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Inspectors Find Empty Chemical Warheads

Aired January 16, 2003 - 13:00   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: If you are just tuning in, we are told that U.N. experts report chemical warheads have been found in Iraq. We are going to go straight to Baghdad now. Our Rym Brahimi joins us live with more on this breaking story.
What can you tell us, Rym?

RYM BRAHIMI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kyra, the statement from the UNMOVIC spokesman that was delivered to the press this evening says that inspectors visited a site a little bit outside of Baghdad. They found, in bunkers that he said were recently built, some 11 chemical warheads. These warheads were empty. He said he also found -- they also found another warhead that they have to further evaluate.

All of this, of course, has to be further analyzed. They took samples. They are going to take more analysis. They took X-rays of that area, and they're going to bring in more evaluation. So they are not exactly saying what they have found, Kyra. They just say there are empty chemical warheads that need further evaluation -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: And so Rym, everybody wants to know if, indeed, this could be the smoking gun that inspectors have been looking for. What type of response -- what are you hearing there in Baghdad?

BRAHIMI: Well, it is difficult to say for now. We have just been briefed by the two Iraqi officials. One of them top scientific adviser to President Saddam Hussein and another one, the liaison, the head of the liaison office that deals with the inspectors here, General Hossam Amin. Both of them stressed that there are no weapons of mass destruction. General Hossam Amin, who has people who actually accompany the inspectors on their missions every single day at every single site said that there was no sign of weapons of mass destruction, that the inspectors had found nothing so far.

That was actually only an hour ago that we were told this. Of course, now, as you know, U.N. weapons inspectors -- chief U.N. weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei will be flying -- will be -- sorry -- arriving in Baghdad on Sunday, and there are a lot of issues that are going to be discussed. I would imagine this one will be at the top of the agenda if, indeed, it is something significant in the view of the inspectors -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Rym, what can you tell us about this ammunition storage area where, apparently, these chemical warheads were found?

BRAHIMI: Well, it's a storage area that has been visited many times before. This is not the first visit that the inspectors make there. So one may even assume that if there were something significant, and again, this is pure speculation and hypothesis it may have already be hit and may be better than this.

Now what -- how significant this finding is, is again something that we'll have to find out after the inspectors actually evaluate that material, bring in results, laboratory results from the sampling they have made, and the X-rays they have made.

All this, of course, will require very high level knowledge of what constitutes chemical weapon as such. And again, even if there is something else, I mean, I have been talking to a lot of people involved in this, diplomats, some of the inspectors here and there.

You know, they can find some traces, maybe, of chemical weapons. If they do find some, then they have to establish that it is actually part of a weapons program, and then that's another step beyond. So we have to be careful. This is one finding. They have to evaluate it. They are probably going to go to the U.N. Security Council if it is something of any significance, and of course, again, when Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei come to town on Sunday, we'll probably know a little bit more about that if that was an issue or not -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: And you have made the point there must be further evaluation on these warheads. Can you give us a little more detail on what that means, "further evaluation"?

BRAHIMI: Well, I think what they're trying to establish is, for instance, when they may have been built. They say the bunker was built recently. Those chemical warheads, they say, seem relatively new. They were empty. Were they chemical warheads intended to be filled with something that exists? In that case, they will have to find whatever may exist or may not exist in terms of what they would fill them with.

Then they have to figure out if there is any trace of any chemicals anywhere in that area, or anywhere in and around Baghdad.

So there's a lot of things that they further need to establish, and again, they have taken samples, so that means laboratory checking. That is a big process, and it involves a very specific scientific knowledge that even -- a lot of us obviously wouldn't know if we saw it in front of us -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right. Rym Brahimi live from Baghdad. Thank you. We've had our international viewers on CNN International and our viewers here on CNN domestic following this bit of breaking news coming out of Baghdad.

U.N. experts saying they found chemical warheads in Iraq. We will continue to follow this story on both networks. We want to say good-bye to our international viewers, thank you for joining us. We'll continue our coverage here on CNN domestic. I am going to take you now to the White House where our correspondent John -- John King is standing by -- actually not at the White House.

I apologize, John, you're following the president. You are in -- or Scranton, Pennsylvania, of course, as he has been talking about medical liability issues.

Let's talk about this discovery now in Iraq and have you been able to get any any response from the Bush administration?

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Just one quick initial reaction, Kyra. Bush administration officials say they are waiting to hear more about exactly what the inspectors found, exactly where they found it. But one official I spoke to, just as this news was broking (ph) said sarcastically, Well, gee, I thought they just told the United Nations they don't have any weapons of mass destruction.

Look for that to be the focus of the administration as this development, the administration is sure to cast it as more evidence in its view that Iraq is hiding weapons of mass destruction, that it does have an active chemical and biological weapons program, and that, in fact, Saddam Hussein has been frustrating and trying to obstruct the work of the inspectors.

President Bush was here in Scranton to talk medical malpractice, as you noted, but he did, at the top of the speech, also say that, in his view, time is running out, that his patience, the president's patience, is running short with what the administration believes is a noncooperative attitude from the government of Saddam Hussein.

The Bush administration urging the -- urging the inspectors to be much more aggressive in recent weeks, sharing some sensitive U.S. intelligence with them, so again, the initial reaction is, Why did Iraq tell the United Nations it no longer had any weapons of mass destruction if it has shells capable of delivering chemical weapons. U.S. officials certainly will press to find out if there are any chemical residues available to analyze, as Rym Brahimi just said. The inspectors say they are doing such analysis. And the administration sure to cast this as evidence that, as the president has repeatedly said, he does not trust Saddam Hussein, and he does not think he will fully cooperate with the inspection regime -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: And John, as we continue to follow up on this news just coming out of Baghdad, let's put this into perspective. I mean, there has been so much talk about a smoking gun. There is an important date of January 27 that is just around the corner, there has been talk about war with Iraq, what it is going to take, what needs to be proven. Weapons inspectors saying they need more evidence that, indeed, Iraq is disarming and there are no chemicals or weapons of mass destruction.

How big -- or how should I say -- this piece of news. Could this be a smoking gun, plain and simple?

KING: It certainly could be cast as such by the administration and it is certain to be cast by the administration as what the administration will say is more cumulative evidence in the view of the White House, that Saddam Hussein is lying about his weapons program and not cooperating.

The White House, just in the past 24 hours pointing out that Iraq has said it cannot guarantee the safety, if the United Nations weapons inspectors decide to be more aggressive in using aerial surveillance over Iraq. The White House says that is a violation of the new U.N. resolution to make such threats that you cannot guarantee the safety.

The White House also, within the past 24 hours, telling us that it has -- quote -- solid intelligence that Iraq has moved evidence of its weapons of mass destruction since the United Nations adopted the new resolution and decided to send the inspectors back in.

The administration, of course, also saying that in the 12,000 pages Iraq filed with the United Nations, it failed to account for tens of thousands of gallons of anthrax, for more than 500 warheads known to be filled with mustard gas that Iraq previously acknowledged that it had, no mention of where they are, or whether they were destroyed. No evidence they have been destroyed in the Iraqi document.

So now, this startling development that inspectors have found even a small number of warheads capable of delivering chemical weapons, you can bet the White House will say more proof Saddam is lying, more evidence that he is already in material breach of his new commitment to the United Nations.

The question is, at what point does the president say it is time to stop the inspections process, and time to start discussing whether this should become a military confrontation -- those discussions will intensify about the bottom line deadline for the White House after that January 27 report to the Security Council by Hans Blix and his inspectors.

PHILLIPS: And John, a lot of evaluation, of course, that has to be done on these warheads. As I am reading the information here, a U.N. weapons inspector is making the point -- that the warheads were in excellent condition, and they were similar to being ones imported by Iraq during the late 1980s -- John -- all right, I am going to have to put you on hold, John. I apologize. I am hearing a lot of talk.

OK -- tell me slowly, please. I have got -- OK.

I've got British Ambassador Jeremy Greenspan (sic) -- or Greenstock, rather, the British ambassador to the U.N. speaking from U.N. -- let's listen in.



QUESTION: Ambassador, wasn't the discussion today in essence about some council members wanting to slow down (OFF-MIKE) and that was the argument about the timetable (OFF-MIKE)?

GREENSTOCK: The arguments about time lines are not just in the council. People are coming to this whole question with different approaches. We can all see that.

But I think that the lead remains with the inspectors. That's the U.K. view. And let's see how it goes.

QUESTION: Is the U.K. position firm about not asking the U.S. to slow down (OFF-MIKE)?

GREENSTOCK: Nobody's asking the inspectors to slow down. On the contrary, I think every member of the council wants the inspectors to do their job in an intensified way as they gather experience on the ground and then report, and that's what we're going to see.

Thank you.

PHILLIPS: Once again, Jeremy Greenstock, the British ambassador to the U.N., coming out, making brief comments about the information that we are just receiving. If you're just tuning in, this is what I can tell you thus far, U.N. weapons inspectors finding chemical warheads during an inspection of a storage area in Iraq. This came to us just moments ago. We talked with Rym Brahimi, our correspondent in Baghdad. She's continuing to get as much information as possible on what was discovered here by inspectors, also working on comments from the Iraqi side. Also our John King, who's been traveling with the president. The president is in Pennsylvania at this time. He was coming out and making comments about medical malpractice issues.

We're going to go back to John King and talk more about this discovery, as he, of course, is talking to his sources there. Hopefully soon, John, a response from the bush administration. Until that happens, let's talk about this information, I mean, it is quite shocking, probably not for the Bush administration. They always felt Iraq has had evidence of weapons of mass destruction.

You know, let's talk about this as a possible smoking gun and if this could be a trigger for war.

KING: It certainly could be, Kyra. We're not at those point yet, where those discussions are taking on an immediacy, but certainly, you heard Rym Brahimi say the inspectors believe the buildings where these warheads were hidden were built recently. Well, the White House will want to know how recently, because there were conversations out of the White House that they believe Saddam Hussein would do anything in his power to frustrate the work of the inspectors. This is a speculation at this point, but if it can be shown that the weapons were built and the warheads were moved during the time the Security Council was debating sending in new inspectors or any time since the decision to send inspectors into Iraq, you can be sure the White House will use that as evidence, in its view, of obstruction by Saddam Hussein.

Other questions are obvious as to there were chemicals ever in the warheads, whether there is any way to get a sense of what they were used for, and again, the threshold question for the Bush administration is the president said he would have zero tolerance, and this is Saddam Hussein's final chance to come clean and disarm. The United Nations filed a report to the United States that said it had no more weapons of mass destruction, period.

The Bush White house is certain to say, even if there are only these 11 warheads found, that they are warheads capable of delivering a weapons of mass destruction, why did Iraq tell the United Nations it had none?

PHILLIPS: And, John, you bring that point up about the warheads, and we were sort of talking about this before we updated our viewers on what was taking place here, and this was a quote coming from one of the weapons inspectors, "The warheads were in excellent condition," he said," and were similar to ones imported to Iraq during the late 1980s. The team used portable X-ray equipment to conduct preliminary analysis and collected samples for chemical testing.

Let's talk about the fact that the inspector is saying these were in perfect condition, what that could mean and also the evaluation process, what happens now with the evidence that they've picked up?

KING: Well, the evaluation process, obviously, will involve, trying to reach a determination as to whether warheads were ever actively used, if you will, perhaps in storage, but filled with a chemical or biological weapon. That will be one big question because, again, if the warheads are in good shape and moved recently, if they had any chemicals in them, that would give you, clearly, a smoking gun, or certainly the Bush administration would cast it as such.

Another question for the administration, again, the threshold question that Iraq has denied having such weapons. We do know the Bush administration has said it has -- quote -- "solid evidence" that Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi government have been moving things in the days and weeks leading up the inspections. The question is whether in the intelligence sharing between the United States and the inspectors this is something that has come up. U.S. officials tell us they have not shared the most sensitive intelligence of that nature in their view of Iraq moving things, but it is certainly more proof, as well, that the inspectors are getting more robust on the ground.

Remember, in the early days, they visited past known weapon sites. We saw pictures of rusty building and rusty old weapons. If you have new weapons in excellent condition, that certainly, just from a sense of the pictures we showed to our viewers around the world and other news media showed to their viewers around the world, that would give you much more powerful evidence that the weapons program, indeed, are alive and well inside Iraq.

PHILLIPS: This piece of evidence, what we're talking about now, John, let's put it in perspective. How powerful is this evidence?

KING: It is, according to the initial reports, 11 warheads. That is not a vast amount by any means, but again, Iraq told the United Nations it would cooperate and it told the United Nations it has no weapons of mass destruction.

The White House says, if you go back to the documentation and what Iraq had acknowledged at the point back in 1998 when the inspections last broke down, Iraq at that point had acknowledged some 500 shells filled with mustard gas, acknowledged it had stockpiles of anthrax and other chemical and biological weapons. What the White House says Iraq now refuses to acknowledge or show any evidence of is what happened to those known stockpiles, let alone address the White House concerns that new weapons have been built, perhaps even the nuclear program revitalized. So the White House sees this as evidence certainly that it has been telling the truth all along, that Iraq has an active chemical and biological weapons program and has been lying about it.

The question here on forward is, you have what the White House says is says obstruction, and even Dr. Blix said today, is obstruction and noncooperation with the inspectors. Now you have one piece of evidence about a weapons program. The question is, if there are more and more of these in the days and weeks ahead, you can be certain the Bush administration will use that to built its case that Iraq has been lying, and now that Iraq is not cooperating.

PHILLIPS: Our John King in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where the president is at this time, continuing to follow this breaking news story.

John, thank you so much.


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