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Newsmaker: Iraq’s U.N. Ambassador

August 13, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT

RAY SUAREZ: Contradictory signals have come from Iraqi leaders in recent days over the future of arms inspections there, as the debate over removing Saddam Hussein from power continues in the United States.

Last week we interviewed two Iraqi opposition leaders. Two weeks ago we reported on the senate hearings that focused on the Iraqi threat and what the U.S. might do about it.

Tonight, we get Iraq’s perspective from Mohammed Aldouri, Iraq’s ambassador to the United Nations.

Mr. Ambassador, thanks for joining us.

MOHAMMED ALDOURI: Thank you very much.

RAY SUAREZ: The United States has based its idea that Iraq is a threat to other countries on the assumption that it either possesses or is developing weapons of mass destruction.

Does Iraq possess chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons of mass destruction?

MOHAMMED ALDOURI: Well, I think Iraq declared officially, by the president of Iraq and by others responsible, that Iraq is clear of any kind of mass destruction weapons. So we defied everybody, we extend invitation to everybody to come to Iraq– to Mr. Blair, to the Congress here in the United States– to come with their own inspectors, with their own expertise, to go to Iraq, wherever they want to go, and to show… to know by themselves that there is nothing forbidden in Iraq; there is nothing hidden in Iraq; there is no mass destruction weapons at all.

RAY SUAREZ: The United States Congress has turned down that invitation, but will Iraq allow United Nations weapons inspectors into the country?

MOHAMMED ALDOURI: We are still hoping that we can continue a dialogue with the United Nations.

We extended, two weeks ago, invitations to Mr. Blix and his team go to Iraq to discuss, to have a dialogue with their homologue technicians in Iraq to know exactly what are the next steps toward finalize all problems which might met in the future, eventually when those inspectors return back. They… unfortunately they denied this; they didn’t accept this invitation, and this is unfortunate.

RAY SUAREZ: But it is the position of Iraq, if I understand you correctly, that you would allow weapons inspectors once the two sides work out the terms under which those inspectors would work?

MOHAMMED ALDOURI: I think with dialogue we can overcome all kind of problems, and this is the main goal for Iraq, to have these kinds of discussions, a dialogue and very thorough discussions, technical discussions, to overcome all the problems ahead.

You know we have a long experience with inspector of UNSCOM, and we want to overcome all these problems. And also, we would like to have overwhelming discussions on all resolutions of United Nations, of Security Council resolutions, to know exactly what is remaining issues we have to implement, and also what United Nations have to implement from their side.

RAY SUAREZ: I think there’s been some confusion in the West in general, but certainly in the United States, over quotes coming from senior Iraqi officials.

Yesterday in Baghdad, Mr. Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, who is a minister in your government, responded to earlier accusations from weapons inspectors that they weren’t allowed to see everything, that it’s a lie and as far as he was concerned, inspections have finished in Iraq.

What does he mean by that?

MOHAMMED ALDOURI: Well, this is not a new position, not a new stand for Iraqi government… of Iraqi government. This is our position.

We feel always that they finished all their jobs in Iraq. All what have to do in Iraq, they did, over more than seven years and seven months. They did thousands and thousands of inspections, thousands and thousands of sites. And we think — this is our position — that there is nothing still to be inspected in Iraq. This is the Iraqi position.

Now, we offered this invitation for Mr. Blix, and we know who is Mr. Blix and who is the team of Mr. Blix, to come to Iraq to have the dialogue for two or three days in August, to continue what we have started already in New York and in Vienna. So the purpose is clear. That means if you have something, Mr. Blix, you have to demonstrate to us what are the remaining tasks to do in the future in Iraq, and also, as I told you from the beginning, to overcome all the problems which have been seen in the past.

RAY SUAREZ: And when you refer to Mr. Blix, that’s Hans Blix, the head of the United Nations weapons verification program?

MOHAMMED ALDOURI: Of course, of course. He is very well-known.

RAY SUAREZ: Now, the Iraqi overtures, the Iraqi counterproposals have not been very well received by the United States government.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, for one, said, “The Iraqis have constantly tried to find a way around inspections. They understand what’s required of them. Inspections aren’t the issue, disarmament is.”

MOHAMMED ALDOURI: Well, this is unfortunate, too, because we came to the dialogue here in New York and there in Vienna with a good faith to start full cooperation with all these bodies to find solution for the future.

You know, we are suffering from sanctions for more than 12 years, so we would like to see an end for this sanction. It was a catastrophical sanctions for Iraqi people, so we would like to see these sanctions lifted, but nobody can assure us right now that these sanctions will be lifted once they would find nothing in Iraq — I mean the UNMOVIC team, the UNMOVIC inspections.

So we are proposing to the United States, to the United Nations, to Britain — because only Britain and United States have these very extremist positions — we propose to them to come to Iraq directly, not through UNMOVIC, to see themselves with their expertise to know exactly what is going in Iraq.

But unfortunately they would like to have any justification to prepare the ground to attack Iraq. This is unfortunate, and we are of course very sorry for that.

RAY SUAREZ: So do you get the feeling that no matter what kind of response Iraq makes, that the United States government will not find it sufficient to avoid war?

MOHAMMED ALDOURI: This is… have been in the past… I think Mr. Butler gave a very good justification to the United States to attack Iraq, and they did that in 1998.

And we are worried about that. And certainly it has been said by responsible in the administration, in the American administration, that ‘whatever would be the situation with inspections, we will do what we have in our mind.’

So we would like the Secretary General, the Security Council, assure us that there is no… there will not be a threat to Iraq, and certainly we will have to continue that dialogue and to reach a ground, mutual ground for both parties.

RAY SUAREZ: United States officeholders have talked about wanting a disarmed Iraq; Iraq has talked about wanting the sanctions lifted.

What would Iraq need to be appropriately armed at the end of this process? What would you need to be able to defend yourself and also be no threat to your neighbors?

MOHAMMED ALDOURI: Well, first of all, there is… we… I defy anybody, any responsible say that Iraq threats any one of his neighbors.

If there is any threat, I think those neighbors have to talk, have to say something to the Security Council, to the General Assembly, to the Secretary General, that Iraq did that. So I never heard that Iraq threats anybody in the area.

So this is just a creation — an American creation. This is one of justifications of the United States to attack Iraq. This is unfortunate, too.

RAY SUAREZ: But sir, in the past 15 years you’ve had wars with Iran, invaded Kuwait, attacked the Kurds in the north of your own country.

Are you saying Iraq is a different country today from the one that engaged in those wars?

MOHAMMED ALDOURI: First of all, there is a lot of wars in the world. United States launch a lot of wars in the past, in the near past. So we know everything about the history. This is not only Iraq, not only the area. Israel is there, attacking Palestinians. Nobody talk about that. Now Iraq, yes, this is a new Iraq.

We would like to have a peaceful life for our people, for our neighboring countries, and for the whole area.

So this is our goal, and we are working on that. And we have now very, very, very good relations with our neighbor countries. I can even nominate these countries.

RAY SUAREZ: Ambassador Mohammed Aldouri, thanks a lot for being with us this evening.

MOHAMMED ALDOURI: Thank you very much.