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War or Diplomacy to Disarm Iraq

March 5, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


GWEN IFILL: Now we get two perspectives on today’s developments. Raymond Tanter served on the National Security Council staff in the Reagan administration. He’s now an adjunct scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Jacqueline Grapin is president of the European Institute. It’s a public policy organization devoted to transatlantic affairs. Raymond Tanter, was that the sound of gauntlets being thrown we heard today?

RAYMOND TANTER: I think Secretary Powell has done two things. One, he told Hans Blix that American intelligence doesn’t confirm what Hans Blix thinks about the al-Samoud 2 missiles. I think American intelligence is showing that Iraq is engaged in a shell game of saying that it’s going to destroy “x” numbers of missiles, while at the same time it produces additional missiles.

So I’m very pessimistic that Hans Blix… in effect, I’m saying that Hans Blix and Secretary Powell are on a collision course.

GWEN IFILL: Ms. Grapin, we started the day hearing from Russia, Germany, and France not quite saying they were willing to veto to stop this resolution or stop this action, but suggesting it. Was that a gauntlet being thrown down?

JACQUELINE GRAPIN: Yes. I suppose that it’s difficult to believe that the next week they will prove or disprove today.

Basically, it’s a difference of approach. No one denies that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. The question is not so much is Saddam Hussein ‘sinning’ so to say with regard to U.N. rules and the U.N. resolution.

It’s how dangerous is he and does this justify war, does this justify killing people? Because this is what war is about.

And a number of governments think that the priority is really the war against terrorism, that this war will set the Middle East on fire, that it will have a backlash, it will create backlash in the Arab world, and therefore, it is a dangerous process. However, everybody agrees that if it is necessary, perhaps war as a last resort should be undertaken.

It seems that Russia, Germany, and France at this time think that some more time should be given to these inspectors. Hans Blix was just in your presentation a few moments ago saying four months.

In a way when you think with the climate situation in the Middle East, starting a war before the spring and summer is a little dangerous. Why not wait until September, when you are before the winter? So probably there would be more legitimacy in undertaking this later, when it is proven that the inspectors have not been able to obtain improvements.

GWEN IFILL: Mr. Tanter, we have heard these different interpretations especially what Hans Blix for instance said today. Difference sides read what he said is hopeful or not. Why today?

Why did we hear such tough talk coming not only from the secretary, but also from these three key allies today?

RAYMOND TANTER: Well, Gwen, if you look at 678, it authorized all necessary means to be taken by member states to oust the Iraqi army from Kuwait. That was in 1990 — U.N. Security Council Resolution 678. Then came 687, which said Iraq should have full final and complete disclosure of all of its weapons of mass destruction. That’s 1991.

So I’m not sure that 12 years later that there is any rush, and in the meantime you had 1441.

GWEN IFILL: I’m not suggesting that there is a rush. I’m just thinking of the context where we are right now in the last ten days to suddenly have heard such tough talk today, two days before we expect to hear from Hans Blix.

RAYMOND TANTER: Hans Blix is supposed to come to the U.N. Security Council and give his quarterly report on March 7.

Secretary Powell is going tomorrow to the U.N. in order to round up the nine votes tomorrow. I think it’s important for a gauntlet, as you called it, to be laid down by Secretary Powell so those who are sitting on the fence fall off the fence on the American side on the British side, on the Spanish and Bulgarian side, and not sit on the fence. No one is going to remain on the fence once the shooting starts, so they might as well get off the fence now before the shooting starts and help to legitimize the use of force.

GWEN IFILL: Ms. Grapin, does what the secretary said today, does it knock people off the fence?

JACQUELINE GRAPIN: I don’t think so. I think there are several timetables here.

There is the timetables of the inspectors, and I think they need several weeks if not several months, probably until the fall. There is the timetable, the military timetable and the military plans and there is the diplomatic timetable and the possible vote of a resolution next week.

Secretary Powell says he has the votes — the Russians, the Germans, and French say they will not even have to use a veto in this case, because he will not have the nine necessary votes to oblige them to have a veto. The probability is that if that is the case, the resolution will not be put to a vote. If the U.S. had these votes, the resolution would already had been put to the vote. So obviously it’s a last minute effort to try to rally some of the undecided members.

GWEN IFILL: Do you think that the administration has the votes?

JACQUELINE GRAPIN: I don’t know, but my guess would be that they do not have it, and that next week there are two possibilities. I doubt that they have the votes. I think that either that they will not have enough and a veto will not be necessary. If they had it, I would guess that a veto would be used. But it’s just a guess. I don’t know.

GWEN IFILL: I understand. Crystal balling is very difficult.

Mr. Tanter, one of the things that Secretary Powell today said is that ‘process is not performance;’ this is his counter to some of, I guess, Hans Blix’s assertions about cooperation. “Process is not performance, concession not compliance.”

Does that argument do you think work for the people on the fence, for the people who need stop this coming to a kind of embarrassing failure at the U.N.?

RAYMOND TANTER: I think so, Gwen.

The Russian-French-German declaration this morning in effect said inspections can produce disarmament. That’s like saying the Internal Revenue Service is supposed to produce declarations on the part of Americans and French with respect to their income. Each individual family is supposed to produce their income and the Internal Revenue Service simply verifies compliance on a random basis.

Even Hans Blix said if and only if Iraq were proactive and cooperated more, then it would take, as Madame said, two or three months to complete the job. But, in fact, Iraq has not been cooperative.

GWEN IFILL: Now, let me ask you a question about this because it seems… the secretary said today that he had new intelligence information that showed that Iraq was still creating new biological weapons, that they had moved weapons supposed to be destroyed and that he had, from good sources, he said — “reliable” was the word he used — evidence this was happening.

If that’s true, why isn’t that information handed over to Hans Blix or to the inspectors so that the proof can be put in the pudding, I guess?

RAYMOND TANTER: That’s a good reason. If war is about to start, I don’t want the Iraqis to know that American intelligence knows where their mobile weapons labs are.

Of course, they’re running back and forth between Syria and Iraq, many of them are probably in Syria at this time. But I suspect they’ll go back to the western Iraq desert and U.S. Special Forces are going to have to go in and take out the delivery systems and weapons of mass destruction first before any war begins. So you don’t want to reveal all of your intelligence right away, Gwen.

GWEN IFILL: Was this new intelligence information compelling in any way for you?

JACQUELINE GRAPIN: I don’t think this is the real question, because no one pretends that Saddam is a saint and that suddenly he’s complying with the U.N. inspectors’ requirements. Actually, what are the requirements, nobody knows.

It looks like there is nothing that Saddam could do this week that would assure the U.S., and would avoid war. So, this is probably not really the question.

The question from the standpoint of the international community is this war worthwhile, and if it can be avoided what action can be taken in the next four months to avoid it?

The U.S. takes a different perspective, which is that we have waited for a long time, that “we have our troops ready. We are ready to go. Let’s do it.” But this is really going to end up in the U.N. being some sort of an international referendum at the highest level because, in fact, the populations in many, many countries have already expressed their reservations about undertaking war under this condition.

GWEN IFILL: You alluded to the reservations so many countries expressed. The secretary also said today that Saddam’s strategy here was to divide traditional allies and that it’s working. Do you think it’s true?

JACQUELINE GRAPIN: It’s certainly true that Saddam’s strategy has always been to divide the allies, but this time I think that the U.S. pressure, which has been praised by all leaders including Jacques Chirac and Chancellor Schroeder and Vladimir Putin, everybody recognizes that if the inspections are succeeding, it is because of the U.S. pressure. So it’s good to continue putting pressure on Saddam. It doesn’t mean it’s good to go into war.

GWEN IFILL: Raymond Tanter, same question to you. Are the allies divided as part of a grand scheme from Saddam Hussein?

RAYMOND TANTER: Actually Secretary Powell said that Saddam Hussein has attempted to divide the allies is not going to work in the long run that unity of purpose will kick in and it reminded me… I think Secretary Powell switched hats, put on the general hat and kept referring to his chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This man’s time… the last exit ramp on the road to Baghdad has been reached. As far as I’m concerned Powell, Bush, Rumsfeld are all singing from the same song sheet and that is a song with respect to the road to war in Baghdad.

GWEN IFILL: It seems there have been several exit ramps, but let me ask you about that. One of the things he also said today was even now, “even at this late date,” I think was the way he put it, war can still avoidable if Saddam does all of the things that the United States would be satisfied with. Do you agree with that?

RAYMOND TANTER: If there were a full final and complete disclosure of the weapons of mass destruction, but get this: full, final and complete. That doesn’t mean incremental. I like to a say that the Holy Roman Empire wasn’t holy, it wasn’t roman, and not an empire, similarly Saddam hasn’t made a full, final, or complete disclosure of his weapons of mass destruction. That’s the issue.

GWEN IFILL: Ms. Grapin, what’s your response to that?

JACQUELINE GRAPIN: The approach of Russia and Germany and France is to set a very clear program of disarmament with a schedule that Saddam must follow and if he does not follow it, then they would approve the use of force. So it’s possible. I think there is less division among the allies than it looks. Everybody agrees that Saddam must disarm, everybody agrees that he does not comply with the U.N. resolutions. But some of the allies think that some further use of the inspectors must be made.

GWEN IFILL: But… excuse me, but is war avoidable?

JACQUELINE GRAPIN: If they have it their way, yes, war is avoidable, and I would add that there is a second chapter in what they suggest, is that there should be an overall framework for the Middle East, for resolution of the powers of the Middle East, if possible with disarmament, with arms control, and with confidence-building measures, that should be agreed among the various parties.

In fact, this would avoid antagonizing the Arab world and increasing the level of animosity that creates terrorism.

GWEN IFILL: Okay, Jacqueline Grapin, Raymond Tanter, thank you very much for joining us.