The Road Ahead: Iraq’s Efforts to Disarm
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JIM LEHRER: Now, what the events of today meant, as seen by Senator John Warner, Republican of Virginia, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee; Senator Jeff Bingaman, Democrat of New Mexico, the deputy Democratic whip and a former long-time member of the Armed Services Committee; and Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser to the president during the Carter administration, now a counselor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Dr. Brzezinski how would you summarize the importance of what we just saw of what happened today?
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: I think it is the beginning of a very critical week, perhaps even the final week. We have a situation on our hands in which war or peace are going to be decided in a manner in which the international community is split, is very divided. We have the possibility of a war being undertaken by the United States and Great Britain, outside of the U.N. framework. We have a situation in which the unanimity of the original U.N. Security Council resolution is no longer so credible; in part because the United States has given the impression that its goal, ultimate goal, is not disarmament, but regime change. And in part because France has given the impression that it is against the use of force under any circumstances, thereby reducing the credibility of that earlier unanimity to Saddam Hussein. So we are in a very critical moment, and I hope that in the course of the next week, we still succeed in fashioning a collective position which succeeds in renewing the unanimity of pressure on Saddam Hussein and perhaps still keeps open the possibility that he will truly comply in a fashion that is credible to everybody concerned.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. Warner, do you think that’s possible, to recreate that unanimity?
SEN. JOHN WARNER: Our president committed to follow diplomacy. He spoke brilliantly on that last night, very decisively, and he hasn’t flinched. He stayed the course. And his secretary of state, I think, handled himself exceedingly well today in making the case. It’s a simple case, Jim. Is there any evidence that Saddam Hussein is complying with the U.N. resolutions; most specifically as Dr. Brzezinski said [U.N. Resolution] 1441, that evidence is not to be found — a piece here and a piece there, but not the total sharing of knowledge with the Blix group of where the weapons are. They’re not there to find them; they’re there to destroy them, verify the destruction. That’s not taking place. But I think one more chance, once last chance is being given to Saddam Hussein, and he has got a very short time within which to show evidence, which he can do between now and the 17th, show evidence that he is going to fully comply with the U.N.’s resolutions, specifically 1441.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Bingaman, where do you think we are tonight?
SEN. JEFF BINGAMAN: Well, obviously we are at a very difficult point. First of all, I don’t think this deadline of the 17th is something that the United Nations– that the Security Council is likely to enact as a new resolution from what the French foreign minister seemed to be saying.
JIM LEHRER: The whip count does not look favorable?
SEN. JEFF BINGAMAN: At least there would be a veto, I would gather.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah, right.
SEN. JEFF BINGAMAN: It seems to me that the inspectors laid out something of a middle course today. They said there are some key tasks that need to be accomplished before they would be in a position to assure that there was full and complete disarmament by Iraq. And they can detail what they are and they can put deadlines on them. And that might be a – and then they can present a work plan, which would allow the United Nations and the Security Council to see whether Saddam Hussein is complying with those deadlines and doing what’s required. I think the threat of force is there. He has every reason to comply under those circumstances. But I think that’s a middle ground between saying you’ve got to be in complete compliance by a week from Monday, which is what we are saying, and the position of just saying we want to continue inspections indefinitely.
JIM LEHRER: So you don’t think the 17th idea is a good idea at all?
SEN. JEFF BINGAMAN: Well, I just don’t think… clearly I don’t think the United Nations Security Council is going to embrace that. So, I mean it’s okay for us to put out a deadline, but if we want the international community with us, as I think we should try to keep them with us for purposes of whatever has to be done, I don’t think setting out this new deadline is going to get that done.
JIM LEHRER: What do you think about that deadline idea?
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: I think some deadlines are needed, but I agree the 17th is not very realistic.
JIM LEHRER: It’s ten days from now.
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: Yeah, and especially since at this stage we really don’t have any acceptable clear definition of compliance. We have acted, and we have talked, so far, as if anything the Iraqis do to accommodate, and Blix has said they have done some things, is deception, it’s not real, it is to be rejected. So we have created the impression, I think, that we would not accept compliance even if it was compliance. There are others who have said no war under any circumstances. I think what we need, and I think the British are moving in that direction, is precisely what has been mentioned; namely, a series of more specific thresholds, more specific objectives — defined so clearly that we’ll know whether they’re complying or not -
JIM LEHRER: So you don’t have to argue about it?
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: For example, the rockets. They are to be destroyed. We know where they are being destroyed. And the British have signaled something else which is very important. Let me just read you one sentence, if I may, from Jack Straw’s speech. He says that if Iraq disarms in compliance with U.N. resolutions, we accept that the government of Iraq stays in place. I think we need to hear that from the United States clearly as well. I think the president last night and Colin Powell two days ago, were kind of signaling that. But I think that has to be made more explicit. And to repeat, we need a series of deadlines on VX, on anthrax, on other sort of items, perhaps biological weapons, delivery systems, indicating data and indicating datelines by which they’re dismantling and elimination is completed.
JIM LEHRER: Do you believe the president would ever buy that?
SEN. JOHN WARNER: Let me just point out here, I agree with my colleagues — if you read this very clearly, this resolution laid down….
JIM LEHRER: Today.
SEN. JOHN WARNER: …today by Spain, United Kingdom, Great Britain, Northern Ireland, and the United States, it says the following: That the Council concludes that Iraq has demonstrated full and unconditional immediate and active cooperation. They can do that in a week’s time. And the key line, and is yielding, not has yielded, but is yielding, in the process of yielding possession to UNMOVIC and IAEA all weapons. So it says simply don’t give us anymore rhetoric, we don’t believe you, Saddam Hussein. But take actions to show that all right, by the 17th, I’m going to cooperate.
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: But how can you yield all weapons by the 17th?
SEN. JOHN WARNER: And is yielding.
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: So it’s not all weapons. So, for example, the rockets.
SEN. JOHN WARNER: Is yielding possession all weapons, weapon delivery support systems and structures prohibited by previous resolutions.
JIM LEHRER: But what about Sen. Bingaman’s point, and most of the people who are counting votes today even from the words that were spoken by the foreign minister of Chile and others, the votes are not there to accept that, to pass that. So then what?
SEN. JOHN WARNER: What happened before 1441? Powell boldly and bravely went into that without the votes and yet all 15 votes ended up.
JIM LEHRER: So you’re saying don’t write this off.
SEN. JOHN WARNER: Don’t give up the diplomatic process yet. They’re working very hard on it. And I think… I commend our president for holding the ground and making it clear — this is reasonable.
JIM LEHRER: What does Senator Warner read into this that you don’t read into it, Senator Bingaman, that there is still hope?
SEN. JEFF BINGAMAN: Well, I don’t know if they can round up the votes between now and when this is voted on next week. But I think the most constructive approach is the one Dr. Brzezinski outlined, which is let the inspectors identify those key tasks that they believe need to be accomplished in order for them to be able to assure the Security Council that disarmament is complete, and then let them put deadlines on them and bring it back and give a work plan.
SEN. JOHN WARNER: What have we been doing for four months of the inspection, I say to my good friends here? We’ve given the opportunity. I think Blix has tried hard but every step he has taken, Saddam Hussein has stiff-armed him.
SEN. JEFF BINGAMAN: The only deadline I’m aware of that Blix has given is the deadline of last Saturday saying you’ve got to start destroying the missiles. In fact, they met the deadline and started. The question is whether they’re going to complete it. And that is certainly still open to debate. But I think that was a good example of progress, which we ought to try to build on.
SEN. JOHN WARNER: You’re falling into Saddam Hussein’s trap of just throwing another chip on the table — one at a time. This says get on with it, do it all, show us evidence you’re ready to comply, just show us the willingness to do these things.
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: You know, the goal of disarming Iraq is a very desirable goal. It is a necessary goal.
SEN. JOHN WARNER: It’s an essential goal.
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: It’s an essential goal.
SEN. JOHN WARNER: Correct.
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: But we have to ask ourselves how do we achieve it, at what cost, in what fashion? If we can get the international community to go in with us, if force has to be used, we’re much better off than if we do it essentially alone, perhaps with the British, because the costs of that to America’s global leadership are going to be enormous. If we set a series of specific objectives with deadlines, literally deadlines, ultimata and we specify what they are and they’re very factual, they’re numerical, then there is no debate whether he is complying or not. The March 17 deadline is likely to produce a situation whereby on March 17th, we will say he is not complying, a lot of other countries will stay he is complying. And we’ll end up going to war largely on our own. I don’t think that’s a desirable outcome.
JIM LEHRER: Let’s move to that possibility. Let’s move beyond the possibility of this resolution passing or not passing. And let’s move to the probability, as we sit here tonight, at least you still think there is a chance but most other senators do not think this is going to come out. That means that everybody is going with what the president said last night, which is we don’t need the U.N. resolution; we can go to war with Britain and our coalition. Do you agree with Dr. Brzezinski that that will be a harmful thing? Do you think that will be a good thing? What is your reading on that?
SEN. JOHN WARNER: It is neither harmful nor good. It is reality. We went the full course of diplomacy. We’ve achieved such diplomatic breakthroughs minimally that have taken place only because we’ve put two hundred plus thousand men and women of our armed forces out there where Saddam Hussein can all but see them. He knows they’re there — together with Great Britain and other nations; that is what achieved the results to date. We have given every chance for diplomacy to work. If it fails, then there is no recourse but to use force. To pull back, to sit by here and let this thing go on for months, shows weakness.
JIM LEHRER: How do you read the downside of the United States going to, launching military action with the British and the others without a U.N. resolution, senator?
SEN. JEFF BINGAMAN: I think there is a major downside. I think that we do undercut our leadership in the world. I think we take on the job of not only conducting the war, which is going to be our job, but I think we also essentially take on the job of the aftermath of the war, which is an enormous job. I think we single ourselves out as having stirred up a great deal of opposition throughout the Muslim world needlessly. I think that a lot of the opposition would not be there if in fact we had to act with the cooperation of the our allies, our traditional allies because of a failure or refusal to go along with demands that the inspectors have made. I mean if we wind up going into — invading Iraq because Iraq has refused to comply with the demands of the inspectors, that’s one outcome. And that’s an acceptable outcome as I see it. It’s very different than saying we’re going to — regardless of what the rest of the world thinks, regardless by the request of the inspectors to be given additional time — we are going to start an invasion, I think that’s…
SEN. JOHN WARNER: But he has refused… they’ve refused to cooperate with Blix for four months. And if we say we shouldn’t go without U.N. action, that gives the United Nations veto power over our president, the prime minister of Great Britain, who are acting in the interest to protect their own citizens. It leaves time for Saddam Hussein to begin to distribute into the worldwide network of terrorism, much of the cache of these weapons of mass destruction he possesses today.
JIM LEHRER: And that brings us back to where you started this a while ago; that this is essentially where this matter rests tonight, is to how it’s going to play itself out and people weighing the ups and the downs on both of these courses.
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: That’s right. Senator Warner is quite right in saying that we’ve got Saddam’s attention because we have forces and we’re ready to use them. But we also got his attention because the international community was with us, the vote was fifteen to nothing. And that created enormous political pressure on Saddam to accommodate. It isn’t entirely right to say that he has not been responsive to the U.N. Resolution 1441. Blix’s report is much more mixed. It’s not as black and white. He doesn’t say he is totally cooperating, but he is not saying he is being totally obstinate. The fact is, it’s in between. The issue for us, therefore, is how to operate in the next days, several weeks perhaps, in order to rebuild unanimity, to put maximum pressure on him to comply, to define that compliance in a way that is clear-cut to everyone, and if he doesn’t comply, to use force.
But bear in mind that we are not facing a situation of an imminent threat. If there was an imminent threat, I would say yes, go to war on the 17th, go to war tomorrow even. We don’t face an imminent threat. The president repeatedly has said it’s a grave and gathering threat. And how we deal with it is absolutely critical to the kind of leadership we’ll be able to exercise over the next decade, to the kind of precedents we set for dealing with North Korea, and other problems of proliferation of terrorism. We don’t want to be dealing with these problems alone, because we will not be able to deal with them effectively on our own.
JIM LEHRER: You see the choice the same way, Sen. Warner?
SEN. JOHN WARNER: No, I respect my friend, we’ve worked together for many years together. But one small envelope with less than an ounce of anthrax brought the Senate down. One building was closed. We had to take all types of precautions. It really degraded our ability to work for a while. Saddam Hussein has tons of this stored somewhere. He has failed to disclose that. If he begins to take that and break it down into small parcels and distribute it, the president directly referred to that as a threat to us last night. But you keep coming back to this more and more time. It seems to me you’re not putting enough… you keep saying what we have to do. What is it that Saddam Hussein has to do? How do we pressure him to take the steps as required by this -
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: I’ve told you how. Make it as specific as possible so that we can organize an international coalition and maintain it, I think we can obtain our objectives.
JIM LEHRER: Speaking of time and what we’ve got to do, we have to go now. Thank you all very much.