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Capitol Views

January 24, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT
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MARGARET WARNER: Just days before U.N. weapons inspectors report to the Security Council, the Bush administration is fighting a rising chorus of doubts from the public, and from its allies, about the wisdom of war. Among those urging the president to give inspections more time are some U.S. Senators who voted for the Iraq resolution last fall. Last night, Defense Sec. Rumsfeld and Sec. of State Powell met privately with senators to brief them and discuss their concerns.

Among those at the meeting and joining us now: Republican Sen. John Warner of Virginia, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and Democrat Christopher Dodd, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Welcome to you both. Sen. Warner, as you know, the president and his advisers are saying time is just about out for Saddam Hussein, and really for inspections. Do you share that view?

SEN. JOHN WARNER: Well, I think it’s very important that the president, Prime Minister Blair and others keep the pressure on. You know, we wouldn’t be here in this interview, had it not been for the leadership of those two courageous heads of state and government as they move to alert the world to the perils of this inventory of weapons of mass destruction.

We received a good briefing yesterday from Sec. Powell and Sec. Rumsfeld clearly pointing out and presenting to the Senate a case, which I tell you personally, I accept as a strong case to justify any force that the president and other world leaders may decide to use in the future.

MARGARET WARNER: But are you saying you think inspections do need more time or don’t need more time?

SEN. JOHN WARNER: That’s a judgment call that should be made after we hear from Blix with his report, which comes in on Monday, and their deliberations between our president, Prime Minister Blair, and others in the coalition that are, and it’s a large coalition, ten to fifteen nations that are willing to work with us.

MARGARET WARNER: Sen. Dodd, what is your view of the appropriate timetable here?

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD: Well, the language is getting a little bellicose here. And obviously the resolution that we adopted here in the Senate last September and Resolution 1441 that was adopted by the Security Council at the U.N., puts us in step with a diplomatic approach that would include obviously the work of these inspections. Now they have been on the ground here for a number of days, only recently have reached their maximum capacity. Our fervent hope is and I think the fervent hope of many people — including the overwhelming majority of American citizens and our allies — is that we give these inspection teams not only an opportunity to report next Monday, but also to complete their work. They’re asking for us; they’re telling us they’re going to need more time.

I think clearly the presence of U.S. forces in the region, the language of the president, those of us, including myself who supported the resolution last September, are making the case clear that, ultimately, if diplomatic means don’t work, that military force may be necessary, including unilateral force. But we need to understand that that option ought to be the last resort, not the first resort. So it is important here at this moment that we do everything possible to build stronger alliances with our neighbors and friends, we ought not to be debating with them about the wisdom of disarming Iraq. And it seems that more and more we are doing that. There seems to be more of a debate within the administration itself.

I would say to my good friend with all due respect, I was at the briefing and obviously we are constrained from getting into details, but I’m not constrained when I tell you that many members in the briefing were not satisfied with the reports from our two secretaries, that it was vague indeed. These are 40 United States senators, all of whom, even those who disagreed with the resolution in September, want to support this president, want Iraq disarmed, but felt very disappointed, quite candidly, with the information they received yesterday. Now it’s time that we get forthcoming with hard facts and evidence that we have at hand as to why Saddam Hussein is in violation of these resolutions. 1441, the resolution, in fact, calls on all member states of the council to share whatever information they have to make the case. We are not doing that yet. I think we ought to.

MARGARET WARNER: Sen. Warner, did you hear hard facts and evidence last night or was it vague, as Sen. Dodd thought it was?

SEN. JOHN WARNER: I respect my good friend from Connecticut, but I did hear them and I have been heavily involved as chairman of the Armed Services Committee with meetings with the secretary of defense, head of the intelligence agency, George Tenet and others. That case has been presented. It is there. I would just like to pose a question to my good friend. What is new as a consequence of the inspections that have been going on for some several weeks now, as a matter of fact two months really? And I also disagree with one point he said, the United States and other nations have been giving their intelligence to Hans Blix and his team.

But what I asked of my good friend is that the inspections were set up under 1441 to give, and the words are, to Saddam Hussein, a final opportunity to comply. We have not seen one step taken by Saddam Hussein to comply; rather it’s been a hunt and seek by the inspectors rather than Saddam Hussein saying, look, here is where it is, go look at it. Account for it and there is the evidence that we are complying. Condi Rice this week pointed out that the inspection regimes are well known in the world of diplomacy. It worked in South Africa, it worked in Ukraine, it worked in Kazakhstan. All of those countries said all right, we comply with inspections. Here it is. You verify it, and then it will be destroyed. That has not been done by Saddam Hussein.

MARGARET WARNER: Sen. Dodd, I’d like you to respond to the question he asked you about what further inspections prove. And I would like to quote to you something Sec. Powell said on this program Wednesday. He said it is not up to the inspectors to find a needle in the haystack; it’s up to the Iraqis to open the haystack and show us the needles. That gets to the burden of proof question, which is one of the big arguments – but address how useful you think these inspections are.

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD: Well, we obviously thought they were important. They were doing a very fine job until they had to leave the country a number of years ago. To use Sec. Powell’s language, the inspectors and I quote him are gaining momentum. He said that two weeks ago and therefore they ought to be given more time. Sen. Warner has pointed out there is a sharing of intelligence with the inspection teams now that is beginning to help. In fact, they can’t even handle the information they receive, it has been so much.

Our point simply is this: if we’ve made a determination as we did at the U.N. that this was the way to go when we supported or received the support on October 11 for that effort, our only point here is don’t walk away from this prematurely. I’m not suggesting to you or my colleagues that this is ultimately going to work necessarily, but it needs to be given the chance. The language we’re hearing and I say this to my friend this evening from him and others, is that you’ve given up on this. I don’t think we ought to give up on it. It is dangerous for us to be going totally or almost totally alone. There is a real risk of that.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me interrupt to get you to clarify. Are you saying you think staying with inspections is useful because they may say find something or are you saying it’s sort of a diplomatic matter to prove to the rest of the world and the American public that the U.S. has given Iraq and inspectors every opportunity, that that’s why you think…that’s the value of giving it more time? Which is it?

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD: It can be both here. And I would also argue that the presence of U.S. forces for international forces in the area — the buildup militarily also is of value here in making the case. We’re not dealing with a nation here that has been humbled by us yet. We’ve got serious problems here and I’ll restate again, I think disarming Iraq is critically important.

And if in fact the inspections teams can do both, that is put additional pressure on as well as identify the evidence that we’ve made a case for over and over again here and yet have failed to provide the factual information to support, then that is going to help us build the international coalition that we’ve got to have here. We cannot do this totally alone. This is a global problem. It is a global threat and really necessitates an international response. To do this alone, I think, would be a great mistake. Most of my colleagues feel that way and most of our constituents do.

MARGARET WARNER: Sen. Warner, what about that point that – and I know the White House says, or the president says, we are not going to go it totally alone – but are you concerned that if the U.S. were to go it almost alone, that there would be a huge price to pay in terms of our international relationship with other countries?

SEN. JOHN WARNER: Tell me what the price will be paid by the world’s humanity if we don’t do something to strip this man of these weapons? But back to your question. I think Great Britain is a strong ally, and it doesn’t quite meet your almost go it alone. They will be a powerful and strong voice. There are about ten other nations, and my good friend knows because he is on the Foreign Relations Committee and shares with me the knowledge, there are a number of those countries right in the region that are willing to take our troops quietly, to participate in the buildup that’s necessary. But I come back to that question — we have been at this for 12 years with Saddam Hussein. Those inspectors went out, I say to my good friend from Connecticut, because he kicked them out.

Now show me one thing that Saddam Hussein has done in the 12 years to comply with the earlier resolution of disarm, or the new 1441. He hasn’t taken one single positive step. In fact, I think it will be revealed that he has done a lot of things to thwart and make it almost impossible that Hans Blix today can even do hunt and seek much less audit and verify what he pulls back the curtain and shows us. That’s what’s required by 1441. Pull back the curtains, open the caves, open the houses and say come, run your audit and the account and let’s destroy it.

MARGARET WARNER: Sen. Dodd?

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD: I’m just saying look, the president wisely went to the U.N. in September, made his case. The U.N. embraced the U.S. position by going this route. It seems to me, letting these people complete their work for a little while longer is not asking too much. We’ve got 150,000 troops that are going to be put at risk here. We have to make sure when we ask them to do that and I think their presence there assists us, that we have the information necessary that justifies the case.

All I’m saying and those who have supported the resolution, by the way, is to give this a bit more time. What Chuck Hagel said today, what others are saying, these are not the opponents of U.S. policy, these are not friends of Saddam Hussein. Buying a little more time is in the interest of the United States, it helps us build the international support, it is I think, going to result in a better outcome for us here. That’s the distinction we are making here this evening. A little more time is not going to hurt us.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Sen. Warner, do you think the president has made a persuasive enough case now publicly, and if not, what more does he have to say to the American public?

SEN. JOHN WARNER: Well, I’m going to tell you something very frankly. I’ve been in the Senate now, this is my 25th year, and I have been involved with security issues throughout my career; formerly as secretary of the Navy for over five years and undersecretary. I think there comes a point in time when you’ve got to repose trust and confidence in your president. And the president has, I think, given an awful lot of information to the Congress, will continue to do so; will do his very best to establish that case before the American people.

Whether we’ll have that smoking gun as we did in the Cuban missile crisis remains to be seen. It is doubtful. So the bottom line is we are going to have to repose trust in our president and other heads of state to make that decision of whether we give them more time, or we have to use force as authorized by the Congress, which my good friend and I, Sen. Dodd voted for, and the United Nations.

MARGARET WARNER: Briefly, Sen. Dodd, your view on what the president has to say publicly.

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD: Well, you know, to quote a former American president, trust but verify here. We certainly have to trust our chief executive and commander in chief. Americans believe and we want to rally around all of this, but we need evidence as well as facts. Let me finish.

SEN. JOHN WARNER: To compromise…

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD: John, let me just finish here. You’ve got at least 40 United States senators sitting in a room yesterday, all of whom wanted to be helpful in this case here. And you can’t trust 40 members of the United States senate and share with them information that in fact verifies what is being said. Rhetoric alone doesn’t do it here.

I’m not expecting necessarily to have a U.N. ambassador stand up and hold photographs as they did in 1962 at the missile crisis, but you’ve got to do better than this, than what we have just been getting, a lot of language here, and frankly without some more detailed information, it raises concerns.

For those reasons, we ought to give this inspection process a bit more time here. And if at the end of that we have to act unilaterally to deal with this threat, we will do so but in the meantime, a little more time to allow this to work is in our interest and the interest of peace in the world and interest in dealing with terrorism and in interest in supporting the United States.

MARGARET WARNER: Sen. Dodd and Sen. Warner, we have to leave it there. Thank you.