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Chief Iraqi Scientist Offers Comments

Aired January 20, 2003 - 12:27   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go to Baghdad now, there's a news conference that's just beginning. We see the chief Iraqi representative to the international inspectors being hooked up to a microphone. He's about to make an opening statement and then make comments to reporters as he does. We'll get his assessment of the current situation.
LT. GEN. AMER AL-SAADI, IRAQI : Good evening ladies and gentlemen. As you know, we have today come to an agreed statement with Dr. Hans Blix and Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei.

And you have been familiarized with this document of 10 points, and without further ado, I'll be happy to answer any questions, because the document is self explanatory, and I have no opening statement to make.

QUESTION: One of the issues that Mr. Blix said was still outstanding despite the 10 points of agreement was the issue of U2 surveillance aircraft. Why have you not been able to reach agreement on that issue?

AL-SAADI: Well, that's one of the sticky points, but still we have reservations about allowing a spy plane to enter. Although we are assured that it is painted with (UNINTELLIGIBLE) colors and the pilot and ground crew are all U.S. personnel but working under U.N. mandate.

It's still a spy plane. And to enter Iraq and be free to move around all over the country and loiter for hours -- up to six hours -- over Iraq, presents us with difficulty regarding our air defense capabilities. It will present us with a real problem.

And we had some suggestions as to what could be acceptable for us, and it seems that the IAEA and the UNMOVIC, although they are organs of the United Nations or the Security Council itself, they're not able to prevail on persuading the American and the British to alter this daily intrusion into Iraqi air space and the armed conflicts that take place on a daily basis. It is even more often than reported in the news media.

Therefore, we had some suggestions that these flights should be -- they're illegal. Everybody knows that. They have no mandate to do that. And we suggested that they should be halted for the duration of the entry of this plane, the U.N. plane. They couldn't even offer that.

Therefore, we cannot be responsible for the safety of the U.N. plan and the crew -- it's one pilot, actually; that's not a crew.

QUESTION: (through translator): ... away from Iraqi official presence?

AL-SAADI (through translator): As far as the interviews are concerned, it's pretty clear, our position in Iraq encourages the scientists to attend the interviews, and they have the right to safeguard their rights under the law, and we have always encouraged this arrangement.

But the scientists themselves insist on some safeguards to protect themselves and to safeguard the information that they give, so it doesn't get distorted or misunderstood by any other party.

Therefore, this issue still remains the prerogative of the person himself, and we don't interfere, and we are committed to the resolution and there is no way back.

The target should always be that Iraq is free of weapons of mass destruction.

What about Cyprus? We haven't discussed the traveling arrangement for anyone outside Iraq.

QUESTION: You said that you encourage Iraqi scientists to participate in private interviews. Will you compel them at all to participate in the interviews, and will you allow the interviews outside of the country?

AL-SAADI: We will never compel them, but we will encourage them as we have, as have happened on several occasions. It is in our interests to answer questions relevant to Iraq's programs, past programs, and that Iraq is, as we say, is clean.

Anything else, any other questions, tendentious questions, of course, it's up to them whether to respond to them or not.

They will see that themselves. They are educated people and they are aware of everything.

As far as outside the country, we haven't touched upon this because our attitude toward that is also known, that it is entirely up to the scientist himself if he is willing to leave his country and do an interview outside.


AL-SAADI (through translator): The agreement will reflect positively on the report that Blix is going to deliver to the Security Council the outstanding issues are, in fact, less than those that have been agreed. Mr. Blix is a professional and he serves the Security Council as a whole. He does not work for a specific body. We expect him to be professional and honest. And we expect him to tell the truth.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) joint statement with Iraqis speaks about legislation on prohibited weapons. What does that mean?

AL-SAADI: This actually is a requirement foreseen in the resolution, the Security Council Resolution 715, which actually relates to the ongoing monitoring phase. But in anticipation that the disarmament phase will take only relatively short time and the ongoing monitoring phase will be then applicable and require such legislation.

And the first party to ask for legislation was the IAEA. Because effectively, from early on in 1992 they finished all disarmament questions and they were ready for an ongoing monitoring phase. That's why they felt necessary that we should enact the legislation in accordance with the Security Council Resolution 715.

And UNSCOM, at the time, never raised this question because they haven't finished disarmament. And we gave a draft as early as 1995 for comments and consideration by the U.N. agencies. And we never received an answer for a long time. And the matter has been raised again and has become persistent request or demand that this legislation should be enacted. Although, we haven't finished, even according to the Security Council resolution, we haven't finished the disarmament phase. But the ongoing monitoring phase has been established since 1994 and was up and running up to 1998 when it was destroyed by the U.N.-U.K. aggression. And we have come back to this question again.

Everybody knows that legislation is a due process. It's a long procedure. Everybody in the country from minister of justice to the state council for law, the highest authority, should have an input.

And finally, the National Congress also has to consider this. And all these take time.

And this matter has been started since some time ago, not long ago, in fact when we resumed dialogue with the United Nation and UNMOVIC it has been raised up again.

And we have been looking at what other countries has done in similar cases, and we are working on it. That's what it means here, to enact this legislation that nobody on the territory of Iraq would be engaged in any proscribed activity.

That's all, thanks.

QUESTION (through translator): The ten points, it looks in favor with the other side. There is an appreciation ...

AL-SAADI (through translator): Unfortunately, your remarks are correct. But, as I said, we are serious about dealing with the U.N. Resolution 1441.

Iraq always meets its obligations. At once this is established, people tend to forget that Iraq has fulfilled its obligation. Now there are things that are required, most of it is a foregone conclusion, such as Iraq encourages the private sector ordinary citizens to cooperate with the inspectors. Iraq has always maintained that. There have been many visits to private sector sites and it's always been encouraged by the Iraqi government because we see that in our own interest.

Iraq has nothing to hide. Today, we received a request to inspect a farm, a private farm, for some. Also we received request to give access to a building that has some tools, that's a poultry place.

This place has been closed down because of the blockade, and in order to protect these expensive machinery has been locked away.

BLITZER: Amer Al-Saadi, the chief Iraqi scientist, offering his assessment on the two days of talks. The chief U.N. inspectors, Hans Blix, Mohamed ElBaradei, saying the Iraqis right now are encouraging but not compelling their scientists to cooperate, to meet privately without Iraqi officials present, and answer questions from the inspectors. Also saying they're not encouraging anyone, they are not talking even about the possibility of these Iraqi scientists leaving the country, to a third country, like Cyprus, perhaps, to be interviewed, says the Iraqis cannot force them to do so. Also insisting that issue has not even been discussed. We'll continue to monitor the news conference in Baghdad, hear what else he's saying.


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