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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Discussion of White House Reaction to Aluminum Tubes of Iraq

Aired December 2, 2002 - 12:34   ET

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

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: There are those who say, no matter what the U.N. inspectors or don't find or don't find in Iraq, the United States is going to attack sounding off today. Here in Washington, Joe Mowbray with the "National Review" and in San Francisco, radio talk show host Bernie Ward.
Bernie, are you among those that believes that, no matter what the U.N. inspectors come up with, the Bush administration is determined to go to war against Saddam Hussein?

BERNIE WARD, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, it's not what I believe. Richard Pearl (ph) was quoted in a London newspaper last week as telling members of Parliament that it doesn't matter what they find, that the United States doesn't believe it. The United States is going to attack anyway and that there are other reasons.

More than a month before that, Pearl (ph) was also quoted as saying that with all this talk about attacking Iraq, if the United States did not attack now, the president would lose face and would no longer have credibility among the world leaders, so his own major advisers are already saying that it really doesn't matter what happens.

BLITZER: All right.

WARD: The United States is going to attack anyway.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by, Joe and Bernie for a moment. I want to go back to the White House. The Press Secretary Ari Fleischer speaking about those aluminum pipes the Iraqis apparently attempted to import.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: ... purpose of production of nuclear weapons, not conventional.

And I remind you that conventional weapons, missiles that have a range of excess 150 kilometers are prohibited to Iraq under its agreements with the United Nations.

QUESTION: Do you have any concern that they may be deliberately pleading guilty to misdemeanors, if you will, you know, "OK, we violated the past regime, here we talk about these tubes, we did this," so that people would say, the administration might say, "See, he's lying," and others might say, "See, he's getting religion, let's let all this play out for months." FLEISCHER: Well, I think the president has one point in mind. This is about disarming Saddam Hussein. He plays games. He's done this for a decade. He has a way of finding half-truths that try to get him off the hook with the world, and the president went to the United Nations to make the point that this has been a decade of defiance by Saddam Hussein, who is very good and very clever at finding ways to deceive the world, including the inspectors.

And the inspectors' task is a very difficult task given the ease and the nature of which you can move around weapons, thanks to mobile laboratories, and hiding things underground and putting things in spaces, places that are hard to find.

This is one of the reasons why the president insisted on strong language in the resolution, so that people who might have information inside Iraq could leave the country to provide that information to the inspectors.

Very often the inspectors are able to do their best work as a result of information they receive from sources inside Iraq, who then worry about their own safety and protection.

The president wants to make certain the inspectors have every tool available so they can do their job, because the history of Saddam Hussein is he will do everything in his power to lie, to deceive, to deny and to hide.

QUESTION: One more quickly, if I can. Can you help us understand why the administration is so certain Iraq wanted to buy these tubes for nuclear weapons, not, as the Iraqis are apparently saying now, for conventional rockets?

FLEISCHER: I'm not a technical expert, but I think if you talk to the people who are versed in the exact methodology for the production of nuclear weapons, what you will find is there are different issues involved in the size of the various aluminum tubes that is a indication of the type of weaponry in which they are seeking to develop.

BLITZER: Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary, answering John King's questions about a report earlier today, the exclusive report here on CNN by our chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour, saying the Iraqis have now, indeed, acknowledged they attempted to buy those sensitive aluminum pipes, but saying they weren't going to be used to build a nuclear bomb. They were going to be used to develop some ballistic missile capabilities, which also would be a violation of the U.N. weapons inspection regime, the Iraqis committed themselves to honor.

Let's get back to our debate. Joel Mowbray, he is joining me here in Washington and Bernie Ward in San Francisco. Joel, we interrupted Bernie when he was saying that he feels the administration has already made up its mind, no matter what the inspectors come up with. Do you agree with him?

JOEL MOWBRAY, "NATIONAL REVIEW": Well, if we have made up our mind, it's not for willy-nilly reasons. We know from our intelligence, that Saddam Hussein has been in the course of developing nuclear weapons and he already has biological and chemical weapon capability. So unless he comes clean with a full dossier of everything he has, come Sunday, you know, then we'll know that he is violating even this inspection regime, because part of it called for him to put forward a list of everything he has by this Sunday, December 8.

BLITZER: What about that, Bernie? Do you believe that Saddam Hussein is going to come clean?

WARD: Well, it doesn't matter. Ari Fleischer just said it on your air. Ari Fleischer says if he comes clean, it proves that he was a liar, if he doesn't come clean, it proves he was a liar. So this whole thing is just -- it's a giant Kabuki dance. This is all orchestrated. It's all done. Colin Powell convinced Bush to go in August, when Bush didn't even want to go to the U.N., all this stuff about all the resolutions and 10 years of duplicity. Bush didn't have any intention of going to the U.N., until Powell convinced him, Bob Woodward says.

So this is all orchestrated. The United States is going to invade. I mean, Richard Pearl is one of the leading hawks. He's already said they will. You heard Ari Fleischer this morning saying it doesn't matter what happens on Sunday. He's dead either way -- he lied or he lied -- and you hear him talking about missiles and nuclear weapons. The stage is being set. More troops are being moved. We are going to go in and we are going to go in for a lot of reasons that don't have anything to do with weapons of mass destruction.

FLEISCHER: All right. Let me read you an e-mail that picks up on that point that Bernie just made and we'll get you to respond. If the weapons inspectors find nothing, it would not only be wrong, but immoral to attack Iraq, however, the Bush administration is setting up a command center and gathering allies. Seems we're preparing for war, regardless of the outcome of the inspections. That's from Vern in Annapolis, Maryland.

Go ahead, Joel.

MOWBRAY: Well, you always have to prepare for any eventuality, but the weapons inspectors are not going to the places where the weapons are most likely to be. They're going to the places where there will be no confrontation, because they don't want to provoke Saddam. Well, let me tell you, if he does have weapons of mass destruction -- and everything we know tells us that he's at least developing that capability -- then he's not going to take us to where the weapons or the capability facilities are. I mean, common sense would dictate that and 10 years of experience Saddam Hussein tells us that.

BLITZER: All right. And on that specific point, Bernie, let me to you read to you an e-mail we got in from Danny in Kuala Lumpur. "It's a waist of time for the inspectors to be checking those sites for biological and chemical agents, as the Iraqi regime has already concealed all weapons of mass destruction. When is the U.S. going to stop stalling and make the next move?" Go ahead, Bernie.

WARD: Well, they're going to wait. They cannot afford to go ahead, without some kind of international umbrella, and this is the attempt to get the international umbrella. But I mean, you know, the answer is already there. The answer is, he's already lied. He's hidden everything. They're not going to find it. So this is just an elaborate dance to get ready -- actually, give the United States time to move more assets into place and then we are going to attack. I mean, the fact that the major oil companies in this country are already meeting with Iraqi resistance to divide up the spoils, this is all done, it's a fate accompli. We're just waiting for when, you know, 1991 -- we're just waiting for the ground war to start.

BLITZER: What about -- I'll give you the last word, Joel. Go ahead.

MOWBRAY: Well, I say to Bernie, do you really want to take the risk that if Saddam Hussein does have weapons of mass destruction and the weapons inspectors who are going around this elaborate dance of their own, not looking at places where the weapons are likely to be, do you want to take the risk of putting your faith in them and saying, well, I guess he doesn't have them, so let's back off?

WARD: Well, Joel, if you can show me anything...

MOWBRAY: Bernie, Bernie, it's a game of Iraqi roulette.

WARD: ...that Saddam -- show me anything that Saddam Hussein can do that can threaten the United States directly?

MOWBRAY: Oh, well, he could launch nuclear weapons at Israel or at our troops..

WARD: He doesn't have any. He doesn't have any.

MOWBAY: Or -- but you know what, I think Condi Rice said it best, "Do you want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud?"

WARD: Oh, my God.

MOWBRAY: It's a game of Iraqi roulette.

WARD: You've answered the question.

MOWBRAY: There's a couple of bullets in the chamber, Bernie, and I don't think you want to point...

WARD: There's no bullets in the chamber...

MOWBRAY: ... that at America's head...

WARD: ...that's pointed at us.

MOWBRAY: ...and pull the trigger and take the risk that maybe, in fact, the bullet was in the chamber that shoots us. WARD: Joel, he's got no deliver system. He's got no, nuclear weapons. He's been degraded for 10 years. He hasn't been able to add to it, and you're still talking like he's been building since '91. The fact is that you and everybody on your side...

MOWBRAY: Now, Bernie, with your level of expertise...

WARD: ... you want them to go.

MOWBRAY: ... and your skill and weaponry, I'm very glad that you're able to tell us all the things that disagree with experts in this field.

WARD: They don't disagree with the CIA.

MOWBRAY: But Bernie, I'm glad your job as a talk radio host has given you such expertise.

WARD: Well, Joel, I hate to tell you this, but I was a weapons expert working in Washington for years. But besides that, I'm just quoting the CIA and other intelligence operations, not mine. And I'm very happy to quote them. If you don't like them, then maybe Mr. Bush needs to replace them.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to have to end it right there. Bernie Ward, Joel Mowbray, a good debate, good points of view from both of you. We'll continue this on another occasion. Thanks to both of you for joining us.

MOWBRAY: Thank you.

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