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Weapons Inspectors Assess U.N., Iraq Deal

October 1, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


RAY SUAREZ: The deal emerged on the second day of talks at the United Nations in Vienna, aimed at returning weapons inspectors to Iraq for the first time since 1998. Chief U.N. weapons inspector, Hans Blix, made the announcement at a press conference late today.

HANS BLIX: Technical matters are often crucial for the effectiveness of inspections, and thereby their credibility. It is therefore better to have thorough discussions about them in Vienna than in the field. It has been found that many practical arrangements followed between 1991 and 1998 remain viable– viable and useful– and could be applied. On the question of access, it was clarified that all sites are subject to immediate, unconditional, and unrestricted access. However, the memorandum of understanding of 1998 establishes special procedures for access to eight presidential sites.

We have gone through a very great many practical arrangements, and I know we have tried your patience in waiting for us, but they start by the question of, where do you fly into Baghdad, from where; and then, how are the Customs controls, what can you bring in; the accommodation of inspectors in Baghdad; the premises for our center in Baghdad and the refurbishment; the movement within Iraq, et cetera. We’ve gone through… no, you can’t foresee everything. No. But you can foresee a good deal, and I think we have talked openly about them, and we have gone through what you can at this stage.

REPORTER: A question to the Iraqi, please. Doctor, are you happy with these agreements? When are the weapons inspectors going back? And will they have immediate access to the sensitive sites, please, sir?

AMIR AL-SADI: Yes, we are happy to reach this agreement. And we expect the advance party to arrive in Baghdad in about two weeks. And we expect no difficulty regarding that. We have come to a very practical arrangement that we would, from our side, anticipate every inspection to sort of go to sensitive sites, and we will take the measures that will cancel the need for a waiting period and getting approvals.

REPORTER: A question to both Dr. Blix and Mr. Al-Sadi. The Americans and the British have made it very clear that any sorts of conditions, preconditions, on access to the presidential compounds is simply unacceptable. How are both of you going to get around that?

HANS BLIX: Well, we are not discussing the memorandum of understanding. That is an agreement that exists, has been reached between the secretary-general and Iraq, and it has been endorsed by the Security Council. We are not changing the law that is adopted by the United Nations. The Security Council can take measures, whatever it likes. We are a subsidiary organ of the Security Council, and we will be bound by them, but we are not changing them on our side.

SPOKESMAN: Next question?

AMIR AL-SADI: And I concur with that.

MOHAMMAD AL-BARADI: I might just add, I think that under the existing mandates we have, we have now the assurances from the Iraqi side that we will have unrestricted, uninhibited…

HANS BLIX: Unconditional.

MOHAMMAD AL-BARADI: …unconditional access to all sites in Iraq, with the exception of the presidential sites that are covered by the memorandum of understanding between the Security Council and the government of Iraq. And I think that assurance, I think, is very important.

REPORTER: Dr. Al-Sadi, I wonder if you could address the issue of access to presidential sites. You must understand that from certainly the American perspective, that is seen as critical to the success of any future inspections.

AMIR AL-SADI: Quite honestly, I don’t understand why it is so critical. Anyway, it was not a subject on the agenda. It was…

REPORTER: So will there be access?

AMIR AL-SADI: It is regulated by a memorandum of understanding, and it is also referred to in the Security Council resolution and that remains valid.

GWEN IFILL: Joining me now for further assessment of today’s announcement and whether it increases the likelihood that weapons inspections will return soon are three former inspectors.

Charles Duelfer, a visiting scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. He was the deputy executive chairman of UNSCOM, the original U.N. Inspections regime from 1993 until its termination in 2000. Timothy McCarthy, a senior analyst at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California. From 1994 to 1999, he also served with UNSCOM as deputy chief inspector for the missile team. And David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington. He’s a former nuclear inspector under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Welcome, gentlemen. We heard Colin Powell say that the old regime, David Albright, just didn’t work. Today’s agreement that was announced in Vienna, does that jump-start the chance that inspections will resume soon?

DAVID ALBRIGHT: I don’t think so. I mean, it’s an easy test that Iraq passed today. I mean, it has to agree to much more, if the inspection process is going to work. And most importantly it’s going to have to demonstrate that it’s going to cooperate. I would have been much more encouraged if Iraq had said, fine, come into my presidential site, we don’t need the Security Council to act, we’re willing to move forward. But I think the Iraqis just did what they had to do, in order to keep in the game. But I don’t —

GWEN IFILL: By saying that, by not allowing access to the presidential sites, you think that was a sign of bad faith?

DAVID ALBRIGHT: I would have just been more encouraged if they had agreed to do it. They had a perfect opportunity to do it. So I don’t have a lot of confidence that they’ve truly decided to cooperate.

GWEN IFILL: Charles Duelfer, what is your take on that?

CHARLES DUELFER: Well, I think David is right, there’s some big issues here. One is I think a matter of terms — cooperate is one thing, but comply is another. There’s also a lot of discussion about immediate unconditional and unrestricted access.

Iraq may permit access, but the question is: can the inspectors actually get an inspection which surprises them, in other words which gets to a location that the Iraqis are not anticipatory of, and then they can hide the materials. I think it was very interesting what General Amir Al Sadi said with respect to so-called sensitive sites where he said they would have taken the preparations to allow access. I think he was telling us more than he understood in that they will have a warning system and it will make the preparations in advance.

GWEN IFILL: Timothy McCarthy, tell us a little bit about what it takes to do this. When we talk about inspections we think we know what we mean, but this is kind of a complicated and lengthy process we’re talking about, so it wouldn’t just happen overnight, would it?

TIMOTHY McCARTHY: No, absolutely. I mean, you need to get the right people; you need to have the right information base, either information that you have available or from intelligence agencies, and so forth. You need site plans, and this takes a long time to do, and in particular it takes a long time to figure out from the data that you have, either made available from Iraq or other information, your objectives — and so I don’t see an inspection being able to be carried off in the immediate sense, especially since Iraq just dumped a lot of data into the hands of inspectors. They need some time to absorb that data.

GWEN IFILL: Let’s talk about that data. There were four CD ROMs handed over I gather which were part of information that was supposed to have been handed over but has not for the last several years. How much use, how useful could those CD ROMs be, do you think?

TIMOTHY McCARTHY: Well, it serves as a basis for your inspections, I mean you have to start with something in hand to begin verifying what the Iraqis have said. What’s actually most interesting about these CD ROMs is the fact that they were indeed available. I mean, this tells us that the national monitoring director which is in or has been the liaison — always was the liaison between UNSCOM and the inspectors still exists, it’s still working for some reason they were still requiring six-month declarations from the various sites that we visited. What that means is a little bit unclear to me. But perhaps they expected all along that inspectors would come back.

GWEN IFILL: Mr. Albright, do you think it’s possible that the two-week time frame Hans Blix suggested today, that we can be in there in two weeks? October 15th is the date people have been tossing around, is that even doable?

DAVID ALBRIGHT: It’s doable if the Security Council gets their resolution together and is able to give Blix and his team proper instructions. I think it’s a very bad idea for Blix to go ahead under the old resolution from 1999 and go in.

GWEN IFILL: Was he getting the cart in front of the horse here?

DAVID ALBRIGHT: I think definitely. And I’m not sure why this meeting in Vienna took place; I’m glad it was successful, at least it didn’t create additional problems, but I think the inspectors should really stand down and wait for instructions from the Security Council.

GWEN IFILL: So your take on this is anything that happened today won’t really happen until the Security Council acts, as Secretary Powell and Ambassador Greenstock have both suggested.

DAVID ALBRIGHT: Definitely. It’s very important for the Security Council to strengthen the inspection process. I deeply believe that inspections can work in Iraq, but only if they are strengthened and Iraq chooses to cooperate, and I will add, and comply. The ball is in finally is in Iraq’s court and they have to demonstrate convincingly that they are going to comply.

It can’t be a repeat of the 90s, where there’s a cat and mouse game, and the inspectors are forced to prove that Iraq is not complying. I mean Iraq has to prove it is complying. And I think that is going to require strong Security Council action, and a strong action by the inspectors to draw that compliance out of Iraq.

GWEN IFILL: Mr. Duelfer, let’s talk about where we last left this. When inspectors last left Iraq, under whatever circumstances you choose to describe, where were things left and how do you pick up from where they left off now, or do you just start from scratch?

CHARLES DUELFER: Well, there’s a little bit of two things going on here. Let me just clarify perhaps by saying that there are two fundamental tasks which the inspectors have. One is to account for the weapons systems, which we know Iraq had. These are the weapons we knew they built, the anthrax, the chemical weapons, the long-range ballistic missiles. The second task they have is to monitor all of the infrastructure, the industry in Iraq, to assure they don’t reconstitute those programs. These are two major tasks. Now, on the monitoring side that requires a lot of groundwork, spade work, this is what these CD ROMs were related to. The normal industrial infrastructure needs to be monitored. That’s time consuming, but it was non-controversial, because these are sites that Iraq knew would be visited by inspectors.

Where we had incomplete work, was in the weapons area that Iraq was meant to declare, but we could not verify that they had fully accounted for these things. There were big uncertainties in the biological area, in some chemical areas, and even in the long-range ballistic missile area. So we left with some key uncertainties. It will be very interesting to see if the inspectors go back in if they are able to interview the individuals who worked on these programs and have them account for their time between the point when we left and when they go back in.

GWEN IFILL: Mr. McCarthy, in the time that has passed since the inspectors left, has technology improved to a degree that would actually make the job of conducting inspections any easier now?

TIMOTHY McCARTHY: Well, I mean, there’s certainly technologies that have evolved as you noted, and I understand that the action team who I have a tremendous amount of faith in have developed some technologies over the four years. But we shouldn’t get, you know, too involved in terms of thinking about technologies. This is really comes down to a question of people, and it’s really experience and a kind of a nose to know what you’re looking for, who to talk to — to tell if, to understand if they’re telling you the truth or not. And that requires a lot of experience. So technology is a way to help do you this job, but ultimately it comes down to the inspector on the ground doing the work, the spade work that Charlie Duelfer talked about.

GWEN IFILL: Then let me ask you another question based on that. How do you make something like this work when the inspectors are going into a completely hostile environment?

TIMOTHY McCARTHY: Well, I should say it’s not necessarily a completely hostile environment. In some cases, like at the monitored sites, again as Charlie mentioned, there were essentially non-controversial issues. The thing to do is to train people to the extent that you can, to get people on the teams that have been there more than one or two times. And that’s really the route that UNMOVIC needs to go down. They’ve done the training, I’m not really sure if they have the numbers of people who have the time in Iraq that really again have this sort of nose to know what to look for above and beyond what they might read in a manual.

GWEN IFILL: Mr. Albright, how do you determine how long it will take before you begin to get the answers to these questions? We’re not talking about sending inspectors in there and coming out in even two, three, four months with the answers, are we?

DAVID ALBRIGHT: You can, I mean it’s very important that a plan be put in place that can get an answer quickly about whether you anticipate cooperation from Iraq. And one test will be if a resolution passed that requires a new declaration, do you believe what you’re reading? Inspectors have a lot of experience going through declarations, combining it with other information, and making a judgment of whether what they’re reading is true or complete.

So I think if Iraq is required to create a new declaration, that would, in particular, in account for what’s happened in the last four years, I think the inspectors can relatively rapidly make a decision. They can also insist on seeing certain key personnel and then be able to interview them, and again there’s a lot of experience interviewing Iraqis. I think the only new aspect of this has to be that the minders are not with the Iraqis. I mean, if we’re trying to get to the truth you want to use police techniques of interrogation where you can talk to people individually and then compare stories and see if there are inconsistencies.

GWEN IFILL: I want to ask each of you this. Do you believe that Iraq actually does possess weapons of mass destruction, whether they be biological, chemical, nuclear?

DAVID ALBRIGHT: I personally believe there’s plenty of evidence for biological and chemical, and there’s sufficient evidence to believe that there’s a reconstituted nuclear weapons program. As an inspection attitude, I think you have to assume that they have more than what the evidence suggests, and that it’s very important for inspectors to go in there with a very skeptical attitude and insist that the Iraqis prove them wrong.

GWEN IFILL: Same question to you, Mr. Duelfer.

CHARLES DUELFER: I think it’s quite clear that they have these capabilities. The mistake that was made in 1991 when the original resolutions were drafted was that no one understood how vital these capabilities were seen to the regime. They’re existential; the problem is there is no equivalent carrot or stick which would cause Iraq to this date to give up those capabilities. Therefore the inspectors are really, they have a mismatch. They are asked to do something, asked to give up something it considers vital, but there’s no equivalent threat or carrot to cause them to do so.

GWEN IFILL: Mr. McCarthy, your answer?

TIMOTHY McCARTHY: Yeah, I think when we left in at the end of 1998, Iraq had retained its capabilities, and I think there’s enough sufficient level of quality information that tells us that they continue to expand these capabilities since the time that we left.

GWEN IFILL: And do you believe that the actions today taken in Vienna will help you to get to the bottom of that?

TIMOTHY McCARTHY: Well, I think it will help. To say the least these inspectors are going have a very difficult task. This is going to be a tough job, they’re going to have to go back and deal with all these open weapons questions at the same time try to set up this monitoring system, so they’re in for a tough task over the coming month.

GWEN IFILL: Mr. McCarthy, Mr. Duelfer, Mr. Albright, thank you very much for joining us.