NEWSMAKER: AMBASSADOR BUTLER
November 25, 1997
Although the U.N. weapons inspectors team has resumed its duties in Iraq, Secretary of Defense William Cohen says that Iraq still maintains one of the largest stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons in the world. Jim Lehrer speaks with U.N. Ambassador Butler about the current situation in Iraq.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
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JIM LEHRER: Now, Richard Butler, the executive chairman of the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq, the man in charge of the weapons inspections.
Mr. Butler, welcome.
RICHARD BUTLER, Chief U.N. Weapons Inspector: Thank you, Jim.
JIM LEHRER: First, how is Iraq continuing to evade and deceive your inspectors?
Iraq's "sensitive" sites.
RICHARD BUTLER: Well, you know, Jim, we were turned away for three weeks, and we're just back there now for four days. So far, our attempt to re-enter has been focused on getting our database back, discovering what happened while we were forced to be away. That's going to take a week or two to ascertain exactly what happened to see what, if any, damage was done. After that we can resume our regular program of inspections. And, of course, that will necessarily mean that we approach sites that are of greater significance. One of the ways Iraq has sought to prevent us from seeing what we have a right to see and what we need to see is by declaring such sites sensitive. As soon as that happens, we're put in a very different position. We have to wait longer. We're only allowed to use fewer people, and I think in the past it can fairly be said that that has sometimes been one way in which they have prevented us from reaching our goals. Another way that's been fully described to the Security Council, it's in all the documentation, and at an earlier period Iraq, itself, did not deny is through its policy of concealment. This started right at the beginning, where they divided, for example, their missile force after the Gulf War their remaining missile force into two parts: the bit that they would show us and the bit that they would conceal. And I'm not sure we're to the bottom yet of what they have concealed in each of the weapons categories.
JIM LEHRER: So as far as you know, after your inspectors have been--you've been back four days, nothing has changed. Same process, same procedure, same attempts to deceive and conceal, right?
RICHARD BUTLER: Well, that's not quite what I was saying. I was saying that our re-entry has been of a special character focused on regaining our database, seeing what happened while we weren't there, because they did move equipment. And we don't know whether they used it or not.
JIM LEHRER: And you know for a fact that they moved equipment.
RICHARD BUTLER: Oh, yes, we know for a fact. As a matter of fact, and it's truly amazing how this has been conducted in the last few weeks. I'll give you an example. We indicated to the Security Council shortly into this period of crisis that some of our cameras are blocked. Some of the rooms they are supposed to be photographing--remote sensing cameras--had gone dark. And we pointed out that two pieces of equipment, two fermenters that could be used in making biological weapons had been removed. You know, in picture A, they were screwed to a wall; in picture B there were these two blank spots on the wall. We called that to the attention of the Security Council. Iraq began by saying, well, it's not quite as simple as that. And then they said, well, yes we did remove 'em because we were frightened of an American attack, but we certainly wouldn't use them for anything bad. Using their own calculations, we were able to point out that if they did use those fermenters at that time, they could have made biological agents within the space of a week. They were not , you know, very ready to show them to us, but they showed those fermenters to CNN. Forgive me for mentioning another channel, but--
JIM LEHRER: It's quite all right.
RICHARD BUTLER: I mean, they showed those fermenters to CNN. To use that conduit to show the world that everything was fine, but the degree of cooperation with us hasn't been similar. I hope it will be. I hope that when we get through this data retrieval process and we move on to the heavier duty--you know, sometimes sensitive sites--that they'll open the doors and let us in. That's what this is all about. It's about truth and access. They've got to let us in, show us what they've got, and then we'll get rid of it, and everyone can have a normal life.
JIM LEHRER: Well, speaking of getting rid of it, Secretary Cohen talked at this news conference today about 200 tons of a chemical that could destroy everyone in the world. Tell me about that.
The chemical agent VX.
RICHARD BUTLER: Well, that chemical is called VX. It's a nerve agent. It is the most potent and dangerous one around, a very, very terrible nerve agent was used in that horrible Tokyo subway event. That's called sarin. VX is seven times more potent than sarin. Iraq denied to us for around about five years that it ever made VX, but then when we presented them with incontrovertible evidence that we knew they were, they then declared a quantity of a few thousand liters. And within a matter of a few months of further investigation and confronting them with evidence, we now arrive at something like what I hope was the true picture. I mean, it's a terrible picture. What I mean is I hope it's not more--
JIM LEHRER: More than that.
RICHARD BUTLER: --more than that. But now we arrive at, in fact, not a few thousand liters but two hundred tons.
JIM LEHRER: Now, where is this stuff?
RICHARD BUTLER: I don't know where it all is.
JIM LEHRER: You know it's in Iraq, though?
RICHARD BUTLER: Well, I wrote to the deputy prime minister of Iraq two days before they started this crisis, and in that letter I said, look, we've been making some reasonable progress here in certain weapons areas, I want to keep it up; we're genuine; we want to get to the bottom of this; I and my team--my technical team--will be coming to Baghdad in a couple of weeks time, and here's the agenda I want us to discuss. And top of that agenda was VX, because we had told them we now know about this; we hope we know all about it. It's a very serious problem. It would be surely a major obstacle in being able to report to the Security Council that this job is done, and then enable them to lift sanctions. So we've really got to address this one. I don't know exactly where it is. We've asked them the question. We need to know the answer.
JIM LEHRER: You've asked them where it was. You said you want to see it and then if you see it you can destroy it, is that right?
RICHARD BUTLER: That's right. That's right. We need to know where it was produced, in what quantities, by what means. We need the documentary backup to show who authorized this. In other words, that shows us did that person authorize more, and, above all, we need to know what quantity of it was put into warheads or bombs, in other words, weaponized, and then we need to see those weapons.
JIM LEHRER: The common sense question here, the common person question would be, yes, sir, Mr. Butler, but if they've gone to all the trouble to make this dreaded thing, why in the world would they turn around and tell you about it so you could then destroy it?
The "why" questions.
RICHARD BUTLER: Well, that's the sort of "why" question, Jim, that I don't honestly know the answer to. Everyone's asking it. Why? Why does anyone want these horrible weapons? Who are they to be used on, or for what purpose? Next why. Why would you subject your whole people to an awful process of sanctions just to have stuff like this? Why would you forego $100 billion worth of oil revenue--for this? I mean, we don't coherently know the answer to that question. I don't know how relevant it is to getting Iraq's cooperation with us, but you know they keep saying that they want to see the light at the end of the sanctions tunnel. We keep saying, we agree absolutely that if you want that light to get larger, grow larger, come closer, then there's only way to drive through that tunnel, and that's on a track called disarmament.
JIM LEHRER: And as a practical matter, you're never going to recommend that those sanctions be listed until you can trace, for instance, that 200 tons of VX, right?
RICHARD BUTLER: Well, yes. I want it to be clear that the sanctions decision is not mine or my staff.
JIM LEHRER: Okay.
RICHARD BUTLER: We're the technical people. But, I mean, you're partly right, more than partly. That is basically the situation. The decision on sanctions is taken by the Security Council. That's a political decision, but there's a paragraph in the relevant resolution that says when we, UNSCOM, report that Iraq has fulfilled all its obligations in the weapons areas, then the embargo for selling oil will be removed. Now, so that's what I mean when I say the light at the end of the tunnel has--that tunnel has a track running through it, and that track is called disarmament.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Two developments: The New York Times story today said the Iraqis and everything your folks are doing, they have some kind of inside information or surveillance or whatever. Is that true?
RICHARD BUTLER: Well, it's not the unalloyed truth, I hope, because surprise is an important part of our working methodology. I did see that piece in the Times, and I'd rather not go into it root and branch. But I'd have to say there have been instances where we have thought that it was very clear from Iraqi behavior that they did have some advance notice of where we were going and what we wanted to look at, which, of course, is a source of great concern to us. And one of the things I've tried to do since I took up this job was make a serious move on strengthening our security. But in this context I have to say one of the strong impressions I've had in my visits to Iraq is that we're facing a very large industry. The largest industry was an industry of weapons of mass destruction. But there's another very big industry in Iraq today, and it's called the "defeat UNSCOM" industry, and they have put very substantial resources into observing us, tracking us, making our work more difficult. And, again, I ask the same question: Why? Why make this effort when the obvious way out of this box is for them to do what the Security Council legally asks them to do? Get rid of the weapons of mass destruction with us and return to a normal life. Among other things, it would be a far--you know, a whole lot cheaper.
JIM LEHRER: Yes. Well, Mr. Butler, good luck on your mission, and thank you very much for being with us tonight.
RICHARD BUTLER: Thank you.