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War or Diplomacy in Iraq

March 6, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


RAY SUAREZ: British Foreign Sec. Jack Straw, who’s considering changes to the new Iraq resolution, today took questions from reporters at the U.N.

REPORTER: Are the Americans supporting the British attempt to find some compromise solution, and are the British supporting the Americans in their request for regime change?

JACK STRAW: I speak for the British government. I have close and collaborative relations with all members of the Security Council, but obviously including the United States. But these are suggestions that I’ve made — we’ve made — on the issue of regime change, the position of the British government is very straightforward. Yes, of course, in a different world we would like to see a different government running Iraq, but so far, as 1441 is concerned, the purpose of 1441 is to secure the disarmament of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction; that and that alone. We have made it clear, the British prime minister, Tony Blair, has made clear repeatedly, that if Iraq complies with 1441 and disarms of its weapons of mass destruction, we accept that the government of Iraq stays in place.

RAY SUAREZ: In other words, if Saddam Hussein’s regime disarms it can stay in power. Meanwhile in London the secretary’s boss, Prime Minister Tony Blair made his country’s case on the MTV-Europe network.

TONY BLAIR: I’ve been trying to have a dialogue with people about it. I’m very happy to do that.

QUESTIONER: It’s not really working, is it?

TONY BLAIR: When you say it’s not really working, the vast majority of people in my country certainly I think would support action with a U.N. resolution. That’s what I’m working for. I think opinion does believe Saddam is a bad man, does believe he is a threat, but I think the question people are asking is, “is this the only way of dealing with it?” No, it’s not the only way of dealing with it. But we do need him to disarm voluntarily, otherwise we’re left not doing it at all.

RAY SUAREZ: Still, there was no public indication that France and Russia, permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, had moved any closer to the U.S. or U.K. position. In fact, permanent member China today endorsed the French, Russian, and German statement from yesterday. It says the countries will not allow a U.S. resolution to pass.

TANG JIAXUAN ( Translated ): At this moment, it is absolutely unnecessary to put aside Resolution 1441, and table a new one at the Security Council. RAY SUAREZ: There was similar criticism from Senate Democrats in Washington. Minority leader Tom Daschle spoke of the Bush administration.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE: In our view, they have failed diplomatically. In our view, they are rushing to war without adequate concern for the ramifications of doing so unilaterally or with a very small coalition of nations.

RAY SUAREZ: Daschle said a military invasion today would be premature.

JIM LEHRER: Now how it looks tonight to two former top U.S. officials. James Schlesinger was secretary of defense in the Nixon and Ford administrations; Samuel Berger was national security advisor under Pres. Clinton.

Mr. Berger, do you see a compromise coming?

SAMUEL BERGER: I think there is at least an opportunity here. The Iraqi… Saddam Hussein is destroying those missiles not because inspections work, but because deadlines set by the U.N. and backed with a credible threat of force work. The Canadians have put forward a proposal which would establish a fixed deadline, not months but just a matter of weeks, for Saddam Hussein to comply with in the course of disarmament. I think that if we could get an agreement with our allies that we would go through that process; if Saddam failed to meet those marks, they would support collective action. I think we’d be in a stronger position.

JIM LEHRER: Do you think France and China and Russia would go along with that?

SAMUEL BERGER: Well, we don’t know if we don’t try that. And I think the very act of proposing that in a sense puts them on the defensive. We’re not saying here that we are fixed to a particular formula. The objective here… we don’t need unlimited time here. If he has three months, he’ll take three months. If he has three weeks, with a fixed deadline, with a credible threat of force, and it’s far more credible if the international community is standing together than if the international community is divided. So I think it is something that we should make an effort at.

JIM LEHRER: How do you feel about it, Mr. Schlesinger? Do you think it’s a realistic possibility at this juncture?

JAMES SCHLESINGER: It’s a possibility but it’s a low probability possibility.


JAMES SCHLESINGER: Because the United States, I think, is prepared to move. And I don’t think that the other members of the Security Council at this juncture are prepared to compromise sufficiently with what inevitably will be our timetable for dealing with this problem.

JIM LEHRER: And our timetable, the U.S. timetable, would be a short timetable, as Mr. Berger says.

JAMES SCHLESINGER: That’s right. It’s a matter of weeks as the president has said.

JIM LEHRER: In order for France and Germany and China and Russia to go along, it would have to be a longer deadline. Is that what you’re suggesting?

JAMES SCHLESINGER: Eternity as far as the French are concerned. Perhaps the Russians and the Chinese will accept a shorter period.

JIM LEHRER: So do you agree with Mr. Berger that it’s at least worth a try. It shows good faith, okay, we’re willing to go a little more in.

JAMES SCHLESINGER: We have to do it in order to help out Tony Blair, who is under pressure in his country. We have got to make an effort in the United Nations because his public opinion demands it. I think the president has already indicated that he is going to go ahead without U.N. authorization if the circumstances arise.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, Mr. Berger, that underlying a lot of this is Tony Blair’s problems at home?

SAMUEL BERGER: Well, Prime Minister Blair has been enormously supportive and courageous in the view of public opinion that does not support his position. But I think we also have an interest here in the broadest possible coalition. The risks of this enterprise are significantly greater if it is basically seen in the region and the world as the U.S.-British operation than if it has an international face. So I think we also have an interest here in trying to achieve a final measure of convergence and unity.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Berger the….

JAMES SCHLESINGER: Militarily, it is going to be an American and British operation. Those in the region have already decided that war is inevitable.

JIM LEHRER: But I was just going to start with you, Mr. Secretary, the newspapers or the major newspapers today were full of stories about both analytical stories and news stories about, like it or not, the United States correctly or incorrectly, the United States is increasingly isolated from the rest of the world on this issue. Do you agree with that?

JAMES SCHLESINGER: I certainly do not. I think within Europe it is plain that the Germans, the French and the Belgians are the ones that are isolated. I think that it is clear from even debates in the chamber of deputies in which members of Chirac’s own party say we should not be breaking up Europe, we should not be breaking up NATO in order to protect a tyrant. That shows at least in the political class in France that there is recognition of the cost that France may play.

JIM LEHRER: What about the basic point here that we can’t get nine votes in the U.N. Security Council as we’re sitting here tonight, we don’t have them — the United States doesn’t have them?

JAMES SCHLESINGER: I think that that is correct. I think that there is some question whether it was wise back in the fall to go down this line of seeking United Nations support. We got 1441. What did 1441 tell us? It told us that the Iraqis were in material breach of 16 prior resolutions — that this was the final, final opportunity for them to comply with those previous resolutions and to disarm; and if they did not comply, there would be serious consequences. And the serious consequences are not an infinite series of additional resolutions.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Berger, how do you analyze the isolation issue?

SAMUEL BERGER: Clearly the world is badly divided on the eve of war. I think there is responsibility on both sides of the Atlantic. I think there have been European leaders who have seemed to be more concerned with tying down the American Gulliver than dealing with a threat presented by Saddam Hussein. There have been others who have used it for political advantage so there’s been a certain amount of demagoguery on the European side. From our perspective, I think we too often appeared to be dismissive of our allies and intent to proceed with them or without them. And I don’t think that has helped at all.

And this obviously all is built upon an early period in which the administration dismissed the Kyoto Treaty and arms control and backed away from other priorities of the rest of the world. Now we’re saying our priority, fall in line. So I think there is responsibility on both sides here, but we would obviously be far better off if we could still achieve a degree of convergence. I don’t think time is unlimited here nor should we create an unlimited window. But I do think that it is worth a final effort. This may be the last lap here, but it… but races are won and lost in the last lap.

JIM LEHRER: Sec. Schlesinger just repeated what the president and others have said many times: We do not need any further authorization. We, the United States, Britain or whatever, we don’t need any further authorization to go to war. But you’re suggesting it goes beyond the technical authorization issue, right?

SAMUEL BERGER: I don’t believe we need any further authorization as a legal matter. That’s been my position from the beginning, but this is not a legal question. This is a question of political support, political legitimacy. The broader the coalition, the greater the degree of an international imprimatur that it has, the less risk that Saddam’s people will stand and fight, and the greater risk this will be over quickly and the greater likelihood we’ll have allies in the peace which is not going to be an easy proposition.

So it’s not a matter of legal status. And there may come a point here soon where we have 200,000, 250,000 troops in the region. They can’t be sustained there indefinitely. And the international community has said that if Saddam Hussein does not disarm, there will be harsh consequences. If we do not… if we retreat at this point, Saddam Hussein essentially has a green light going forward. I think that’s also a dangerous situation.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Secretary, do you challenge Mr. Berger’s points that it would be to our advantage, to the United States’ advantage to have a united front against Saddam Hussein — in other words, to come out of the U.N. Security Council with some kind of resolution?

JAMES SCHLESINGER: Certainly not. The president was asked last summer to go to the Congress and to go to the U.N. It was said that he was acting unilaterally. He went to the Congress. He got support from the Congress, a strong resolution of support. He went to the United Nations. He painfully negotiated Resolution 1441 with the French. The French are now dismissive of the resolution that they negotiated. We would like to have others aboard but I think that the die is cast. Unless Saddam Hussein disarms or abdicates which is very doubtful, he will be removed from power.

JIM LEHRER: But I’m asking you to react to what Mr. Berger said, which is he listed the advantages that there would be for the United States and Britain, if, in fact, we had … we had broader support in the world for what we’re doing. You don’t think that’s important?

JAMES SCHLESINGER: I have no problem with that. We seek all the support that we can get. But I want to emphasize that if this process of procrastination goes on indefinitely, it will be a debacle for American foreign policy. Osama bin Laden, who has pointed to the American capacity to retreat repeatedly, will be overjoyed. There will be chortling in the French foreign ministry. We will be seen once again to have retreated. We are not likely to retreat this time.

JIM LEHRER: Do you see it as a retreat issue, Mr. Berger?

SAMUEL BERGER: Well, I do think that the United States has staked its credibility on this outcome of disarming Saddam Hussein. Indeed the international community has spoken clearly. We have 200, soon to have 250,000 troops in the region. I think that if we don’t achieve Saddam Hussein’s disarmament we will have no credible threat of force against him in the future.

And I’m concerned that if Saddam Hussein obtains nuclear weapons down the line, who does not believe the international community will act is a threat to American security interests. So we have this really excruciating situation at this point. That is, on the one hand, the international community and the United States has made clear what the intention is here. I don’t think we can retreat from that. On the other hand, we would be this — would be far less risky operation and far more likely to… both in the doing and in the aftermath, to be… to go better if we are… if the world is less divided.

JIM LEHRER: Back to the….

JAMES SCHLESINGER: He puts it very well. Our credibility is at risk. We will not have 250,000 troops sitting endlessly in the desert. We are not going to back down on this one for the reasons that he mentioned, and he is quite right. We want to have all the international support we can garner. But we are not about to suffer a diplomatic defeat.

SAMUEL BERGER: But I must say, Jim, that the fact of the matter is we’re actually farther from convergence today than we were a month ago or two months ago. I think in part that’s because we have had a high-handed attitude towards the Europeans. In part it’s their own agenda, but the fact is when Schroeder back in November took the position he did, the rest of the Europeans distanced themselves from him. We were closer to being together with the French and the Russians a month ago or two months ago than we are today. And I think in part perhaps the day of reckoning is coming and they don’t want to deal with that. But in part I think it deals with the dismissive with which we’ve dealt with our allies.

JAMES SCHLESINGER: The Europeans are not just France and Germany and Belgium. The nations of the Vilnius 12 or 10 or whatever it is have supported U.S. policy: Britain, France… Britain, Italy, Spain. Europe is divided. As that parliamentarian in France indicated, France should not cast a veto that would break up Europe.

JIM LEHRER: But your position is the United States has no fault for this slackening of support in the last thirty to forty-five days?

JAMES SCHLESINGER: What we see with the… with these three major powers….

JIM LEHRER: I’m not talking about just the three major powers. I’m talking about public opinion around the world, all of the kinds of things that are coming to a head here.

JAMES SCHLESINGER: We have allowed time for the opposition to organize. We have seen these demonstrations in — simultaneous demonstrations in cities all over the world. They were carefully organized. But we should recognize that much of what we see was inevitable in that historically powers joined together to cut down the leading nation, that is the French objective and it’s been joined in this case by China and Russia. I think for the moment.

SAMUEL BERGER: We have, Jim, created coalitions in the past in Gulf War 1, in Kosovo. It’s a painstaking job. I think there’s nothing inherent in the notion that we can’t put together a coalition to fight a war. I still believe in the days remaining we should make every effort to do so.

JAMES SCHLESINGER: We will put together a coalition under 1441 and it’s been vitiated.

JIM LEHRER: We’ll see what happens tomorrow and the next day and the next day and the next day. Thank you both very much.