January 13, 1998
Since November, Iraq has repeatedly blocked U.N. weapons inspectors from conducting their work. Although it appeared the crisis was resolved in December, Iraq once again has defied the international community. Jim Lehrer talks with Ambassador Butler, the head of the U.N. weapons inspection team, about the latest developments in Iraq.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
December 18, 1997
Richard Butler discusses Iraq's continued defiance of U.N. inspections.
December 1, 1997
Margaret Warner leads a discussion on the proposals to ease the impact of international sanctions on Iraq.
November 25, 1997
Is Saddam Hussein illegally hiding weapons throughout Iraq?
What's the best way to deal with Iraq?
November 20, 1997
U.N. Ambassador Richardson on the possible resolution of the Iraq crisis.
November 17, 1997
Arab perspectives on the Iraqi crisis.
November 14, 1997
Sandy Berger the National Security Adviser, discusses the Iraqi crisis.
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 11, 1997
Four foreign policy experts debate how best to deal with Saddam Hussein.
November 10, 1997
Defense Sec. Cohen discusses the situation with Iraq.
November 6, 1997
The chief U.N. arms inspector discusses Saddam's latest moves.
November 3, 1997
U.N. Ambassador Richardson discusses tensions between the U.S. and Iraq.
October 9, 1997
Sec. Cohen issues a stern warning to Saddam Hussein.
Online Forum: 1996:
The plight of the Kurds in Northern Iraq.
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JIM LEHRER: The new confrontation between Iraq and U.N. weapons inspectors. We get the latest from Amb. Richard Butler, head of the U.N. Special Commission in charge of inspections. I talked with him earlier this evening.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Butler, welcome.
RICHARD BUTLER: Hi.
JIM LEHRER: First, tell us, please, exactly what happened there in Iraq today.
The current situation in Iraq.
RICHARD BUTLER: Well, our team, which was to go out and look at a number of sites, a team made up of missile, biological, nuclear, chemical people, was not joined at the appointed hour by the Iraqi counterpart staff, who are supposed to go with them. And under those circumstances I had instructed the leader of the team, Mr. Ritter, to then abandon the inspection because there's no way that we should do that unless the Iraqis are with us. By this means Iraq gave effect to its decision last night that they would no longer cooperate with inspections led by Mr. Ritter. And that's what happened.
JIM LEHRER: Now, what did they say the reason was that they would no longer cooperate with inspectors led by Mr. Ritter?
RICHARD BUTLER: Well, they entered a fairly root and branch criticism not simply of him but of the composition of the team. They argued that it had too many Americans in it. In other words, it's a little bit like the movie we saw last November, slightly different in that they're not threatening at this stage to throw out American inspectors as they did in November. But they went on to say that the teams aren't adequately balanced in terms of their national composition. But much, much more importantly, they went on to accuse the organization itself as being dishonest and prejudiced against them and maybe run by some western intelligence agencies, all of which is simply untrue, but you asked the question. That's the answer, Jim. That's the reason they gave.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Well, let's go through these things one at a time. The complaint about the composition of the team, explain the size, the numbers, and the composition. Okay.
The composition of the U.N. weapons inspection team.
RICHARD BUTLER: Well, in their complaint they said that this team, led by Mr. Ritter, an American, numbered 16. It didn't. The team on Monday had 44 people in it, and drawn from 17 nationalities. They said the team of 16 had too many Americans in it. So it was not 16; it was 44 drawn from 17 nationalities.
JIM LEHRER: How many of the 44 were Americans?
RICHARD BUTLER: I think about 11.
JIM LEHRER: Eleven? And the rest were from what number of countries?
RICHARD BUTLER: Seventeen countries.
JIM LEHRER: Seventeen countries?
RICHARD BUTLER: Yes.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. So, now the team that Mr.--why is Mr. Ritter chosen to lead this particular team?
RICHARD BUTLER: Because of the expertise he has in the business of arms control verification before coming to us, he was involved in the verification of and the inspection of arrangements under the intermediate-range nuclear force treaty between the United Nations and the then Soviet Union. So he brings that expertise to this work. He had previously been an officer in the Marine Corps, and by that means too it's been some of his career around weapons as such. He brings technical expertise to this job. That's why he's in it, not because he's an American.
JIM LEHRER: Are you the one who chose him to head the team? Is that how that works?
RICHARD BUTLER: Yes, I did. I chose him to head this team. I approved of the taks that have been followed this week. I approved of the overall composition of the team. The responsibility is mine. I studied very carefully all of the information at our disposal to justify the wish to go to each of the places in Iraq that is on the team's program, and I was completely satisfied that we were in conformity with the decisions of the Security Council to go to those places where we had reasonable ground to go in and inspect because there may be weapons of mass destruction there or their related materials, or records of their production.
The debate over Mr. Scott Ritter.
JIM LEHRER: Iraq claims that Scott Ritter is an American intelligence agent.
RICHARD BUTLER: That's not true. He is not.
JIM LEHRER: Do you know that for--I mean--
RICHARD BUTLER: I just answered that, Jim. He is not an American intelligence agent. This is a false claim. He works for--well, I've made the point. He is not.
JIM LEHRER: There's no question in your mind about that?
RICHARD BUTLER: There's no question in my mind. He works for the United Nations. He works through our rules, and those in the charter of the U.N. include that he must not be beholden to any individual government. He works for me, and I look very carefully at the proposals that he and other members of staff make to me for inspections. I need to be satisfied that we've got the information base we require, that we're acting in conformity with the decisions of the Security Council, and the principles of the charter. That's what needs to be satisfied, and in his personal case and with respect to these particular inspections, all of those criteria were met.
JIM LEHRER: Did you know about Iraq's objections to him when you appointed him the head of this team?
RICHARD BUTLER: Yes. I did. They have been voiced for some time. Not to hear--including may I say a member of the Russian--a Russian member of my staff. And I have answered them directly with Mr. Tariq Aziz. I have said, look, stop personalizing this; what you're saying is not true, and it's not the main point. And this is what I say to you now, Jim, and to viewers. Look, this focus on individuals and their nationality is a diversion. It's simply a diversion for--being addressed when we talk about whether the appearance of Mr. Ritter or not--or the country he comes from--or any other person--I mean, it's just not the real issue. By the way, we have another team in Iraq today looking at missile warhead remnants of warheads that Iraq claims it has destroyed. That team has four people in it, three of whom are Russians, one British. Where's the complaint about the lack of balance there? I mean, this isn't fair or right, and it's not based on fact.
JIM LEHRER: Does that team--did that team go about it's business regularly today?
RICHARD BUTLER: Yes, it did.
JIM LEHRER: No problems?
RICHARD BUTLER: No problems with any of the other teams. So, you know, remember what they did in November last was to seek to throw out all Americans. That didn't succeed. What they're doing now is targeting one individual and the team that he leads and saying that they're prejudiced against Iraq, they are not competent, they are dishonest --I mean, the note that they wrote actually speaks of our fabricating information. I'm sorry, Jim. You know, that's just unrespectable. We do not do that. We never would. And all of this, as far as I'm concerned, is a fairly transparent diversion from the real task at hand, which is disarmament, for which Mr. Ritter and his team are professionally qualified and with respect to which they're honest.
JIM LEHRER: There's been some suggestions today, Mr. Butler, that maybe the reason for this diversion, if that's, in fact, what it is, was caused by the fact that your teams were getting close to something that the Iraqis did not want you to find. Is there any evidence of that?
Is Iraq hiding something?
RICHARD BUTLER: Well, we had strong evidence that led me to designate the places for inspection that I have designated for this week. Now, with respect to what you just put to me, let me say that in the Security Council today I said I don't know why they have done this, but logic would suggest that one possible reason is that we are getting close, and they don't want us to get closer.
JIM LEHRER: Is there a particular--can you help us understand the kinds of things that you may be getting close to that has upset them?
RICHARD BUTLER: Well, I can't give away too much of that in public because that would simply give them--give the Iraqis an opportunity to move or conceal things that we need to get to in the future. But let me say that the team that wasn't able to do its work today had within it experts from all of the weapons fields, nuclear, missile, chemical, and biological. So that's a hint for, you know, what we thought we may be looking for or may be able to turn up at the various sites.
JIM LEHRER: And that--just make sure I understand--that was the team of 44 people, led by Scott Ritter. Seventeen of those forty-four were Americans, right?
RICHARD BUTLER: Jim, sorry. Yesterday, they were able to conduct inspections, and that was 44 from 17 nationalities. The team that we put together for this morning's inspections was 31 persons from 12 nationalities, a slightly smaller pool of people drawn from the same overall pool because of the nature of the sites we were going to today. It was those 31 that contained those experts in nuclear, missile, biological, and chemical that were not permitted to do their job.
JIM LEHRER: How many of those 31 were Americans?
RICHARD BUTLER: Look, I think, again, about ten or eleven.
JIM LEHRER: About ten or eleven. Is that--do you consider that when you put these teams together? I mean, are you--are you trying to in some way accommodate the Iraqi objections to too many Americans in these teams? Are you doing anything about that at all when you put these things together?
RICHARD BUTLER: Not particularly, no. What we've got to do is find the people who are expert. We asked for them from the member states of the U.N. At the beginning of our work we wrote to over a hundred member states asking for experts. That number over the years has gotten smaller and smaller because some of them simply can't provide them. But at the moment, looking at our overall staff, we have staff from 37 countries. We begin by asking for the expertise that we need. Now, if we are given an embarrassment of riches--let's say we ask for a missile expert--and, you know, we get offers from a dozen countries, and they're all equally good, then we might enter into consideration of giving it a spread around those dozen countries but not at the expense of taking someone simply because of their nationality and when they may be less well qualified than the person that we need of top quality. We basically look for quality. We also look for dedication, for the willingness of people to do this very tough work in a very difficult environment. And only then thereafter do we think in terms, where we can, of giving, you know, many countries a share of the work.
JIM LEHRER: So you're not completely unconscious of that fact?
RICHARD BUTLER: No, I'm not unconscious of it. But were we to do what Iraq is now saying we must do, which is to choose people first and foremost because of their nationality, and, of course, it won't surprise you when I say that the nationalities that Iraq names as being desirable are countries that they think would be more favorable to their point of view--
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
RICHARD BUTLER: Were we to do that, we would be turning on our head--on its head the fundamental requirement we have to follow, which is for technical expertise.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. You are now planning to go to Iraq next week, is that right?
RICHARD BUTLER: That's right. I'll leave in a couple of days time.
JIM LEHRER: All right. What are you going to do there?
Ambassador Butler to visit Iraq.
RICHARD BUTLER: Well, I was going back, in any case, to talk to them about this business of presidential and sovereign sites from which they are seeking to exclude us absolutely. But now, it seems, I'll have a second subject on the agenda, which is their insistence that they should be able to exclude from our teams people of a nationality or, indeed, an individual who they say they don't like. I don't believe the Security Council will allow them to do that, and so I should go back to Iraq armed with a strong decision by the Council and with this second subject on the agenda, that is, to get from Iraq an undertaking that they will desist from behaving in this way. They can't do it. It won't work.
JIM LEHRER: Based on your experience with a prior crisis, I guess you would say, in November, what do you smell about this one? Is this one going to escalate, or do you think you might be able to resolve it next week, or do you have any feeling at all at this point?
RICHARD BUTLER: It's a little bit early, Jim. I hope it doesn't escalate. I was a bit shocked when I saw the motive yesterday because it seemed to me like the rerun of a bad movie. I hope this doesn't go further. It could only come to a bad end if it does. So I'll certainly be doing my level best to try to find a way through this. But, no, it can't be at the compromise of the independence and integrity of my organization. Our value resides utterly upon our scientific expertise and then upon our integrity and our ability to go anywhere in Iraq where we have reason to think that there are prohibited weapons not by signaling to them in advance that we're doing so because that would make a mockery of independent verification. We need those things for us to be able to do our work properly, and I remind you that it's only when we can do our work properly that Iraq has a chance of getting out of its present situation, including getting out of sanctions.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Well, Mr. Butler, thank you very much.
RICHARD BUTLER: Thank you.