August 31, 1998
Questioning both the United States' and the United Nation's resolve to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, U.N weapons inspector Scott Ritter resigned from his post after seven years of service. Following a background report, Elizabeth Farnsworth speaks with Mr. Ritter about his decision.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: In the latest development in the Scott Ritter story today Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz again charged that Ritter was a spy working for the United States and Israel. He's called on U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to launch an investigation. Scott Ritter joins us now. Thanks for being with us, Mr. Ritter.
WILLIAM SCOTT RITTER, JR., Former U.N. Arms Inspector: Thank you.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What was happening in your investigations that made you feel you had to resign?
WILLIAM SCOTT RITTER, JR.: Well, basically, is the investigations had come to a standstill were making no effective progress, and in order to make effective progress, we really needed the Security Council to step in in a meaningful fashion and seek to enforce its resolutions that we're not complying with.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Could you describe the most recent investigation that you wanted to undertake. Give us a little detail about it and what happened to derail it.
|Mr. Ritter's role in UNSCOM.|
WILLIAM SCOTT RITTER, JR.: Well, basically, the investigations that I was tasked with carrying out by the executive chairman involved looking at exposing the means by which Iraq hides their prohibited weapons and weapons capabilities from the special commission. We needed to expose this methodology so that they used so we could get at the weapons, themselves.
And the investigation has been going on for several years now, and this summer we were in the process of resuming these inspections, you know, in accordance with the agreement reached by Kofi Annan and Saddam Hussein in accordance with the Security Council resolutions that said Iraq had to comply or face severe consequences, so we're trying to get back on task. We had some very specific information, which led us to believe we could go to locations where we would find aspects of this hidden weaponry, of these hidden components, and also uncover how Iraq actually went about hiding these weapons from the commission.
We had very specific information, and we believe that if we'd been allowed to accomplish this inspection, we could have achieved meaningful disarmament results.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And why weren't you allowed to accomplish it?
WILLIAM SCOTT RITTER, JR.: Well, again, we have a problem with this-with the United States. On April 6th, the President of the United States submitted a report to Congress in which he clearly states that a diplomatic solution had been tried. We have a memorandum of understanding, and the marker's on the table now. Iraq must be held accountable for the agreement that they have signed with the Secretary-General and which was endorsed by the Security Council in its Resolution 1154. If Iraq didn't, there would be the severest consequences.
You had this statement on the one hand, but on the other hand, this administration's saying, wait a minute, we can't go forward with aggressive inspections because they will lead to a confrontation with Iraq, but let's understand the confrontation is because Iraq will not comply with the law passed by the Security Council. So we weren't allowed to do our job out of fear of a confrontation in which the United States would not be able to muster the required support of the Security Council to respond effectively or to respond in a manner which they had said they would respond in Resolution 1154.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Who specifically blocked the investigation?
WILLIAM SCOTT RITTER, JR.: Well, I mean, now we're getting down to who made the phone calls. The bottom line is the people held accountable are the national security policy team of the United States. Policy is made in policy coordination meetings, where the principal people meet. This would be Sandy Berger, the national security adviser; Madeleine Albright, the secretary of state; and other principal personnel from the State Department, from the Department of Defense, from the intelligence community.
They will meet and they will decide on policy issues. And it's this body that makes a determination that they needed to basically put pressure on the special commission to slow down, to postpone, to cancel certain operations because they would lead to confrontation, which the United States was not willing to step up to.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And how many inspections were blocked in this way?
WILLIAM SCOTT RITTER, JR.: Well, I mean, the list is actually quite long over the years. But since November there-since November of 1997, I would say that there have been a half dozen or so inspections, which have been either delayed or postponed or canceled outright, due to pressure exerted on the executive chairman by the United States.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Now, we just heard the UNSCOM chairman, Richard Butler, saying that there had been conversations with the secretary of state and others, but that he was never pressured, that it never crossed the line. Is that untrue?
WILLIAM SCOTT RITTER, JR.: Look, Richard Butler is the one that has to make that decision. He's the executive chairman. He makes the call. You know, that's his determination. What I will say is that, you know, Madeleine Albright, you just showed a clip of her saying that they've been the strongest supporter of UNSCOM. In fact, they're the ones who stand at the back of UNSCOM. That's absolutely correct.
And you have your friend who's supposed to be backing you up as you carry out implementation of the law that they're encouraging you to execute and that friend calls you up and says excuse me, if you try and do this job, we're not going to be able to back you up, we don't agree with this. I believe Richard Butler would be under an awful lot of pressure, whether he wants to state that that was the case or not, but you just don't go forward with an inspection when the friend that you're requiring to back you up says they won't support it.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Ritter, as you know, this change has been described by some people as tactical, that the secretary of state and others wanted to wait until they had support in the Security Council to move forward with these more confrontational investigations. What's your response to that?
WILLIAM SCOTT RITTER, JR.: This is lunacy. The bottom line is we haven't had-the United States hasn't had this kind of Security Council support for many years now, and Security Council support is eroding, eroding in large part because of a lack of American leadership. I don't know what they're waiting for. The Security Council is on a gradual, even a steep slide downhill in terms of its ability to support, or willingness to support the special commission. And there's no indication that anything the United States has been doing would turn the Security Council around. So I don't know-it sounds an awful lot like an excuse. It seems like it's a strategic pause, because it's been taking place for many years now.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Mr. Ritter, there were-were there requests to specifically withdraw you?
|Mr Ritter, a troublemaker?|
WILLIAM SCOTT RITTER, JR.: Again, I'm not going to avoid the issue. The bottom line is that because of Iraq's choosing, they have painted me as a troublemaker in an effort to distract the world's attention away from its failure-Iraq's failure to abide by its disarmament obligations.
In doing so they made me a lightning rod for attention, and there many in the U.S. administration of Madeleine Albright included, who felt that my inclusion on certain inspections would attract attention and would become the cause for conflict, and they felt that it should be the inspections, not the inspector, that are at issue, but they just don't get it. The executive chairman is the one who dictates who will be chief inspector, not Iraq. The executive chairman picks the personnel who are best qualified to do the job, not Iraq.
And when the executive chairman says that Scott Ritter will be the one who heads his team and Iraq doesn't agree, I think that's an issue worth fighting for, not because of Scott Ritter, but because it's the executive chairman and his appointed leader that's being affected.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And the Washington Post reported that you're the subject of an FBI investigation into some exchange of information about Iraq with foreign governments, is that true, is there such an investigation?
WILLIAM SCOTT RITTER, JR.: My understanding is that is, indeed, true. There is an ongoing FBI investigation against me concerning the work that I did on behalf of the executive chairman to carry out the tasks given the special commission by the Security Council.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And that investigation goes back several years, right?
WILLIAM SCOTT RITTER, JR.: My understanding is that investigation began on or about January 1997.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Any truth to the fact that-to the charge that you-
WILLIAM SCOTT RITTER, JR.: Absolutely-the charge of?
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Exchanging information with a foreign government?
WILLIAM SCOTT RITTER, JR.: Absolutely-truth. I was tasked to carry out liaisons with any number of governments by the executive chairman, and in the conduct of these liaisons there was an exchange of data. But the exchange of data was explicitly approved by the executive chairman. It was done to support the goals and efforts of the special commission and fully in accordance with the mandate set forth by the Security Council.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Ritter, does Iraq still have prescribed weapons?
|Mr. Ritter: "Iraq still has prescribed weapons capability."|
WILLIAM SCOTT RITTER, JR.: Iraq still has prescribed weapons capability. There needs to be a careful distinction here. Iraq today is challenging the special commission to come up with a weapon and say where is the weapon in Iraq, and yet part of their efforts to conceal their capabilities, I believe, have been to disassemble weapons into various components and to hide these components throughout Iraq.
I think the danger right now is that without effective inspections, without effective monitoring, Iraq can in a very short period of time measure the months, reconstitute chemical biological weapons, long-range ballistic missiles to deliver these weapons, and even certain aspects of their nuclear weaponization program.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And is it your contention that without a significant and realistic threat of military action, Iraq will not allow the investigations to begin again, beyond just the monitoring that's already going on?
WILLIAM SCOTT RITTER, JR.: Well, in this I would only echo the words made by the Secretary-General and other personnel back in February, who said that you couldn't have had the February MOU without the real and credible threat of military force. That's an obvious statement. You can't expect to enforce the law unless you have the means to carry out the enforcement.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Ritter, you've become a subject of debate in Congress already. People are calling for investigations, and this has been a very public resignation on your part. What do you hope to accomplish with this? What do you wish would happen right away?
|Reasons for resigning.|
WILLIAM SCOTT RITTER, JR.: What I want to accomplish from this resignation is to highlight the fact that it's incumbent upon the United States to exercise the leadership to turn this problem around. If the world wants to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, as the world has said they want to do in accordance with the Security Council's resolution, then we're headed down the wrong path. We're not going to succeed if we continue to move in this direction.
And by resigning in such a public fashion, I hope to expose the fallacies of this administration's policies and encourage a debate in which this administration might recognize that they are, in fact, heading in the wrong path, and seek to find ways to get us out of this mess, to turn the policy around, and get Iraq moving towards effective disarmament in accordance with the resolutions passed by the Security Council.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, Scott Ritter, thanks very much for being with us.
WILLIAM SCOTT RITTER, JR.: Thank you.