ACCESS STILL DENIED?
December 18, 1997
This week, Iraq listed conditions for United Nations inspectors examining suspected weapons sites. Does the international monitoring force have less access than ever? Richard Butler, chairman of the U.N. Special Commission on Iraq, speaks with Phil Ponce about the continuing dispute.
PHIL PONCE: Richard Butler heads the U.N. inspection program known as UNSCOM. And he's just returned from meetings with officials in Iraq. Amb. Butler reported today to the U.N. Security Council on his trip, which was aimed at breaking the deadlock over access to presidential palaces and other sites. Amb. Butler joins us from the U.N..
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
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Reduced access to suspected weapons sites?
Welcome, Mr. Ambassador. Reading your report to the Security Council, sir, one might easily conclude that at this point the U.N. inspection team has actually less access to its sites than it used to. Is that a fair reading?
RICHARD BUTLER, Chief U.N. Weapons Inspector: Well, I'm not sure that it is quite fair. We've still got some serious problems, however. Iraq has given us now five categories of sites, and with respect to the third of them, called presidential and national sovereign sites, they've simply said as an absolute that will never be permitted to inspect such places now. The law passed by the Security Council says that we should be able to go anywhere at any time. So that's a pretty elemental conflict.
In some other parts of our work I think we were able to get a slight improvement in the conditions under which we would inspect the second category there, sites that Iraq decides to call "sensitive," for national security reasons.
PHIL PONCE: As far as the presidential palaces, however, what are they exactly? Are they primarily residential in character? Are they larger in scope?
RICHARD BUTLER: Well, let me make clear the category is called presidential and sovereign sites, and the British ambassador in the Security Council asked me the question today much in the same way as you have. Is it just palaces? And the answer is no. It's sites that have a presidential significance or significance in terms of national sovereignty, so we actually don't know precisely, but it could include quite a number of government ministries of other buildings either for presidential and/or--and, therefore, of course, all the palaces, but presidential and/or national sovereignty reasons are simply going to be off limits to us, and this is a pretty serious matter.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Ambassador, do you have specific evidence that those sites, those so-called sovereign sites, have in them forbidden material, or are you just concerned because you don't have access to them?
"Our bread and butter is access."
RICHARD BUTLER: Well, the latter more than the former, although I wouldn't rule the first reason out. Look, it's a matter of principle. Our job is to find their weapons of mass destruction and associated programs and means of manufacture of those weapons and to destroy them. Now, it's just an unacceptable principle in this kind of disarmament work, that there could be sanctuaries in places in which, if they chose, and I'm not accusing them, but I'm saying if they chose, they could hide the--precisely the materials that we need to get to. That's why the council made such a clear law--talking about unconditional access, so the establishment of sanctuaries in this way is something that has to be a matter of grave concern to us. Our bread and butter is access. That's what we need more than anything else to get to the places, the documents, and the people, who were and have been involved in their weapons of mass destruction programs.
PHIL PONCE: Just to follow up on something you just said, you are suggesting that there is some information that they might actually be using some of these locations to hide things.
RICHARD BUTLER: Well, we have a lot of information at our disposal, and it's very important that I don't signal that in advance or up front. The way this business should work is Iraq should declare to us honestly its holdings of weapons. We then verify that. We do it by looking intrinsically at their declaration but also matching it to other sources of information that we have. Interestingly, in Baghdad, a couple of days ago, Mr. Tariq Aziz asked me some pretty direct questions about those sources of information. Clearly, they know that we are in a position of relevant information. So that's what we're dealing with. We're dealing with the need to be able to verify their declarations as against our information and to come up with the truth.
Is it possible to recognize Iraq's sovereignty while still carrying out weapons inspections?
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Ambassador, today the Russian ambassador said that there must be a practical way in which Iraq's sovereignty can be recognized while still granting access to the U.N. inspection team. Is such a way evident to you?
RICHARD BUTLER: Well, it's not easy to define, basically because the fundamental Iraqi contention does sound awfully like his establishing sanctuaries. Now, that's bad from the disarmament arms control point of view. They say the reason for this is sovereignty. Now, I mean, they're not alone in this world. Others face the same problem. For example, in the chemical weapons context, where there's a very important treaty, both the British, for example, and the United States has made clear that, if necessary, Buckingham Palace or the White House could be looked at in order to demonstrate the U.K. or the U.S.'s compliance with their treaty. That's a positive act, a positive demonstration that these countries are in good shape with respect to those treaty obligations. And they don't think that that's an abuse of their sovereignty. They see it as an exercise of their sovereignty in order to give a positive demonstration. We would prefer Iraq to do the same.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Ambassador, according to your report, Iraq says it has not one gram of biological agents or other weapons of mass destruction. Do you believe them?
"Iraq says it has not one gram of biological agents or other weapons of mass destruction. Do you believe them?"
RICHARD BUTLER: Well, I said to the council today and I wanted to be careful about this, but I said, may I say this to you in a soft voice, that that does not accord with our information, but, you know, rather than have a slanging match about who's right and who's wrong, there is a simple way for Iraq to make good that declaration. And I was in the room, and Mr. Tariq Aziz made a very solemn declaration to that effect, which is why I put it in the report, you know, we don't have one gram of that stuff. That's fine; that's a declaration. Okay. But for us to believe that declaration, we need evidence. This is not about words; it's about material things, and when we've asked for that evidence, we've not been particularly given it.
PHIL PONCE: Along those lines, one of the things that has gotten a lot of attention in this country is the whole issue of whether or not Iraq is producing anthrax. Is there any specific information regarding anthrax?
RICHARD BUTLER: Well, yes, there is. I mean, they, themselves, up to a point have told us that they have produced anthrax. We have records of that. We know the way in which you make anthrax and the basic growth media, it's called, that is used to breed that germ. We've got the records of that. We're in dispute with Iraq about how much growth media they imported and so on, but there's no doubt--including by their own say so--that they have made anthrax.
PHIL PONCE: During the three weeks that the U.N. inspection team was out of the country is there any evidence of any wrongdoing during that period?
RICHARD BUTLER: Again, Mr. Tariq Aziz asked me that question in Baghdad, and I gave him the best answer I could at that time, a couple of days ago, and I've put it in the report to the council this morning, and said that we're not yet completed a task of seeing what happened while we were forced out or blocked. So far the evidence would appear to be consistent with there being no foul play, as it were, but it's not over. There are one or two things that we still need to investigate, and to bring our picture to completeness, so I'm given an interim report to the council, and said that a lot of dual use equipment was moved, moved out of sight of our cameras, which is itself illegal, most of it seems to come back. At this stage, it's not clear definitely that that equipment was used to a bad purpose in that three-week period. But it's not over yet. I've only been able to give an interim report on that.
Negotiations with the Iraqi delegation: civil and businesslike.
PHIL PONCE: One can read your report and infer that the negotiations with the--with the delegation in Iraq was somewhat excruciating. Is that a fair conclusion?
RICHARD BUTLER: Well, they were tough, as I suppose they were always going to be. But I did report to the council that they were conducted in a businesslike way with a certain amount of civility. I wouldn't, you know, want to make comments about how warm they were. Obviously, we're going through a difficult passage, you know, a relationship. But I did tell the council that basically the discussions were conducted, you know, civil and businesslike fashion.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much.
RICHARD BUTLER: Thank you.