AMBASSADOR RICHARD BUTLER
April 28, 1998
Although a new study reported that Iraq no longer possesses the potential to create nuclear weapons, the commission investigating biological and chemical weapons told the U.N. Security Council that there has been little progress in confirming the destruction of those stockpiles. The executive director of the commission, Ambassador Richard Butler, discusses the latest findings with Elizabeth Farnsworth.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: It will take a resolution by the U. N. Security Council to lift economic sanctions against Iraq. And that can come only when two organizations certify Iraq has removed or destroyed its illegal weapons and the materials used to produce them.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
April 27, 1998
Iraqi exiles search for an alternative to Saddam Hussein.
March 13, 1998
A panel of experts debate whether it is time to lift sanctions on Iraq.
Noam Chomsky and James Woolsey debate U.S. foreign policy.
March 4, 1998
An interview with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.
March 2, 1998
An interview with Iraq's Ambassador to the U.N. Nizar Hamdoon.
February 27, 1998
Congressional views of the U.N. deal with Iraq.
February 24, 1998
James Baker and William Perry discuss the deal's impact on U.S. foreign policy.
February 20, 1998
A panel of experts examine the crisis from the Iraqi perspective.
February 19, 1998
An exploration of public support for the use of force in Iraq as compared to past conflicts.
February 9, 1998
Regional commentators give local perspectives on the growing crisis with Iraq.
January 14, 1998
Iraq's U.N. Ambassador, Nizar Hamdoon, defends his country's actions.
January 13, 1998
Amb. Butler discusses the latest disagreement with Iraq.
What's the best way to deal with Iraq?
November 13, 1997
Newsmaker interview with Deputy PM Aziz who defends his country's expulsion of U.N. weapons inspectors.
November 12, 1997
U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson discusses the Security Council's vote to impose stricter sanctions on Iraq.
November 10, 1997
Defense Sec. Cohen discusses the situation with Iraq.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of the Middle East and the United Nations.
the United Nations
Iraqi Foreign Minister Al-Sahaf: "The Iraqi people have been subjected to unprecedented injustice by the policy of continued starvation and repeated military assaults."
In the Security Council yesterday the International Atomic Energy Agency reported there is no further indication of prohibited nuclear equipment, materials or activities, though some data remain to be provided. But UNSCOM, the U.N. commission investigating missiles, chemical and biological weapons, reported virtually no progress in verifying disarmament in those areas over the past six months. In a press conference today the Iraqi foreign minister defended his country's compliance.
MOHAMMED AL-SAHAF, Foreign Minister, Iraq: We told the Council and reminded the Council that the Security Council Resolution 687 was adopted in 1991, seven years ago. And the ongoing monitoring has been in a place for four years. That's to say since 1994. And all weapons prohibited under Resolution 687 were destroyed by the end of 1991. And all the related factories and equipment have been destroyed, everything. Therefore, the Iraqi people, the Iraqi leadership expected their sanctions to be lifted long ago. The Iraqi people have been subjected to unprecedented injustice by the policy of continued starvation and repeated military assaults. Nevertheless, regardless, the degree of inequity and injustice to which Iraq has been subjected, it has cooperated with the Security Council and the special commission in the hope that promises of the lifting of sanctions talked about by the representatives of the special commission and members of the Security Council be carried out.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: For more now we turn to Richard Butler, executive director of UNSCOM, the U.N. commission charged with eliminating missiles, chemical and biological weapons in Iraq. Thanks for being with us, Mr. Ambassador.
Ambassador Butler: "Disarmament by declaration."
You just heard the statement that Iraq has eliminated the prescribed weapons, what's your response to that?
RICHARD BUTLER, UNSCOM chief inspector: We discussed that yesterday in the Security Council, Elizabeth. Iraq is pursuing a policy at the present time, which you've just heard from the foreign minister, of what I said in my report to the council is disarmament by declaration. Now, sadly, that's not legal and not acceptable. It begins with their declaration of the truth, but then it's our job to verify what they've declared. We've not been able to report an end to the chemical, missile and biological disarmament process because their declarations have not been adequate and, above all, have not been able to be verified. It can't be by mere declaration alone. What I did in the report of the last six months, apart from noting that there wasn't progress because of the crisis we've just been through mercifully ended by the secretary-general, what I did was unprecedented in setting forth a list of priority issues to give Iraq a clue, a menu, if you like, there it is. If they give us the information that we need listed in that list of priorities, we will be able, hopefully, to verify their declarations and bring all this to an end.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I want to go through some of those priorities in a minute. But, first, just generally, explain what it is that you're lacking. When you say they declare something, are you lacking . . . without getting into specifics yet, are you lacking the documents that would show that they, in fact, did destroy those weapons?
RICHARD BUTLER: Well, first of all, on destruction, the destruction to which Foreign Minister Al-Sahaf referred was unilateral destruction, to the extent that it indeed took place. Carried out by Iraq by itself. May I say softly that in itself was illegal. The Security Council has always said that any distraction must be under international supervision. For the very good reason because then we can see that it actually was done. Now, moving on to your point, what we need is the variety of things necessary for verification. In some case it's physical materials. We're at the moment digging up so destroyed missile warhead remnants in the desert in Iraq to put the physical materials together to verify destruction. Sometimes we need a documentary record that shows us what chemicals or what biological substances were produced so we can bring them to an account. Finally sometimes we need to interview the persons who gave the orders or carried out the destruction. It's a mixture of those things.
Ambassador Butler: "The biological record is the saddest of them all."
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: All right. On the biological weapons specifically, Iraq denied it had biological weapons until 1995. Since then has said it's gotten rid of all of them. What do you need there to prove that that is not the case or to verify that it is the case?
RICHARD BUTLER: The biological record is the saddest of them all. It's been a seven-year relationship. And as you just pointed out, for the first four of those years, Iraq's stance that was it had . . . was absolute denial. It had had no program at all. When it couldn't persist in that any longer, it gave us a declaration of its biological program, which we've had looked at by ourselves obviously but by international experts as well on a number of occasions since that time over the last few years, and we've never been able to find their biological declaration credible. It's got internal errors, internal inconsistencies. We had found and destroyed some of the plants with which they made biological warfare agents in the past, but their basic declaration is what is the biggest difficulty here. It's internally inconsistent. It's not a credible document.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So what is your main fear here? Could you be specific about what you think perhaps still exists or that you cannot verify doesn't exist?
RICHARD BUTLER: Well, up to a point only, but, please, bear with me in understanding this. First of all, it wouldn't be a good practice for us to simply say this is it and only it because that would violate the basic provision that Iraq has to tell us. But trying to be as positive as I can, I want to make this clear. Our job is to verify their claim. Now, if we can't do that, I can't report to the council that it's over. That's not the same thing as to say that I'm going to step forward and say we accuse you of having this or that weapon. In the biology area to give specific example, they -- we can't give adequate verification to their claim of how much anthrax they made. We see the importation into Iraq of an amount of gross medium for anthrax, three to four times larger than the amount of the anthrax substance that they said they made. Now that's a big discrepancy. That's a gap that we need to close. And we need a better declaration and more truth from them in order to close it.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: How hard is it to provide those documents for Iraq? Is it just a matter of giving them up? Could they be hard to find? Do they not exist?
RICHARD BUTLER: Well, this is a point that I ended on in my statement to the Security Council yesterday. In summary I said this: we know that Iraq has the materials that we need within its possession, whether they be physical materials, documents or persons we need to interview. We know that they are in their possession. Secondly, we know that they alone can decide to give those things to us, give us access to those things. Thirdly, we are honest, we are competent, we want this to be over, we can do it quickly. So if you put those three factors together, the key is really in Iraq's hands. They have the materials that we need to do this job of verification, to say to the council we're satisfied there are no more prohibited weapons. It's up to Iraq to pick up that key and turn it.
The chemical weapons report.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Now, turning to the chemical weapons, what do you need to show that the claim that Iraq made that it's gotten rid of all of its chemical weapons is true or not true?
RICHARD BUTLER: Well, in our priority list, for example, there are three main things mentioned. We need a much better accounting of how much of the chemical never agent, VX, they made and possibly recognized in the past. We need a better accounting of how many chemical munitions, that is shells or rockets or bombs that have been filled with chemical warfare agent, how many of those still remain. Recently Iraq sought fairly quietly but nevertheless to resist our going after that accounting, but then did agree and we've just completed a mission in Iraq where we were able to advance that a bit. And we do have reason to think that there remain munitions filled with chemical substance. And finally, we need a similar accounting for chemical warfare agent manufacturing equipment. We've destroyed a great deal of that, but we do need to bring it to final account so that we can say to the council, close the chemical file. They're the main things that we need in order to do that. We signaled this to Iraq and we're asking them now to join with us and cooperate and get this job done.
Accounting for Iraq's missiles.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And on the ballistic missile, what do you need?
RICHARD BUTLER: Well, we've given a good accounting for the long-range missiles that they have imported in the past from the former soviet union. We've basically declared those and there were 819 scud missiles and we've basically declared those accounted for. But we've indicated to Iraq we still need an accounting for possible indigenous missile production or prohibited missile production. We need an accounting of prohibited missile propellants that the fuel that is used exclusively for the fuel in your scuds. I find it very mystifying that they won't give us the letter because if all the scuds have gone, why would they want to keep the fuel? If it's only usable with that missile system? You know, it seems a silly matter, but we are required under the law to account for missiles, all subsystems and propellants of a prohibited range. And they're the main issues there.
Tariq Aziz: "It is almost an American document aimed at justifying the American military concentration in the region."
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Ambassador, in a written reply to your report, the deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz wrote that the report isn't neutral. He said "It is almost an American document aimed at justifying the American military concentration in the region." How do you respond to that?
RICHARD BUTLER: Well, those claims sadly are simply without substance, no substance whatsoever.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And finally, as a result of the February agreement that you mentioned that the secretary-general negotiated with Saddam Hussein, some sites, presidential sites have been opened. How is the -- how are the investigations there going and will they continue in the future?
RICHARD BUTLER: Well, that agreement, the result of an extraordinary piece of diplomacy by the Secretary-General, is quite crucial to us. Because it does give us access where we didn't have it before. Namely to presidential sites. It also enshrines the new Iraqi promise to cooperate fully with us, the one on which I'm hoping to be able to rely in the future. Our first entry to presidential sites completed a few weeks ago were for baseline purposes only, to get a sense of what was there. There are over a thousand building in these eight sites. And we did that well and it was a great cooperative effort and a good spirit prevailed. We will presumably need to go back in the future if our disarmament work takes us back. If we have reason to go to look at a building within one of those sites for disarmament purposes, then a decision will be taken to do so.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: There's been some indication that there's a misunderstanding, I believe, the comments today by the Iraqi officials, a misunderstanding on whether the inspectors can continue to go in definitely into those sites. I believe that some Iraqi officials have said maybe not indefinitely, maybe just a few more times. What's your understanding on that?
RICHARD BUTLER: Oh, it's unambiguous. The memorandum of understanding, the document the Secretary-General signed with the government of Iraq, talks unambiguously about initial and subsequent entries. Those words mean that we can go back. And when regulations are drawn up under the memorandum to, you know, to govern our operations in visiting presidential sites is made abundantly plain that when I or the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency decide this we need for technical disarmament reasons or monitoring reasons to go back into those sites, we may do so.
Ambassador Butler: "I believe the end of this is actually within our grasp."
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So, Mr. Ambassador, what do you think will happen next? How do you understand the strong reply from the Iraqis to your report really critical comments made about it? And also the differences over the presidential sites that seem to be coming up now? What do you think lies ahead? Another deadlock between the two sides?
RICHARD BUTLER: I honestly hope not. A very important promise was given at the highest level to the Secretary-General, and I earnestly hope that it be kept. The sort of posturing that has gone on in, you know, the last week or so around our report is something that I regret -- not done by us of course -- by characterized action of the report as fallacious, et cetera, is not right. But I don't want to get into mere argumentation about that. I believe that serious commitments have been made and above all, I believe the end of this is actually within our grasp if Iraq will keep its promise and give us the materials we need. No one wants another crisis. So I'm hopeful that the glass will be seen as half full, not half empty, and that the opportunity of the next few months to get this job done will be seized. And we've promised that we'll do our part of it with integrity and with all possible speed.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, Ambassador Richard Butler, thank you very much for being with us.