AMBASSADOR RICHARD BUTLER
June 24, 1998
U.N. weapons inspectors found evidence that Iraq armed some of its missile warheads with the deadly nerve agent VX. Following a discussion with the chief U.N. weapons inspector, Ambassador Richard Butler, Iraqi U.N. Ambassador Nizar Hamdoon responds to the United Nation's Special Commission's findings.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
A RealAudio version of Amb. Hamdoon.
June 24, 1998
A discussion with Ambassador Hamdoon.
April 28, 1998
A Newsmaker interview with Ambassador Butler.
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.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of the Middle East and the United Nations.
MARGARET WARNER: The Chief U.N. Weapons Inspector, Richard Butler, briefed the Security Council this morning on the latest findings of the U.N. special commission he heads known as UNSCOM. UNSCOM has been investigating Iraq's nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons capabilities for the past seven years. I spoke with him late this afternoon.
MARGARET WARNER: Welcome, Ambassador Butler.
AMBASSADOR BUTLER, U.N. Chief Weapons Inspector: A pleasure.
MARGARET WARNER: Tell us in some detail what it is you found and when and where you found it.
Amb. Butler: "The remains that we found in these remnants could only have come from VX...."
AMBASSADOR BUTLER: We've been excavating in the desert northwest of Baghdad for the remnants of special missile warheads that Iraq said it destroyed there by explosion. Now these were special warheads to be carried on long range prohibited missiles, which they had filled with either biological or chemical agents. We took some pieces of those remnants that we dug up out to a laboratory for analysis. We did this for the Iraqi agreement. And what that analysis found was that some of the warheads had contained the chemical nerve agent VX. Now what's really interesting about this is that Iraq has always robustly denied that they ever put VX into weapons, in other words, weaponized it. Even as recently as a week ago, when we mentioned these lab findings to the Iraqis when I was in Baghdad, they still said they never did it. Now, that's a problem, because this lab analysis is utterly unambiguous. It couldn't have been anything else. The remains that we found in these remnants could only have come from VX, so there's a problem.
MARGARET WARNER: And very briefly, what is VX?
What is VX?
AMBASSADOR BUTLER: VX is a nerve agent, about the most toxic that there is. The one that guy used in the subway in Japan called sarin is a nerve agent. This one is ten times more powerful than that. It's a very serious substance.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. And these were warheads that they had before the Gulf War, is that right?
AMBASSADOR BUTLER: At about that time, as far as we can see, they filled these warheads with VX. We don't know the exact number. We want to know more detail from Iraq about what is exactly the truth, how many did they fill, and then going back from there how much of the substance did they make? Now, we want to investigate this further. We're going to send some more of these missile parts to other labs in France and Switzerland. We want to get to the bottom of this.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. As you know, Iraq complained about the methodology used in collecting them, that you didn't give them equivalent samples, that you didn't take soil samples, that you didn't send them to a lab in a neutral country. I mean, were any of those concerns raised by other council members today, and what's your response on those various concerns Iraq raised?
AMBASSADOR BUTLER: In the council today I believe my assurance of that our chief chemist that this was unambiguously VX was accepted. Now the sorts of things that Iraq has said, what shall I say, they're interesting. I mean, I had already-already authorized that we take some more samples and do some more checking in two other labs. But quite frankly, talking about the nationality of this first lab, soil samples, other things, I mean, these don't alter the central fact. We had in our hands these remnants. We tested them by an absolutely professional and objective laboratory using three different means, all independent. Each of the means that were employed came up with the same outcome. They can make those sorts of noises if they wish, but it went all to the rigorous fact that in these remnants that's what we found. And, by the way, they also took samples. We never impeded that. And they're at liberty to take more, which I'm sure they will. They were to conduct their own analysis. We're not in the business of trying to prove them liars or trying to trick them in some way. We're in the business of trying to find the truth. And the truth that we found with these remnants is unalterable.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. What does the fact that you found VX in these remnants tell you, if anything, about the possibility that Iraq still possesses, currently possesses VX, and in a form that can be stored or used for weapons?
AMBASSADOR BUTLER: We don't know, but that's one of the things we must now get to the bottom of. VX for its longevity needs to be stabilized, and we found remnants of the stabilizer there as well. And if it is properly stabilized, it can last for 30 years. Now, the background here is that Iraq never told us the truth in the beginning about how much VX it made. It had enough basic material to make 200 tons. It started out by saying that it only made some 250 kilograms. Now when confronted with the evidence over a few years they revised and revised again their declaration and now they're up to four tons. But, you know, there are a number of questions that this raises. Just bear that in mind. They said we never did this thing. We have scientific evidence that they did do this thing, so that opens up now the need to know well, how much of it did they do, how many weapons did they make, how much bulk agent did they create in order to put it into weapons? Again, these are the questions to which we now need to have clear and honest answers.
MARGARET WARNER: And how did the Iraqis respond when you presented these findings to them at your meetings in Baghdad? I think it was eight or ten days ago.
AMBASSADOR BUTLER: That's right. Well, I tried to do it as discreetly as possible. I didn't just slap it on the table in front of Mr. Tariq Aziz in the first instance. I carefully prepared our experts to go into another room and talk quietly with their experts and say, look, we do seem to have a problem here, can you give us some answers, and so on, and straight away, before hearing from them, in reply, I already started to put in train arrangements to have more testing done in other laboratories, because I felt certain they would ask for that. So we've tried to be fair and decent about this, but when it did come to the table at the highest level between Mr. Tariq Aziz and me, that's when they slapped down their absolute denial and said this was rubbish, we never did it. Well, that doesn't sit with the technical facts, and we'll have to do better than that as we look into this further.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. And what specifically do you want from the Iraqis now to get to the bottom of this, as you said?
AMBASSADOR BUTLER: The truth. It's as simple as that. We want the truth. And it must be verifiable truth. I've told them that we're not going to caterwaul or make trouble about how the story in the past wasn't true. We want to get this disarmament job done as soon as possible. We want to look to this future, and for us to do that, we now need the whole truth in terms of production, weaponization, and the ultimate fate of both the substance and whatever weapons they made. If they tell us the truth, we'll verify it and move on.
MARGARET WARNER: What impact does this finding have on your ability, on UNSCOM's ability to certify that Iraq has complied with the whole weapons inspection regime, which is, of course, what may open the door to lifting the sanctions?
AMBASSADOR BUTLER: Right. Well, I'm very disappointed at the Iraqi reaction to these scientific results. We've done a really good agreement with them 10 days ago to accelerate our work in the missile, chemical, and biological field, in order to try to get to the end of the disarmament phase of our work, and that might lead to the lifting of at least some of the sanctions. Now, a result like this potentially sets that back. I don't want it to. But it will unless they accept this fact, tell us the truth. Now, they may not do that until we get the other lab analysis done in France and Switzerland. I certainly don't want to give up hope that they might internalize what this really means and see that instead of throwing bricks at it and saying this is a bad deal, it was done in an American laboratory, and et cetera, et cetera, you know, those things that are just a distraction, I hope that they realize the seriousness of this and decide that the best way ahead is to come clean and to help us work out the whole VX issue as part of our overall accounting for their weapons of mass destruction and giving to the end of this disarmament business.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, the wires are reporting that Baghdad issued a statement today demanding that once again sanctions be lifted immediately and threatening to, I think they said reconsider their relationship with your team, if they weren't. Do you take that as a threat? How do you read that?
AMBASSADOR BUTLER: Forgive me, but I'd prefer not to get into that sort of political exchange in public with Iraq. I'd much rather focus on the fact that we did do an agreement a week ago, ten days ago, on a very good work program, which is followed honestly by them, could get us through the last remaining disarmament issues.
MARGARET WARNER: So when you say that the end of those meetings ten days ago that you saw-I think you said the light at the end of the tunnel is more visible today than it's been for a long time.
Amb. Butler: "This VX issue must now be taken very seriously...."
AMBASSADOR BUTLER: Absolutely. Absolutely. And those are the terms in which I briefed the Security Council today, and I'm very happy to tell you that the council was content, and urged me to get on with it, in practical terms follow our work program that we agreed with the Iraqis and get this job done as soon as possible. In other words, they said, great godspeed, get on with it, and that's what I would rather do. But this VX issue must now be taken very seriously and be a part of what we get worked out, I hope, in the next few months.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, thank you very much, Mr. Ambassador.