GWEN IFILL: Now, to help us digest the case laid out by the two U.N. Chief weapons inspectors about the situation in Iraq, we turn to former inspectors who have been there. Raymond Zilinskas was a United Nations biological weapons inspector in 1994. He's now director of the chemical and biological weapons nonproliferation program at the Monterey Institute of International Studies; and David Albright, a former analyst and inspector who monitored Iraq's nuclear program from 1992 to 1997; he's now president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington.
Mr. Albright, what struck you most about the presentations today from Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei?
DAVID ALBRIGHT: I think the first impression is that Iraq really isn't complying with its obligations. I mean, it may not rise to the level of what people would call a smoking gun, but there's numerous episodes and examples where Iraq just is not complying with its obligations under the resolution, from a faulty declaration to finding things in facilities that Iraq shouldn't have. And so I think overall it's a troubling report on Iraq's activities.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Zilinskas, did you see the glass half full or the glass half empty?
RAYMOND ZILINSKAS: More half full, I guess. It is true that the filed complete disclosures turned over to UNMOVIC in December were full of holes, but the inspectors have been working very hard since that time, and they are starting to fill some of the information gaps. But, as David mentioned, there is this aspect that even though they cooperate in the passive type of activities, in other words they open the doors to laboratories and even homes, they don't take a proactive approach. They don't come up with the information that's required to fill the holes, and that is definitely troubling.
GWEN IFILL: So much of today's arguments put forward by both men and a lot of the reactions that we saw both at the United Nations around the world came down to timing. Hans Blix said that based on his... he said that they need more time because this will lead to verifiable disarmament in a reasonable amount of time. He said that's what he needs. Do you agree with that, based on your experience, that all we need here is more time?
DAVID ALBRIGHT: No, I don't. I think if Iraq doesn't cooperate actively, then it doesn't matter how much more time the inspectors get if they're very unlikely to succeed in disarmament. They're very likely to succeed in continuing to show that Iraq is not cooperating, so, no, I would say let the inspections go on in the future. I mean, it may be for weeks. I wouldn't want to commit to months. But there's nothing lost by letting the inspectors continue their job. Perhaps Iraq will change its mind and cooperate fully and reveal its programs to the extent that it has them, but unfortunately so far, I'm not that optimistic that they're going to do it and, therefore, I don't think this should be an inspection process that's given a blank check to continue for two or three months.
GWEN IFILL: And Mr. Zilinskas, weeks, months, even more?
RAYMOND ZILINSKAS: It really, as David mentioned, depends on if the Iraqis cooperate. I believe that there's a lot more pressure on them now, even at this presentation by Blix and ElBaradei. Both of them stress the need for this proactive assistance or cooperation from the Iraqis. And, as I understand it, there are several of the surrounding countries are also making that message clear to the Iraqis that they have to make a proactive cooperation. Otherwise, it's not going to work. If that happens in the next three or four or five weeks, then I think that we a have a good chance to get the information as required.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Blix laid out, in particular, several of the areas of noncompliance, or at least so far noncompliance, and I want to run through some of them with you and you can explain us to exactly what the issue is. For instance, they talk about the aluminum tubes which were imported or which they found in Iraq, but they say that Iraq wasn't necessarily using them for centrifuges, which would imply nuclear development activity. Mr. Zilinskas, what is the issue there?
RAYMOND ZILINSKAS: I think that is up to David. He deals with the nuclear aspects.
GWEN IFILL: Okay, Mr. Albright? Yeah, fine.
DAVID ALBRIGHT: The issue of the aluminum tubes really goes back several months to some statements by the administration that said that these aluminum tubes were specific to a uranium-enrichment program, namely a program that uses gas centrifuges. I think the claim by the administration was weak when it was stated, and that was identified. But the inspectors have gone out and actually shown that these... or these aluminum tubes are not suitable for centrifuges. And I think that while the investigation continues, I do think that the inspectors have pretty much spent enough time on this and probably will not be spending much more time. And unfortunately this is a case where intelligence information turns out not to be useful. There was a hope that this information would show that Iraq has a nuclear weapons program, but in actual fact it hasn't. Now, one hopes that the administration has better information on the nuclear weapons program and that information will be turned over to the inspectors and they can act upon it. But the case of the aluminum tubes, unfortunately, has undermined the credibility of the administration's case that it has compelling intelligence information.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Zilinskas, of all the examples that were trotted out today by both of these gentlemen, which troubled you the most?
RAYMOND ZILINSKAS: It is both in the chemical and biological area, there are big gaps. On the chemical, the issue is of VX. VX is a very, very poisonous nerve agent. And we know that the Iraqis manufactured at least 3.9 tons of it. And the question is, what happened to it? The Iraqis say that they've destroyed...well, first they said that they only manufactured very impure VX that didn't work and they never weaponized it. But we know for sure that that's not the case, that they actually manufactured very pure VX, and then the question is what happened to it? In the biological area, there's an issue of the missing culture media. In other words, you need this culture media to grow bacteria.
GWEN IFILL: When you say "culture media," tell us what you're talking about.
RAYMOND ZILINSKAS: In order to grow bacteria, you need this kind of substrate that has agar and other nutrients in it, and you put this together with a pathogen in the fermenter and let it ferment for about two or three days. And then that gives you the biological weapons agent, in this case anthrax. So they have 650 kilograms of culture media that's disappeared, and that's sufficient to make 5,000 liters of concentrated anthrax. And they just don't give us good explanation what happened to the culture media.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Albright, what happens with that when you don't have good explanations? How do inspectors set about proving whether Iraqi claims are credible or not?
DAVID ALBRIGHT: Well, part of it's a subjective judgment. I mean, you can look somebody in the face and just feel that they're not telling you the truth. And also the burden is on Iraq to provide the evidence that they have destroyed agents or whatever. Basically it's not up to the inspectors to prove that this happened. I mean, it's very clear in the resolutions if Iraq says something, it needs to document or otherwise prove that assertion. And I think unfortunately in the last couple months Iraq has not been willing to provide the evidence to show that it's destroyed things or it did certain things that would show that it was in compliance with the resolutions.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Zilinskas, both of the inspectors today cited South Africa as a model of disarmament, yet you saw the South African ambassadors to the United Nations come out afterwards and say, "Well, yes, we disarmed, but it took two years for us and there should be more time." Is that, is South Africa a reasonable model of comparison?
RAYMOND ZILINSKAS: Well, sure, but the key word is "cooperation." The South Africans were completely cooperative, and, true, it took about two years to clear up, and that's mostly having to do with the nuclear weapons. It does not include the chemical and biological. Especially the biological area in South Africa is still pretty murky. But, yes, the issue still is the proactive cooperation by the Iraqis are absolutely required. And after that it's going to take six to nine or even a year to clear all the information gaps in the full, final, complete disclosures.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Albright, does the very presence of inspectors on the ground now and for the foreseeable future, at least for the next few weeks or months, does that freeze Iraq in a way that makes it impossible to produce more, to be a threat, in essence?
DAVID ALBRIGHT: I think it does. I mean, the inspectors are a very powerful deterrent against Iraq trying to continue to reconstitute any of its weapons of mass destruction programs, or to use those weapons of mass destruction in any way. So I think that while the inspection process is working and it's intrusive, it does contain Iraq's ability to move forward with weapons of mass destruction, and that's very valuable. However, if Iraq doesn't cooperate, they can't prevent Iraq from getting weapons of mass destruction in the long run. I mean, it finally...it's a losing game for the inspectors to play if Iraq isn't going to cooperate and in essence, comply.
If I can add one thing on the South African case, is that I studied that case very closely on the nuclear side, and one of the things that was very apparent early on was South Africa wanted to cooperate, and you could tell it. And there's been no such indication from Iraq.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Zilinskas, the Iraqis have been saying they believe that the United States and its allies, at least those that are allied with it on this issue, are leading a rush to war. Why or would you expect, I suppose, the Iraqi government to cooperate if they believe that war is inevitable in any case?
RAYMOND ZILINSKAS: Well, that's a very good question. I think if I was, in fact, the Iraqis and I was fatalistic about it, it doesn't matter what we do, the United States is going to attack, "so why do we need them to cooperate?" And there's something to that. But on the other hand, the... they have to come to the recognition that if they actually started proactive cooperation to really cough up the information as needed, it would make it very difficult for the United States to attack, so I hope that they eventually come to that resolution and actually start cooperating.
GWEN IFILL: Raymond Zilinskas and David Albright, thank you very much for joining us.