suffering under U.N. sanctions.

There were three key events in December of 1998. On the first, Iraq halted cooperation with weapons inspectors. On the 16, inspectors left Iraq. And one day later, U.S. and British forces launched air strikes against Iraq. For a little discussion about some of these turning points, we go to Washington and our guest, David Scheffer, former U.S. ambassador at large for war crimes issues. He's now senior vice president of the United Nations Association of United States of America.

But David, you were critical in the Clinton administration. In terms of U.S. policy, you were all a senior adviser and counsel to the -- to the U.S. permanent representative at the United Nations. You have an insight into that timeline and what seems to add up to me, as you see examples of militarism, you have a strike in central Baghdad, compassion, where there's compassion for civilians who may be suffering under sanctions, so the United States, the U.N. tries to ease some of that. And yet it did not work. Even the last minute pitch by Kofi Annan of course, sense of diplomacy in 1999 to try to get those inspectors back in. So if all those different phases didn't work over an almost 10-year period, what is different now? DAVID SCHEFFER, U.N. ASSOCIATION: Well, what's different now is that the stage has been clearly set for final compliance. What we did during the 1990s was we tried to step-by-step achieve full compliance with the resolutions that came out of the Gulf War. And, in fact, there were indicators of compliance as we moved step-by-step. There were also some signs of noncompliance. But when you have some compliance taking place, the -- remember the UNSCOM regime, the original inspection regime that operated during the 1990s, actually achieved a significant amount of verification, of destruction, of weapons of mass destruction, particularly chemical weapons of the infrastructure, of the nuclear capabilities of Iraq and finally uncovering and identifying that they had a biological weapons capability. And there was a tremendous amount of destruction. Tons of precursors, thousands of tons of precursors of chemical weapons of their agents, hundreds of tons of ballistic missiles, the scud missiles, being destroyed.

So when you have a lot of that going on, particularly up through 1997, early 1998, there is a basis to continue to search for ways to bring that whole process to a closure. And there was really no discussion at that time of literally going to war with Iraq. And there was certainly no support in Washington for that proposition on either side of the aisle and certainly not within the Security Council.

But what we did do during the 1990s was use military force on many occasions, whether it be the tomahawk attack on Baghdad, the enforcement of the no-fly zones where force was being used consistently against anti-aircraft facilities, and then finally that large bombing run in late 1998, which was specifically aimed and did successfully take out a large number of weapons of mass destruction facilities.

LIN: But David, I guess what I'm saying is...

SCHEFFER: But that in the end didn't...

LIN: Right, exactly.

SCHEFFER: ... actually achieve the ultimate objective.

LIN: Exactly. And so my point is that Iraq is clear that the United States and the U.N. may be certain to use military force. They have in the past. And yet it did not break down Baghdad's resolve. Do you think this U.N. resolution is tighter, is different, the mood in the international community is more supportive of a more massive strike?

SCHEFFER: Oh, there's been a titanic shift in mood and in attitude and in approach, because now there's truly an end game. Now there is a unified consensus that this has to work. The inspections regime has to work or else there is an almost certain predictability of the use of military force to ensure that it will work and military force in a way that had never been really planned during the 1990s. So we're really at a very critical turning point in that respect. LIN: All right. Let's get to the actual work on the ground with the inspectors. What did the inspectors learn from their last tour of duty inside Baghdad that they can apply here on the ground? And they've got some new technology, too, to use.

SCHEFFER: Exactly. But bear in mind that what they learned during the 1990s was what we now have as essentially a large part of the baseline for what we're doing now. We learned a large amount of information about Iraq's chemical weapons capabilities and a lot of it was destroyed. In fact, most of it was destroyed.

We learned really about the biological weapons capability not that Iraq volunteered it. The inspectors actually ferreted it out as early as 1991. Now, did they get a complete set of information about the biological threat? Almost certainly not, but they got a fair amount of it that really facilitates a lot of our work now.

And, of course, on the nuclear weapons front, a tremendous amount was discovered. Again, not with a lot of voluntary effort on the part of the Iraqi government, but by a lot of very, very intelligent and at times courageous work by the U.N. inspectors. So we need to give due credit to that baseline of information that was, in fact, achieved and the disarmament that took place.

LIN: All right, David, with that -- in short, with that baseline information and given that almost four years has passed, it sounds to me like these inspectors would have a pretty good idea then that if Saddam Hussein did continue to develop weapons of mass destruction, they would pretty much have a good idea of what stage he would be at then right now.

SCHEFFER: Well, they certainly have a much better idea having been there in the 1990s than not been there. There's a much better information base upon which to make that calculation. But of course, we've had four years without them being on the ground and, therefore, we start hopefully with enough collection of information from other sources so that they have a better baseline of information going in at this stage.

LIN: Right, and it would all...

SCHEFFER: And that's the dynamic.

LIN: Yes. And it will all get down to access, doesn't it?

SCHEFFER: Exactly.

LIN: Thank you very much, David Scheffer, for joining us today.

All right, well, here comes the hard part for U.N. weapons inspectors. Now that some have arrived at their base, the hunt for weapons of mass destruction begins very soon. Later, we are also going to take a look at how the Arab community is reacting to the U.N. inspections. Much more ahead, stay right there.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) LIN: We continue now with our in-depth coverage of the hunt for weapons in Iraq. A new report suggests cleverly disguised biological weapons labs on wheels may make the U.N. weapons inspectors' jobs a lot tougher. The "Los Angeles Times" reports the so-called Winnebegos of death may look like ice cream trucks, motor homes or 18-wheelers. One official notes how frustrated U.S. authorities became looking for one white truck in the search for the D.C. sniper and he says there are a lot of trucks in Iraq. Well, to help us get an idea of many more of those challenges facing U.N. weapons inspections teams, we're going to turn to former weapons inspector, David Albright. He worked with the Atomic Energy Association and has in-depth knowledge on exactly what these inspectors are going to be going through.

Good afternoon, David or good morning actually.

DAVID ALBRIGHT, FORMER IAEA WEAPONS INSPECTOR: Good morning.

LIN: It's still early. We want to get our audience started bright and early today. Listen, what do you think about this report about these mobile, biological weapons trucks that may be moving through the desert? How is it that these inspectors are going to be able to track such vehicles?

ALBRIGHT: Well, it's quite likely true. And it's not possible for the inspectors to actually find those vehicles unless they get awfully lucky. What they have to do is try to find indicators that Iraq is lying about its activities or is just not cooperating and so they -- their job is actually simpler than finding those trucks. And they've demonstrated through many years that they can detect that Iraq is not being truthful and -- or detect that there's inconsistencies in what Iraq says, or just tell that they're not telling the whole story. So I mean there's a...

LIN: And that opportunity is going to come pretty soon because Iraq has to document all of its weapons of mass destruction, its nuclear program, its biological and chemical program. And within that big pile of paper, which has to be submitted, I think, by December 8, do you think that these inspectors will be able to look at that paperwork and say, hey, these are inconsistencies based on what we already know?

ALBRIGHT: It's certainly happened in the past. I mean you can read these things and you can start to pick out inconsistencies. You also -- it's hard to lie successfully. And if you can interview Iraqis individually, you can -- there's ways to encourage them to come forth in the sense maybe they could leave the country with their family and set up a new life if they come forward. I think we can get to the bottom of this.

Again, I doubt if we'll find a smoking gun like an active trailer filled with biological weapons, but I think we can get close to that and the inspectors can develop confidence about whether Iraq is going to cooperate or whether it intends to comply and that can happen relatively quickly, within a couple of months.

LIN: You know you bring up a point that I think is going to be very tricky. One of the provisions of the U.N. resolution is that these inspectors want to have the ability to take Iraqi scientists and their families out of Baghdad, interview them in a safe and neutral place, to try to illicit information from them. Baghdad already knows that the Bush administration is saying in exchange for that information, we may be willing to allow these families and scientists to immigrate legally to the United States or some western country in exchange for that information. How likely is that, that Baghdad is going to allow its top scientists to leave their territory?

ALBRIGHT: Well, in the past, and this has come up several times in the past, this approach. They're deeply resistant to it. But it's another sign of whether Iraq intends to cooperate. I mean scientists travel freely from many countries and it's -- I think it's important that Iraq accept this condition.

It also is case that if those scientists leave with their families, they're not going to be able to go back. I mean if they provide useful information, if they go back, they'll be killed. And so, I think it's very important that countries like the United States offer them asylum and we have to fix our laws to actually make it possible to do that. And there's Senators Biden and some others who are working on that legislation.

LIN: David, I want to ask you about the makeup of these inspection teams. A group of 30 is initially going in and part of this group will be comprised of Arab nationals.

Dr. ElBaradei, who's accompanying Dr. Blix on the inspection team, says, "We're not Arabs. We wear an international hat. We are completely neutral." What -- how does that dynamic of having Arab nationals on the inspection team play into this conflict?

ALBRIGHT: Well, they've always been on the inspection teams, at least the nuclear teams. I mean there's always been Arabs involved. I mean -- and you want representations from around the world. It's very important. You want the countries to buy into the process and you don't want just a bunch of Americans. The problem is that who has the resources to support the inspection effort, which is America. And so that's why you always see so many Americans involved. And so it's -- but again, you do have to have good representation. And they bring special skills -- I mean -- and that you want those skills.

LIN: Wrapping up here, David. I have so many questions to ask you, but really, when you consider that Dr. Blix wants to take a look at 700 sites. Former U.N. inspector, Scott Ritter, says it's going to take six months to do that, not three months to do that. You've got potential underground installations for biological and chemical warfare weapons. Where do you see the inspections going right and where do you see the greatest potential for them to break down here and the possibility to go to war?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I think it's very important that the initial inspection effort not focus on determining whether Iraq is complying, but to try to determine is Iraq going to cooperate or does it intend to comply. And that's -- you can do that with a smaller number of people. You don need to see as many sites. Over the longer term, the issue will be that is Iraq in compliance with its obligations? And at that point, you do have to see all those sites. There are hundreds of them. You have to do a lot of implementation of techniques to implement what's called "ongoing monitoring and verification."

But in the short term, the emphasis has to be on determining whether Iraq is complying and whether it intends to comply and that is a much more manageable problem. And frankly, if -- why bother with this if Iraq -- if we learned early that Iraq intends to cheat?

LIN: Well, it sounds like we will know very soon, certainly -- perhaps even as soon as the next couple of weeks. Thank you very much. David Albright...

ALBRIGHT: OK, thank you.

LIN: ... former weapons inspector.

Well, a check of the day's top stories is up next and also, how are the impending inspections playing in the Arab press? We are going to get a check of public opinion in the region. And later, a check of U.S. war plans if Iraq defies the weapons inspectors. The weapons hunt continues in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LIN: We are devoting this hour to giving you the step-by-step of the path taken by the United Nations to resume inspections inside of Baghdad. And that path could lead to peace or it could lead to war. We're also gauging reaction from the Arab world ahead of those inspections. And our Cairo bureau chief, Ben Wedeman, joins us live from Egypt's capital city with more on that.

Ben, is this big news, that the inspectors are hitting Baghdad tomorrow?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CAIRO BUREAU CHIEF: No. As a matter of fact, it's not big news. The big news today, Carol, of course, is what's going on on the West Bank and the Palestinian -- the predominantly Palestinian town of Hebron following that ambush that left 12 Israeli soldiers and policemen dead. That really is the focus of attention of most of the Arab press.

Now, regarding the question of the arms inspections in Iraq, one interesting comment came out of Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, yesterday, who said that now that the world community is insisting on arms inspections in Iraq, that the Arab world would like to see similar arms inspections or inspections for weapons of mass destruction in Israel. That gives you a very good idea of what the priorities are by and large in the Arab world, where for many years there's been far more concern about situation that is going on right next door to us in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza.

By and large, the concern, or the sense of a threat from Iraq has diminished over the last few years as Iraq has really opened up diplomatic doors throughout the Arab world. Here in Egypt, for instance, we've seen trade between the two countries grow from about $2 billion a year. Currently, it's running at $4 billion a year. So really, the focus in the Arab world for the last two or three years has really been much more on normalizing ties with Iraq, along with a mounting concern about the situation in the West Bank and Gaza -- Carol.

LIN: Right. And Ben, when it really comes to the court of public opinion, not so much what governments are saying about other governments, but I'm talking about the Arab street. How the United States deals with the Palestinian crisis and how the United States deals with Ariel Sharon in terms of what the military does in Israel is integrally tied to perceptions of the reasons why the United States would want to attack Baghdad.

WEDEMAN: Well, the fact of the matter is that most people here will attribute the U.S. campaign against Saddam Hussein to oil, to personal grudges. This is a very personal part of the world where everything is seen in terms of family and tribe. They say that George W. Bush is really just a completing a story begun by his father in the last Gulf War.

So they really are somewhat mystified by the current U.S. focus on Iraq while the feeling is that there's a fire in the region. And the fire is not -- that needs to be put out is not in Iraq, but it's in the West Bank and Gaza. And there is a real desire, not only among senior officials in most countries in the Arab world, but on the -- in the street as well for some sort of focus, some sort of resolution or assistance to resolve the problem in the West Bank and Gaza by the United States. There's a feeling that this current obsession by the United States on Iraq, in the opinion of many Arabs, is really just feeding the fire that some people say is going out of control right next door --Carol.

LIN: Right and going unresolved. All right. Thank you very much, Ben Wedeman live in Cairo.

Well, up next, U.S. troops plan and prepare for war as the diplomatic efforts continue. But what would be military -- the military's first move if Iraq refuses to comply with inspections? We are going to take a closer look. Also, best known for a sporadic civil war, Cyprus is now front and center on the world stage. We are going to tell you why the U.N. inspectors chose this island for their staging area.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LIN: This week on "CNN PRESENTS," we're going to explore five key questions on the ongoing Iraq crisis. Right now we're going to show you the dangers of U.S. troops and the dangers they may actually face from biological and chemical weapons. CNN's Wolf Blitzer has a preview.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Nine o'clock Sunday morning, soldiers from 82nd Airborne wait patiently for the opposing force to invade their territory. For 28 days, these soldiers train at the Mojave Desert at the National Training Center to prepare for war. And with Saddam Hussein as the enemy, that means preparing for a chemical and biological attack.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In this war, Saddam Hussein may use chemical weapons because he knows he has nothing much to lose. We're coming after his head anyway.

BLITZER: What that means for U.S. soldiers is facing weapons that can paralyze a man in seconds, possibly kill him in minutes. As part of their training, soldiers react to simulated chemical attacks like this release of tear gas. But despite the extensive preparation, lawmakers on Capitol Hill have pointed to inadequacy is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you solemnly swear or affirm that the testimony you will give before this subcommittee will be the truth?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: While we found the DOD has made some improvements in equipment, training and readiness reporting, we are continuing to have concerns in each of these areas.

BLITZER: At the hearing, the general accounting office, the investigative arm of Congress, reported problems like equipment shortages and ignorance of the condition of existing equipment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That hearing clearly illustrated we're not ready yet. We have is a number of challenges. We need to make sure that the suits, the gloves, the boots, the masks, are at the units that need them when they need them, where they need them, that they have time to train with them.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LIN: "CNN PRESENTS, SHOWDOWN IRAQ: FIVE QUESTIONS," it airs tonight at 8:00 Eastern, 5:00 Pacific.

One major question that still hangs in the air, what will the U.S. actually consider a material breach, the last straw with Iraq? For that we're going to turn to CNN military analyst, Major General Don Shepherd. He joins us from Tucson today. A man on the move.

MAJOR GENERAL DON SHEPPERD (RET), U.S. AIR FORCE: Indeed.

LIN: Hi there, General. How are you?

SHEPPERD: Hi, Carol.

LIN: All right, let's talk about this latest -- what appears to be a violation of the U.N. resolution, an attack on U.S. planes patrolling in the northern no-fly zone over Iraq. This is the third time that the Iraqis have tried to strike these warplanes since the resolution passed little more than a week ago. Technically, isn't this a violation of the U.N. resolution and why is it that the United States is not using its option to use military force here against Baghdad?

SHEPPERD: Yes, it's a hard sell, Carol, because this has been going on for 10 years on an almost weekly basis. The same types of firing and then reaction against those who fired. So now, although it clearly is a violation of the resolution, whether or not it's a material breach is the real question. There's going to be argument over every time we say something's a material breach. There's going to be a bunch of people in the U.N. and perhaps even in the Security Council are going to say, "No, it isn't." So this is going to be a real fight whoever -- one leaves. But this is really a tough sell because it's been going on so long, Carol.

LIN: Right. And what the United Nations is saying is that they are looking for a pattern of abuses. So maybe we have to actually wait for these inspectors to hit the ground. Hans Blix is going to be arriving tomorrow. Once that happens, let's say a pattern does develop over a period of days, how quickly is the military ready to mobilize? And how does that happen?

SHEPPERD: Yes. Well, clearly, we can react in certainly hours, if not minutes from locations in the Gulf and also from ships at sea in the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean and also from bases in the United States. That's not the way you want to do it. We're going to start cataloging these material breaches. We're going to have to go back to the United Nations and we're going to have to deploy troops to the area because it's going to take a significant number of troops if we go to war. The reported figure is about 250,000. You can argue whether that's too many or too little, but it's going to be a significant number of troops. So you're not going to see any rapid strike, is my prediction in this area. You're going see the deployment of troops, forces in place. You're going to see all types of preparation before any military action is launched. So we'll have some warning, Carol.

LIN: Right, and of course, there's this diplomatic process that it still has to go back to the U.N. Security Council. But you're saying that there is enough force in place in the region to strike, if necessary?

SHEPPERD: Well, we have forces in place that you could strike, but you would not want to do it that way. You'd want to come up with a war plan that enables you to go through to the end, which is to go and get Saddam Hussein and remove the regime in Baghdad, if that's what you want to do. You can't do that with the forces that are in place in the region.

LIN: All right. Well, let's quickly take through what we do know about the Bush administration's military response so far. It is supposed to involve an air campaign as it did in the Gulf War, but a much shorter air campaign and one that overlaps with ground forces. A quick synopsis of how that's going to work. SHEPPERD: Well, the reason it would be shorter this time is you don't have the number of targets you had before. You don't have a whole bunch of people in Kuwait that you have to oust them from. You don't have deployed forces in the field. And you just don't have the total number of targets because he's about half as strong as he was before. So it's a much easier air campaign to do. And I don't mean to say that it's easy.

And then, the ground campaign can begin much sooner. We had a 37-day air war and 3-day ground war before. This time, likely, you would see a shorter air campaign and simultaneous Special Operations forces and ground forces on the move much earlier.

LIN: All right. And those Special Ops forces or whatever other forces on the ground, my understanding from another interview I conducted, that part of that effort is going to be concentrated on trying to ferret out opposition from within the country and trying to work with that opposition for targeted assassinations. For example, U.S. forces, I think, by international law, are not allowed to assassinate leaders of foreign countries but that doesn't prevent them from giving the expertise and the equipment for opposition forces to conduct their owns assassinations internally.

SHEPPERD: Well, I'm sure that we're working with partisan forces and other forces all the time to get them to do whatever they can to help bring this regime down. It would be great if they could bring it down without any military action on our part. But basically, Special Operations forces make those kind of contacts. They do it in conjunction also with the CIA, who's at work around the world all of the time. And at the same time, we conduct special operations, operations against specific targets on which we have intelligence where we don't put people at undue risk.

LIN: General, I don't think any of us want to see this country go to war and certainly go to war unnecessarily. Our correspondent, Kyra Phillips, has been covering U.S. Special Forces in the Kuwait and Gulf region. She has seen some classified information. She has talked to men who have seen classified information. She says the mood is not bright, that these Special Forces feel that the inspections regime is merely -- just essentially minor steps that are just going to lead to war, that what they're seeing in the classified information is there is evidence the Iraqis are not going to comply.

SHEPPERD: Well, that's not a military call. Basically, it's up to Saddam Hussein, whether or not we go to war. If he disarms, if he allows unfretted inspections, my prediction is there won't be a war. My prediction is, based on his track record, we won't see that and so the forces have to be prepared to do the work necessary if we go to war against the regime.

LIN: All right. She's also reporting a lot of construction going on in Kuwait right now for permanent military facilities. We could be there for a long time.

SHEPPERD: Indeed.

LIN: Thank you very much, Major General Don Shepherd.

SHEPPERD: A pleasure.

LIN: Well, up next...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I suppose if this is a ghost town, this is a ghost aircraft. It was abandoned as a result of events of 1974. It's been standing here ever since as has the airport, a symbol of a divided island.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LIN: The troubled history of Cyprus provides a safe haven for the U.N. weapons inspectors. We're going to tell you why in a moment.

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LIN: The Mediterranean island of Cyprus is a key layover for chief U.N. weapon inspector, Hans Blix. It is the staging area for members of his team before they fly three-and-a-half hours tomorrow to Baghdad. As CNN's Kevin Sites reports Cyprus was chosen for its own unique relationship with the U.N.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEVIN SITES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This sunny Mediterranean island with its miles of coastlines and busy cafes does serve as a portal between Europe and the Middle East. But ironically, it's because of Cyprus' own internal conflict that it has become the jumping off point for weapons inspectors headed to Iraq.

EWAN BUCHANAN, PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER FOR BLIX: It's close. There's obviously -- as I mentioned before, a big U.N. presence here, which has helped for us getting established, that we can, you know, use some of the services of our colleagues here. And that's been very good and we're very appreciative of them for doing so.

SITES: The inspectors need a safe and secure environment where they can get logistical and technical support fast. And since U.N. peacekeepers have been stationed here for decades, Cyprus fits the bill.

BRIAN KELLY, U.N. PEACEKEEPERS FORCE: You've got skilled professionals, who have full awareness of what is needed to get things up and running fast. So there is a certain logic to going where the guys with knowledge are.

SITES: After Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974; the country was split in half. North Cyprus, which is mostly Turkish and South Cyprus, which is mostly Greek. Twelve hundred U.N. peacekeepers now patrol a 60-mile long demilitarized zone between the two.

(on camera): The divisions between north and south here are almost surreal. The green line actually divides the capital city of Nicosia in some places block by block. But life goes on here. Outside a Greek orthodox church, a couple gets married while only a 100 yards away, a soldier stands with an automatic weapon.

(voice-over): On the Greek side, a victims' wall showing the faces of those still missing after the invasion. And the once bustling Nicosia International Airport is now like an empty parking lot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I suppose if this is a ghost town, this is a ghost aircraft. It was abandoned as a result of the events in 1974. It's been standing here ever since, as has the airport, a symbol of a divided island.

SITES (on camera): A place that is frozen in time?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Exactly.

SITES (voice-over): But while the evidence of Cyprus' own troubles are everywhere, it's depended on the U.N. in the past and now it's willing to return the favor. Kevin Sites, CNN, Cyprus.

LIN: And please stay with CNN for up to the minute coverage of the showdown with Iraq. We of course are covering the story like no one else can. Coming up, in fact, in 60 minutes, Senators Bob Graham and Richard Shelby are among Wolf Blitzer's guests on "LATE EDITION." Then, at 6:00 p.m. Eastern, Christiane Amanpour takes an in-depth look at the significance of Saudi Arabia as the U.S. prepares for a possible war. And tonight, "CNN PRESENTS, SHOWDOWN IRAQ: FIVE QUESITONS," an in-depth look at the key questions in the ongoing struggle with Iraq.

Thanks so much for joining us for our special this morning. I have got much more news continuing in just a moment, so stay right there. I'm Carol Lin.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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