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Senators Richard Lugar and Carl Levin Discuss Next Moves in Iraq

December 10, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Now what next in and about Iraq. The Iraqis have filed their weapons report, the United States pursues both diplomacy and a military build up. We get the views of the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Republican Richard Lugar of Indiana, and the outgoing chairman of the Senate armed services committee, Democrat Carl Levin of Michigan.

Senator Lugar, are we moving closer to war or to resolving this peacefully right now?

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: It’s too early to tell. I think that all the way through this, President Bush has resolved, perhaps have been underestimated by many starting with the vote that he wanted from the Congress. Many people felt that it was inopportune before the election wouldn’t work, but it did work well. The country reached some resolution. Then the work that Secretary Powell and others have done at the U.N. took eight weeks, but we had a 15-0 vote Security Council to proceed. I would characterize the current situation as one in which we are working equally hard to get a very, very broad coalition of countries that are clearly visible to Iraq as partners, if necessary, in war.

Our country has approached 51 countries– my understanding. Even as we speak Secretary Armitage is out in the field. And we’re having success. Now, if we have a hope that disarmament, which the President continues to point at as the objective, is going to occur, it will occur because the Security Council’s resolve that it has and because the Iraqis understand that there are many, many other countries– if not 51, a good number– who are prepared to, in fact, in an international way, terminate his government. Given that situation, he may decide to disarm. That is why this is still a work in process.

JIM LEHRER: Well, Senator Levin, where does the 12,000 pages of declarations from Iraq fit into the scenario as Senator Lugar just laid out?

SEN. CARL LEVIN: Hopefully it will be very carefully scrutinized without prejudgment. Even though people are rightfully skeptical about what to expect from Iraq and whether they’re telling the truth or the full truth, everyone’s right to be skeptical, I think we should not jump to conclusions or reach any conclusions until there is a thorough assessment of those documents. If we are going to take on Saddam at some point, it is critical that we have the world with us, that there be a U.N. resolve that authorizes war, because the consequences are very, very severe. If we go without a declaration from the U.N. it is far better to have one, and that means that we’ve got to bring the world along here. We cannot just simply unilaterally declare anything. We’ve got to help go through these documents and help the world reach the same conclusion that we do, whatever that conclusion is, and we should not prejudge it, as skeptical as we are.

JIM LEHRER: Do you have any basic belief of your own, Senator Levin, about whether or not the Iraqi claim that they have no weapons of mass destruction is true or not?

SEN. CARL LEVIN: Well, they had weapons of mass destruction. That’s clear. The U.N. has found that previously, as a matter of fact. The question is whether they still have weapons of mass destruction. I’m skeptical of their claims that they don’t. But I think it is very important because the consequences are so high here and the stakes are so huge that we do this deliberately and cautiously, as skeptical as we are, so that we can try to bring the world with us to reach whatever conclusion we reach.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Lugar, the Iraqi government said yesterday, “Look, we say we have no weapons of mass destruction now, et cetera. If the United States has evidence to the contrary, put it on the table, show it to the world so we can all see it.” What do you think of that?

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: Well, it’s a point of view and ultimately I suspect the United States will put a lot of material on the table. That was the case during the congressional debate here in the Senate and the House. It was probably true during the United Nations Security Council liberation. What the United States is interested in right now is analyzing the report, because it appears that it may at least, in these initial passages, show who was supplying Iraq material as they tried to build their nuclear program. That will be an interesting list in terms of firms or countries or various other people. In other words, there may be some additional people to interview outside of Iraq.

I would still advise the U.N. Inspectors to try to find people who they are able to interview outside of Iraq. My own experience has been that in visiting similar places in Russia without scientists or workers or staff members who guided me really to why a dual use piece of equipment is dual use and where the stashes of material were, I would not have had a clue. I would guess the U.N. inspectors are much more gifted in finding these things, but they would be certainly helped. And I stress again and again that Hans Blix and his people need to take seriously the need to find really well informed people, not just our intelligence or British intelligence, but Iraqis who really know the truth.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Levin, what’s your view about whether or not the time is going to come, if it’s not there yet, when the United States is going to have… if they don’t believe, if we don’t believe what Saddam Hussein is saying, then we’re going to have to go public with what we do know.

SEN. CARL LEVIN: Well, that time may come but it’s not here yet.

JIM LEHRER: Why isn’t it here yet?

SEN. CARL LEVIN: Because for us to simply disclose a long list of places where we believe that he has weapons of mass destruction could tip him off in advance to what the scenario is going to be, what we’re going to be doing, what the inspectors hopefully will be doing. We shouldn’t tip him off in advance, but what we will probably have to do in a very commonsensical way at some point is to share with the inspectors perhaps one or two sites at a time or information that we have relative to those sites if they are unable to, on their own, find those sites, because sooner or later it seems to me before we initiate an attack, particularly if we’re going to have the world support that we really should have before we initiate that kind of attack, we’re going to have to help persuade the world that, in fact, our claims have a foundation.

But we can do that in a way which doesn’t tip our hand. And in the meantime we have a lot of sources, it seems to me, that we ought to be using including aerial photography, space shots, intelligence from informers. Hopefully we’ll get those scientists to leave Iraq, but if we can’t there are other sources which we will be sharing I think as time goes on.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Levin, what’s your level of confidence in this total process? Forget whether or not Saddam Hussein is lying or not lying, just the process that is under way now to find out for sure whether or not he is or not. Do you have confidence in it?

SEN. CARL LEVIN: I don’t know of a better process, frankly, if we’re going to keep the world together. It’s important that it will be the world against Saddam and not just us against Saddam. And I don’t know of a better process than the one that we have under way to test Saddam and to go after the sites, that there’s a lot of evidence that were sites of production of weapons of mass destruction and storage. The U.N. had those sites in their own files from their previous inspections, and then gradually, using all the talents that we can find and the technologies that we can find, to gradually share with the U.N., if we have confidence in those inspections over time, the information that we have in a way which doesn’t tip our hand.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Lugar, how do you feel about this process?

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: I would agree with Senator Levin. It’s the best process for building the coalition that we must build. We have been most successful, I think, at the United Nations, and that has led to a different world view already. I just note nations coming out of the Prague summit of NATO. Although publicly many were very reticent to support the United States, privately many do. And subsequently as our officials have visited with those countries, they’re coming aboard. They understand, as time goes on, as they have more time to think about it, as the world talks about it, that the world has a problem with Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction. It’s going to be a problem for them quite apart from just us. As that begins to seep in, why we’re making headway. But the president has been patient. He’s talked about disarmament. He has talked about this process. He has applauded it and those involved in it. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep asking tough questions and pushing as we will, but the process is the best one to lead to an overall world conviction that Saddam is disarmed.

JIM LEHRER: But Senator Levin, it sounds to me like both of you are saying that this is going to take a while. There had been talk just a very few weeks ago that if something happened militarily, it could happen very quickly. But it doesn’t sound to me like either one of you are saying that’s going to happen.

SEN. CARL LEVIN: I think that that’s right. It is going to take a while and I think the administration has gradually changed its view over time, and we ought to keep reinforcing the direction that the administration seems to be moving, which is much more caution than it had a number of months ago. Secretary Powell’s view seems to be prevailing within the administration that it’s worthwhile to have the world be with us, if and when the time comes. And that means it’s going to take some time to analyze very carefully and thoroughly this report, not prejudge it, not make statements that it’s a pack of lies, even though we’re skeptical about it, until we have gone through that assessment because we don’t have a lot of credibility with the world if we prejudge these documents.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that, Senator Lugar? We better… we need to tone down the rhetoric as this process goes along?

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: Well, I just follow the president’s rhetoric. Many people point out various members of the administration who give speeches from time to time or thoughts or advisory committees or so forth. All of that is there and the president I am sure listens to it, hears it, and so forth. But he’s been on a pretty steady course thus far, and I think a fairly successful one.

And I would just say even in the worst instance, that if Saddam finally has weapons of mass destruction, there’s pretty good evidence of that– in fact, irrefutable proof– we come into conflict, we’re going to need the same coalition of countries that fought this war with us to help in the governance of Iraq and the stability of the Middle East afterwards. That is a reason for taking time to make sure we have lots of partners, lots of people headed toward a better day for those people.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Levin, speaking of time, to be specific, are we talking February, March, Spring before this process could run out and if it does eventually lead to military action? Could it take that long?

SEN. CARL LEVIN: I think it could and I don’t think there’s any specific timetable. It’s going to depend on the analysis of these documents, what it leads to, what information we’re then willing to give to the inspectors, what they find based on our information, if necessary, following their analysis and other evidence of where the sites may be or where they were. But going back just for a moment to your previous question, Laura Bush has urged her husband to “Tone it down, darling.” Those are her words in a recent book by Bob Woodward, and I think it’s good advice and I think the president has been following it recently. It’s sort of the Powell advice. “Tone it down, darlings. Carry a big stick.” It’s important that we have that power, but it’s also important that we use our rhetoric in a way which is not such that we’re going to just turn off the rest of the world and make them think that we’re hell bent on going to war. We should be hell bent on getting those weapons of mass destruction, hell bent on having a credible approach to them, but we should try to do it in a way which keeps the world together and that achieves our goal which is removing the… defanging Saddam.

JIM LEHRER: All right. Senators both, thank you very much.