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Background: Weapons Inspections

August 28, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


KWAME HOLMAN: Iraqi officials today escorted foreign journalists through a factory suspected by outsiders of producing chemical and biological weapons. The Iraqis wanted to demonstrate it actually manufactures insecticide and fertilizer. Officials said the factory, 65 miles west of Baghdad, was destroyed twice by U.S. warplanes, in 1991 and 1998, and rebuilt. The guided tour was the third Iraq has hosted this month for reporters in an effort to show it’s not producing weapons of mass destruction. United Nations weapons inspectors left the country four years ago.

HUSAM MOHAMMED AMEEN: The monitoring inspection teams visited this site tens of times– I can say more than two hundred, two hundred fifty times they visited this location– and it has nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction.

KWAME HOLMAN: Today’s factory visit came amid a growing debate over whether United Nations weapons inspections are the best way to assure Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is not harboring weapons of mass destruction. The debate was sparked by Vice President Dick Cheney, who on Monday virtually ruled out inspections as a way to deal with Iraq.

VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Saddam has perfected the game of cheat and retreat, and is very skilled in the art of denial and deception. A return of inspectors would provide no assurance whatsoever of his compliance with U.N. resolutions. On the contrary, there is a great danger that it would provide false comfort that Saddam was somehow back in his box. Meanwhile, he would continue to plot. Nothing in the last dozen years has stopped him– not his solemn agreements, not the discoveries of inspectors, not the revelations by defectors, not criticism or ostracism by the international community, and not four days of bombing by the United States in 1998. What he wants is time, and more time to husband his resources, to invest in his ongoing chemical and biological weapons program, and to gain possession of nuclear weapons.

KWAME HOLMAN: Since then, several foreign governments have called for a rigid U.N. inspection program as an alternative to unilateral U.S. military action. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder spoke today.

GERHARD SCHROEDER (Translated): We’ve always made clear– I mean the foreign minister and I as the ones responsible– that we think this debate is wrong. We believe the switching of goals away from applying pressure with the aim of allowing the inspectors to return, to the goal which seems to be dominating discussions right now, is wrong, and that’s why Germany will not take part in a military intervention– not as long as I am in charge.

KWAME HOLMAN: And yesterday, Saudi foreign policy advisor Adel al-Jubeir said: “There is a process under way with the U.N. to bring the inspectors back in. If it is successful, we can achieve our objectives without firing a single bullet or losing a single life.” Before Cheney’s speech, several former top officials in the first Bush administration said the U.S. should push for a new U.N. resolution on inspections before launching a military action against Iraq. In the Wall Street Journal this month, former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft said the U.S. “should be pressing the United Nations Security Council t insist on an effective no notice inspection regime for Iraq-anytime, no permission required.”

Weapons inspections were imposed on Iraq after a U.S.-Led coalition defeated Iraq in the Gulf War in 1991. Until the United Nations certifies Iraq no longer has weapons of mass destruction, economic sanctions against it remain in effect. Weapons inspectors complained they frequently were hampered by Iraqi officials. The program ended in 1998 with the last inspectors departing just ahead of a U.S.-British bombing campaign that December.