U.S. Ambassador Bill Richardson Discusses Kofi Annan's Iraq Deal
February 24, 1998
Jim Lehrer speaks with U.S. Ambassador Bill Richardson about the deal that Kofi Annan has struck up with Iraq. Richardson comments on Iraq's compliance, upcoming site inspection, and UNSCOM.
JIM LEHRER: Now, a Newsmaker interview with Bill Richardson, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. who was among those briefed this morning by Kofi Annan. Mr. Ambassador, welcome.
BILL RICHARDSON, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.: Thank you, Jim.
JIM LEHRER: First, when Kofi Annan walked into the U.N. building this morning, he was given a hero's welcome. Did he deserve it?
BILL RICHARDSON: Yes, because he negotiated an initiative which is a step in the right direction, which for the first time got Iraq in writing to say that they would admit free, unfettered access to all sites because at the same time, under very difficult circumstances, Kofi Annan came back with a measure of hope. He fulfilled his role as Secretary-General. Now we have to clear up some of the language in the agreement. We have to verify. We have to test the agreement, and we have to make sure that Iraq is going to comply, that Iraq does not once again thumb its nose at the international community but as President Clinton said, Kofi Annan deserves a lot of credit. And I will say that I heard Secretary-General Annan say that this agreement would not have been possible had it not been for President Clinton's policy of diplomacy backed by force.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with Mr. Annan's assessment that there was a general--quoting here--a general sense of approval in that room this morning from you and the others representing the members of the Security Council?
BILL RICHARDSON: Yes. I think that is accurate. What we have to do is make sure that the agreement--some ambiguities exist, some technicalities that over the next few days we can make sure they're taken care of. He had just stepped off the plane. He was exhausted. I think in the days ahead his lawyers and the Security Council will find out exactly some of the issues that were raised today by several council members. It wasn't just the United States. We want to make sure, No. 1, that the U.N. inspection team stays strong; that Amb. Butler, we were pleased that it was said that he's still going to be head of UNSCOM, that he has a major operational role, or the operational role for the special group that is being proposed. We were also pleased in the briefing, in response to one of the questions that I had, that the U.N. Security Council resolutions are the governing standard for this agreement; that procedures for non-presidential sites will be followed and determined by the U.N. inspection team, UNSCOM, such as aerial monitoring. So there's some very positive points in the agreement that we were able to nail down in some of the questions today.
JIM LEHRER: But what bothers you the most? What is the ambiguity or the clarification that bothered you the most after listening to him this morning for two hours?
BILL RICHARDSON: Well, I don't think it's a question of it bothering us. We have to ensure, No. 1, that Iraq complies. What bothers me the most is the fact that Iraq in the past since the Gulf War has made mincemeat of previous agreements, Security Council resolution, presidential statements. I think it is important, Jim, that we find a way that this agreement be verified. I think there has to be some type of Security Council certification of this agreement, as the Secretary-General said, to make sure that it is enforced; that Iraq doesn't come back and violate it, and then there's no consequences. I think lastly also there has to be a way that this agreement has to be tested. And what is clear in the future is that the U.N. inspection team is going to have to continue to do its good job, and you have to test Iraq's compliance on the dotted line that they signed. And they signed, and they said that all sites are open, unfettered access unconditionally by UNSCOM inspectors. That has to be tested.
JIM LEHRER: Now, when is it going to be tested, and how is it going to be tested?
BILL RICHARDSON: Well, that's up to the U.N. inspection team. That is a purview of the United Nations. They have a schedule of inspections. They have presidential sites. They have sensitive sites. They have non-sensitive sites. That's something that in the days or weeks ahead is going to be tested. And that's--that's really the bottom line, whether this agreement, in effect, Sec. Annan has done his job. The Security Council has been doing their job. Now it's going to be whether Iraq is going to comply.
JIM LEHRER: Now, the Secretary-General has said this agreement is different than prior agreements. Do you see anything different in the agreement, itself, than those that Saddam Hussein and Iraq have agreed to in the past?
BILL RICHARDSON: Well, the important thing, Jim, is that the Secretary-General did say that all Security Council resolutions are the governing standard for this agreement. In other words, that is still the law that the Security Council established, and that's what Iraq has to follow. This is different in that for the first time Iraq in writing--in writing has agreed with the Secretary-General that all sties are going to be open with an unfettered access, so that is a major step forward.
JIM LEHRER: But there's no new mechanism, is there, Mr. Ambassador, for verifying that this happens, or checking or testing? There's no new process or new procedure, is there?
BILL RICHARDSON: What is critical here for us, Jim, is that the U.N. inspection team, which has destroyed 30,000 chemical weapons, which has done a remarkable job, which has shown impartiality, continued to do this very important work. We believe the Secretary-General is in the direction, moving very much in the direction of making sure that happens. Now, the role of this special group has to be defined vis-a-vis the Secretary-General and the head of the U.N. inspection team. That is going to be in the next few days something that we will work with the Secretary-General and other members of the Security Council to deal with. There are other issues that still need some clarification. He just got back, though, Jim. I think we should give him credit for the good job that he did.
JIM LEHRER: Absolutely. But the bottom line for you and the United States is that whatever this new arrangement with a commissioner, working with UNSCOM, and diplomats for these eight presidential sites, that UNSCOM still calls the shots, is that correct?
BILL RICHARDSON: That is correct. That is the American fundamental point of view. That's what President Clinton said. And this is why it's so important, as President Clinton said, is that we first clarify the agreement, support it obviously, clarify the agreement, test the agreement, verify the agreement, and enforce the agreement. In other words, the proof is in the testing, and this is what's going to be fundamental American policy here.
JIM LEHRER: Did you ask Mr. Annan that question directly today about who was going to be in charge of these new arrangements, the new commission arrangement?
BILL RICHARDSON: He answered partially that question, and then he turned it over to his lawyer. I was partially satisfied, and the United States is partially satisfied with that, but there are some ambiguities that we have to clear up. I think we can clear 'em up, but overall, Jim, we do think that the briefing he provided today answered a lot of unanswered questions. The U.N. Security Council is the governing standards. Procedures outside the presidential sites still remain the same. Butler stays on; UNSCOM is the chief operating entity. We just have to clarify some of these--
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
BILL RICHARDSON: --new actors, what exactly they're going to do.
JIM LEHRER: The bottom line, I guess, is this, Mr. Ambassador. Did you hear anything from Kofi Annan this morning that made you want to pick up the phone and call the President, President Clinton, say, hey, Mr. President, we've got a problem here?
BILL RICHARDSON: No. But we had a meeting of the national security team right after the session with the Secretary-General. We've gone through the agreement. We've got our policy and lawyers working on it as the Secretary-General does. In the next few days within the U.N. Security Council we are going to try to get some more clarifications, as are many other countries, Jim. But let me just say as a bottom line, we think that this is a good agreement that needs to be verified, enforced, tested. We think Kofi Annan has done a good job and look what he said. He said that this would not have been possible had it not been for President Clinton's policy of an intensive diplomatic effort eventually backed by military force. Otherwise, we would not have had this agreement.
JIM LEHRER: Tariq Aziz said today that--he's the deputy prime minister of Iraq, as you know--that this was a victory for Iraq and it would lead to the lifting of sanctions against Iraq.
BILL RICHARDSON: I doubt that very much. First of all, Iraq has now more inspections going on in their country, palaces, all sensitive sites. They backed off. Secondly, the prospect of lifting sanctions is more remote than ever.
JIM LEHRER: Why is that?
BILL RICHARDSON: Because it is our point of view and many other council members that Iraq has to comply with all Security Council resolutions since the Gulf War. We're not talking about just one; we're talking about others that relate to their activity and their conduct on prisoners of war from Kuwait, human rights issues. We've got a long way to go here. We want to see first compliance by Iraq. They have not complied in past agreements. Are we trusting the Iraqis? No. We want to see this agreement tested. I think all Security Council members want that to happen. We want to see this agreement verified. We want there to be a signal to Iraq that if they don't comply, that there will be consequences. This is not just the United States, but let me just not detract from a first-rate effort by the Secretary-General at getting Iraq to sign on the dotted line that there would be free, unfettered access to every single site in Iraq, including potentially Saddam Hussein's bedroom in his palace.
JIM LEHRER: Finally, Mr. Ambassador, there were published reports before Mr. Annan went to Baghdad that you were opposed to this mission. Were those reports true, and, if so, have you changed your mind?
BILL RICHARDSON: What I was opposed early on was that Secretary-General Annan go without consulting with the Security Council. He intended to do that fully because these were early press reports. The permanent five members of the Security Council--France, Russia, Britain, the United States, and China--then gave oral advice to the Secretary-General, which was very satisfactory to us, free, unfettered access, full integrity to UNSCOM, Security Council resolutions. He went with that backing. He got it. He achieved success in Baghdad, so my concern early on were the reports that he was going without this backing of the permanent five, which he did receive.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Mr. Ambassador, thanks again for being with us.