NEWSMAKER: AMBASSADOR RICHARDSON
November 12, 1997
The U.N. Security Council's unanimous condemnation of Iraq's obstruction of arms inspections has led to foreign travel restrictions on top Iraqi officials. Margaret Warner talks with U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson about the Security Council's decision.
MARGARET WARNER: The Security Council today condemned Iraq for defying U.N. weapons inspectors and imposed foreign travel restrictions on top of Iraqi officials. The vote was unanimous, but the speeches that preceded and followed it were not. For more, we go to the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Bill Richardson. Welcome, Mr. Ambassador. All right.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
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You won this unanimous resolution. Now what?
A clear message.
BILL RICHARDSON: Well, the message that was very clear, Margaret, and that was that every member of the Security Council, including France and Russia and China, that had abstained on an Iraqi resolution some 10 days ago, are now united in sending an unmistakable message to Iraq. The key was the vote, fifteen to nothing, unity in the Security Council. It's a strong resolution. It's not just the condemnation and having Iraq returned to having full U.N. inspection activity, but also there was language that said firm intention to take certain measures unless there's compliance. There was also strong travel restrictions.
I think the message is very clear to Iraq that it now has the whole Security Council, the United Nations saying to them, you have to back off, you have to restore UNSCOM, the U.N. inspection team, you have to start behaving, and lastly that there are going to be consequences unless you do that.
MARGARET WARNER: All right, but the deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, put out a statement right after the vote that Iraq had no intention of complying and another senior official said, furthermore, they were going to expel the U.S. inspectors in Iraq. Do you have any reasonable expectation or basis for thinking they might comply?
BILL RICHARDSON: Right now, Margaret, there's a lot of diplomatic activity going on. France and Russia have been very helpful in moving--trying to move Iraq to acting in responsible ways. They now have to assess after the unanimous passage of this U.N. resolution that they're going at this alone. I think you have to give a little time to diplomacy in the message of this united resolution to set forth. Again, there's going to be a test. If they do expel the Americans or expel the whole inspection team, or if they try to politicize the issue, after having gotten this very strong message, then there's going to be grave consequences. Then there's going to be--once again--I think countries of the world, the international community, the Security Council trying to decide how we're going to deal with this, but, again, we shouldn't rush to judgment. The resolution passed a few hours ago. I think Iraq is going to have to assess its position. If they continue to be obstructionist, I would suspect there would be a strong response.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. So how much time is enough time?
BILL RICHARDSON: Well, I have been answering that question by saying that Iraq should comply immediately. That's the deadline. We don't want to get into days or hours. We think it's important now that the international community, particularly the countries that had abstained on the last resolution, perhaps sending a message to Iraq, that there was a little erosion in the coalition, the western coalition that formed the Gulf War.
MARGARET WARNER: Excuse me. You were talking about the earlier vote that they abstained on.
BILL RICHARDSON: The earlier vote was on additional sanctions for Iraq where France and China and Russia abstained. The were tactical differences. These weren't substantive differences, and it could be that Iraq miscalculated once again, in fact, that the coalition was fraying. It's not. It's united.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. But if they do continue stonewalling past a certain point, what other steps would the U.S. be recommending that the U.N. adopt?
BILL RICHARDSON: Well, there are other measures that can be taken--
MARGARET WARNER: Short of--
Military action: "The President would make that decision."
BILL RICHARDSON: --at the United Nations, but you know a lot of people are talking about military action. All I want to say is first of all the President would make that decision. Secondly, we don't believe that you have to have that material breach language in a Security Council resolution. We think that there's already enough rationale for any use of a sovereign state of taking those type of measures, but we're not ruling the military option in or out. We just think that now the Security Council has acted united, it's up to Iraq to respond. They have really not responded.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. But let me make sure I understand what you're saying. You're saying that--are you saying that as far as the United States is concerned the U.S. could go it alone without further U.N. backing for military action?
BILL RICHARDSON: Well, if you look at the resolution today, it says, "firm intention to take certain measures." Again, it's going to be a matter of interpretation. We don't want to signal that we're about to take any specific action of any kind, except this: We don't think that you need that material breach language in a future resolution in case a sovereign state decides to take any further action. We believe there's already enough justification, enough Security Council language, grave consequences in a resolution sent two weeks ago, to take that action. We wanted to show a united front of the Security Council to send a message to Iraq.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. But now today the Russian ambassador, the Egyptian, and the French, all members of the Security Council, said explicitly they didn't believe this resolution authorized any kind of military force, and they thought it should be handled by political means. How far away are you from any kind of consensus on that point?
Richardson: "A consensus has emerged."
BILL RICHARDSON: Well, we believe very strongly that a consensus has emerged; that the Egyptians today, if you listen to their speech, the French, the Russians said unmistakably that Iraq is violating the United Nations Security Council resolutions. The way to change that is to re-score UNSCOM, the U.N. inspection team, so it does it's valuable work. The way to deal with that is for Iraq to allow the inspectors tomorrow to operate openly with the Americans to put no conditions, to stop the hiding and the blocking. I think that has to be the next step before we get in a frenzy about military activity. We want to work with our allies, with our friends. We believe the old coalition is critically important. Fifteen to nothing was a pretty strong message to Iraq today.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let me just give you one other area briefly before we go, which has to do with the U.S. inspectors there. Now, there are about six there now, is that right?
BILL RICHARDSON: Yes, approximately, yes.
MARGARET WARNER: And have in the hours in the vote, has the Iraqi government taken any steps to expel them?
BILL RICHARDSON: Margaret--
MARGARET WARNER: That you know of.
BILL RICHARDSON: --because of the time differences I don't know what the latest is. We do know that today for the eighth time in nine days the Americans were blocked, but tomorrow, depending on Iraqi time after the Security Council resolution, I don't think Iraq has taken any steps, but we shall see. The statements by their foreign minister that you related were not encouraging, but let's give them a chance to react a united international community condemning what they've done.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. And now you did say if they expelled the Americans there would be grave consequences, but what if they were to expel the American inspectors and then said the rest of the U.N. team is perfectly--were perfectly willing to have them go back to work? I mean, is that a possibility in what we--
BILL RICHARDSON: No. There's no compromise here. First of all, it's a U.N. decision. And the U.N. is determined--Amb. Butler even here on your show--that it's all or nothing. The Iraqis can't dictate who stays or who goes, but their singling out Americans has been unacceptable. If you give into that, then you're playing Saddam Hussein's game. If the inspectors are going to do their work, it has to be fully with Americans.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, thank you, Mr. Ambassador, very much.
BILL RICHARDSON: Thank you, Margaret.