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MARGARET WARNER: Should the U.S. push to return U.N. weapons inspectors to Iraq? We join that debate, now, with two former inspectors. David Kay was chief inspector of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Iraq in 1991 and ’92. It focused on Iraq’s nuclear weapons development program. His was the second U.N.-sponsored team to enter Iraq after the Gulf War. And Scott Ritter worked for the United Nations Special Commission, or UNSCOM, from 1991 to ’98. It focused on Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons. He resigned a few months before the U.N. pulled its inspection team from Iraq in 1998. And welcome to you both.
Scott Ritter, beginning with you, do you think the U.S. should push for a return of weapons inspectors to Iraq before launching any kind of military strike against it?
SCOTT RITTER: Absolutely. I don’t believe the United States has any other option it if wants to be seen as a — as being legitimate in the eyes of the international community. International law as set forth by the Security Council clearly stipulates that Iraq must be disarmed, and that the vehicle for achieving this is weapons inspectors.
It’s imperative that the United States as not only a member of the Security Council but currently holding the presidency of Security Council push for a return of weapons inspectors, but also keep in mind that it’s difficult for the U.S. to do this, especially as long as it has its privacy, the concept of regime removal. As long as the United States says getting rid of Saddam Hussein trumps disarming Iraq there’s no hope of getting weapons inspectors back in.
MARGARET WARNER: David Kay, what is your view of this, how the steps should unfold?
DAVID KAY: I think the age of inspection is over. We had seven years during UNSCOM’s period in which the Iraqis, without any long period of exception, refused to cooperate. They concealed, denied and deceived inspectors. They only cooperated under the threat of military violence. That has passed. And the reason that the regime changed, that is, a replacement of Saddam Hussein is tied to this, as long as Saddam is in power, I think it would be foolish of anyone to believe that you could carry out effective inspections in Iraq. Now inspections are over. The Iraqis had their chance to cooperate; now is the time for another strategy.
MARGARET WARNER: Scott Ritter, how effective could — let’s say ideal conditions applied, and we can get later to whether that can ever come about – but let’s say it was an ideal inspection regime, how effective could it be?
SCOTT RITTER: Well, first of all, I find it amazing that people say inspections are past. Under less than ideal conditions we achieved a 90 to 95 percent level of disarmament in Iraq, eliminating 100 percent of Iraq’s factories that are used to produce weapons of mass destruction, together with the introduction equipment. Inspections were extremely successful. Now, under ideal conditions you could have 100 percent certainty, but that’s not going to happen. But let’s keep in mind inspections did work and, if given a chance to work, would work again.
MARGARET WARNER: But you heard Vice President Cheney say that, in fact, he didn’t believe inspections did really work and that Saddam Hussein was able to continue working on his programs even during inspections.
SCOTT RITTER: That’s absolutely absurd. Look, I ran the concealment investigation program from 1993 to 1998. And I can tell you right now that while Iraqi cooperation wasn’t perfect and while they did conceal what Vice President Cheney said to the American people is tantamount to a lie. The CIA knows that, Hussein Kamal, the son-in-law of Saddam Hussein when he defected clearly stated that under his instructions all weapons programs were eliminated. This is fact. He didn’t lead us to a document. The Iraqi government did. The bottom line is inspection worked. That’s the fact. No matter what Dick Cheney says in terms of rewriting history, inspections worked and if given a chance could work again.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, David Kay, Brent Scowcroft, whom we also quoted in our piece, said, in fact, that even if they aren’t 100 percent effective, that having inspectors in the country would hobble Saddam Hussein and does effectively at least hamper the development and contain the development of weapons.
DAVID KAY: There’s no doubt that inspections in the country have some positive benefit, certainly disrupting the Iraqi program, making it more expensive, ensuring that they conceal. What is forgotten, however, is time is not on our side. Time is allowed. We have had four years with no inspectors in the country. The Iraqi W&D program has proceeded.
I’m extremely worried that, in fact, to leave Saddam Hussein in power and ineffective inspections in place — if that’s what we end up with — only gives Iraq time to to find better means, more diabolical means of delivering WMD, particularly biological weapons.
MARGARET WARNER: Before I go back to Scott Ritter, also could you respond to his assertion that by the end of ’98 — just when inspections left – that in fact 90 to 95 percent of the weapons program, I’m paraphrasing you, Mr. Ritter, but I think you’re saying that it had effectively been dismantled. Do you understand that to be the case?
DAVID KAY: I do not understand that to be the case. In fact, at the time inspections ended we didn’t even really know fully Iraq’s biological weapons program. And, you know, they continued to develop their program while inspections went on. What Scott is absolutely right is that, in fact, the known facilities, a great deal was done to eliminating them. That was a real plus. UNSCOM was in many ways a success. It was not a success at eliminating either Iraq’s urge to have WMD, or, in fact, its capabilities to continue to try to develop them. The last four years without inspections has certainly made that worse.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Ritter, how much progress do you think Saddam Hussein has been able to make in the last four years in both reconstituting the biological and chemical program that you worked on and in pursuing at least this nuclear program which he may not have acquired yet but is believed to be working on or at least Vice President Cheney and the American Government says he is working on?
SCOTT RITTER: Well, clearly, I made it clear when I testified to the Senate in 1998 that Iraq could reconstitute significant aspects of its weapons program within six months of inspectors being withdrawn. It’s been four years, so absolutely Iraq has some potential. We have to keep in mind that the weapons they had in 1991 came from factories that had been destroyed. So for Iraq to produce weapons today they would have had to reconstitute a manufacturing base since the time inspectors left in December 1998. That’s not simply done.
Iraq would have to reacquire new technology, rebuild factories and then produce the weapons. They could make some progress in chemical weapons unless they got large scale fermentation units, the concept of a massive biological weapons program is ludicrous and on nuclear, look, Iraq solved the design problem. They know how to build the device and they could build a device today, minus the fissile core. They would need a reconstituted enrichment program that was eradicated completely and this is not something that’s going to be done void of detection. The Israeli army chief of staff came out yesterday and said he is not losing any sleep over Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program. If Israel, which will bear the brunt of any Iraqi attack, isn’t concerned, I don’t see why Dick Cheney is.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think, Mr. Kay, that Saddam Hussein could have reconstituted in a significant way his weapons program without the facilities and the development being observed say by satellite?
DAVID KAY: Oh, absolutely. We’ve got proof of that. The Soviet Union had a very large smallpox program, including putting the smallpox, weaponizing, putting it on intercontinental missiles. We didn’t detect that, despite having spent an immense amount of treasure to stare and spy against the Soviet Union. It was only the end of Cold War – and intelligence services are far from perfect. In fact the joke in the community is half of what is provided is wrong, you just don’t know which half is wrong. You should rely on intelligence to give that you find.
What we do know is even during inspections Saddam tried to continue his WMD program. He has had four years with no inspections and a lot of evidence that the program continued. He has very technical capability there and a great desire to it. So the only safe assumption is that program has proceeded and the real concern is how far it’s proceeded and how far, if you give them more time, it will proceed.
MARGARET WARNER: So the sanctions you don’t believe have had an appreciable impact on his ability to continue pursue these programs?
DAVID KAY: Well, they certainly have had some impact. And they’ve raised the cost. But Saddam has used the wealth he has. And we forget how much oil wealth he has had in the period of sanctions to protect the biological and chemical program and to attempt to obtain the fissile material that Scott is referring to. There are other ways to obtain it rather than producing it yourself. So I think that has been — those have been the crown jewels of this program. They have had the resources necessary. It’s been more difficult than if sanctions were off; that’s certainly clear. We simply have to assume that program has gone ahead based on the evidence we have.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Ritter, I know none of know us this because it’s a matter of intelligence and as Dick Cheney says intelligence is imperfect. But if you had to make an educated assessment of how far along Saddam Hussein is in developing a nuclear weapon, what would you say?
SCOTT RITTER: I would say he is near zero. The bottom line is he solved the design problem — he and his scientists. They know how to build a nuclear bomb but you don’t have a nuclear bomb without fissile material and with all due respect to Dr. Kay, you know, there just isn’t a bunch of sellers marketing this stuff. There is no documented incident of a large amount of highly enriched uranium making its way into the hands of Saddam Hussein or any other tin pot dictator or terrorist, so, you know, I’m not concerned about a nuclear weapon; the Israelis are. That’s why they bombed Iraq in 1981, and, again, I go back to the fact that Israel is not losing any sleep over the threat from Iraq, nuclear, chemical, biological, or otherwise, so I don’t see anything more than rhetorically-laced speculation to back up the concept of Saddam Hussein as a threat to America worthy of war.
MARGARET WARNER: And, briefly, do you think having inspectors back in the country would make that even more clear?
SCOTT RITTER: Absolutely.
MARGARET WARNER: What would be the purpose of having inspectors?
SCOTT RITTER: The purpose of having inspectors is to fulfill the mandate as set forth by the Security Council to disarm Iraq. There is two phases. One is getting rid of the stuff but most importantly is monitoring Iraq’s industrial infrastructure to ensure they don’t reconstitute. Remember, we had an effective monitoring regime in place from 1994 to 1998, that the Iraqis did not obstruct and it never detected any retention of prohibitive material, or efforts by Iraq to reconstitute, so I’’d say getting that kind of monitoring regime back in place is very effective. It not only deters Iraq but provides a confidence building mechanism for the international community to know that Iraq doesn’t have this program.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. And your view, Mr. Kay, on how much certainty returning inspectors could give us.
DAVID KAY: I think very little under the assumption that Iraq will not fully and suddenly cooperate with any time any place, with anything inspection. Based on history we know Iraq will continue to engage in deception, denial, and concealment technology. I think inspectors will provide some little disruption of that but certainly will not be able to thoroughly detect what Saddam has done in the meantime. And what Scott fails to emphasize is, in fact, how much Iraq was up against a first team of really good people like Scott who were trying to disrupt their concealment program. We have got a new inspection organization, not as well equipped to do it as, in fact UNSCOM was – and the Iraqis have continued to get better.
MARGARET WARNER: You’re talking about the new regime that if it were okayed would go in.
DAVID KAY: That’s correct.
MARGARET WARNER: The new team.
DAVID KAY: The new team, the UNMOVIC team.
MARGARET WARNER: You’re saying because they have more restrictions on them?
DAVID KAY: They have more restrictions. They are not likely to have the same intelligence sharing that UNSCOM had with it. They decided to not use people who were directly employed by governments – a whole series of self-imposed restrictions as well as presidential access areas that are controlled by a very restrictive inspection procedure. I just don’t think the inspectors provide you a great deal of gain.
MARGARET WARNER: Very briefly, and I mean this – from the two of you – Scott Ritter, beginning with you, what do you think are the prospects of actually getting inspectors back in?
SCOTT RITTER: Until the United States changes its priority from regime change to disarmament, none. The United States Government will not allow inspectors back in.
DAVID KAY: I think as Iraq becomes convinced that the alternative is U.S. military actions that they will in fact invite inspectors in. This is their history. We have largely been in when they feared military action and then they slap the restrictions on. Saddam will try it again. I hope the U.S. doesn’t fall for it.
MARGARET WARNER: David Kay, Scott Ritter, thank you both.