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Assessing the Iraqi Offer

The U.S. government has expressed skepticism at Iraq's latest offer to allow U.N. weapons inspectors to return. Will this proposal undercut U.S. calls for regime change? Two experts assess. <a href="bkgdiraq_9-17.html">Background Report</a>

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  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Here to assess the significance of the Iraqi offer, we're joined by former ambassador Edward Peck, a career diplomat who was the chief of mission to Iraq from 1978 to 1980; and Danielle Pletka, vice president of foreign and defense policy at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank. She covered near eastern affairs as a Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer from 1992 to 2002, which neatly covers most of the era of the sanctions against Iraq.

    What do you make of the Iraqi offer, does it carry with it the potential to avert war?

  • DANIELLE PLETKA:

    I don't think so. President Bush has said very clearly that the policy of the United States is regime change. The letter didn't have any offers about regime change in it. It contained a carrot for the United Nations.

    And I think that Saddam is hoping that he can go back down the road he's been down so many times before, which is to entangle the United States and the international community in process and to get the Security Council bickering once again the way we have been for the last four years. It looks, too, like he might succeed.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Ambassador Peck, does this offer, carry witness the possibility for peace?

  • EDWARD PECK:

    Sure. You mention that, Danielle mentioned that what President Bush is after is regime change, which I would point out to you has nothing to do with weapons inspections and certainly has nothing to do with the mandate of the United Nations.

    The United Nations is not empowered to undertake regime change, neither is the United States as a matter of fact. And if you wish to suggest that Saddam Hussein, who isn't stupid at the very least, has offered this inspections resumption as a means of delaying or perhaps even frustrating the United States' desire to take war there, I think he's doing something which is politically smart, and in my own opinion is certainly in the best interest of the United States, because I think going into regime change would be a catastrophe of galactic proportions for us and our friends, not just in the region, but perhaps globally.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Well, you know the area well. Did the Iraqi move surprise you?

  • EDWARD PECK:

    Yes and no. You know, Saddam Hussein is a pretty stubborn guy. People who become leaders tend to be pretty fixed in their ideas. And I don't think he gets even the kind of advice that our own President gets, because while in Iraq people might be afraid to tell Saddam what they really think because they fear for their lives; here it's with President Bush and they fear for their jobs.

    So I think that people have encouraged him, some of his friends in the region, who apparently do not fear him at all; it's kind of interesting to note, Ray, that the two countries in the world that apparently consider Iraq to be a real threat are not in the Middle East and the countries that are in the Middle East apparently don't consider him to be a major threat, which is the sort of thing that undercuts – undercuts our desire to get this regime change because other people don't see it as big a problem as we do in this country, which we need to remember is 7,000 miles away.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Ms. Pletka, does the offer, you mentioned getting entangled in process, bickering in the Security Council, does it possibly put the United States in a bind, where it looked like the tide was turning after President Bush's speech to the General Assembly, this may stop that tide change?

  • DANIELLE PLETKA:

    Well, that's clearly Saddam's intention. I don't think it puts news a bind. We need to be unequivocal. I think the Secretary of State and President have been unequivocal that there are certain demands that are being placed on Iraq. Those demands really have very little to do with inspectors, with all due respect to the ambassador.

    What they have to do with is complete and total disarmament. After all, the problem with Saddam is weapons of mass destruction, it's not the lack of the presence of inspectors in his country. We had inspectors there and still he wasn't disarmed. So I think that what the President and Secretary of State have made clear is that we have a series of demands, that we need a new Security Council resolution, that if we get that resolution, then we may be on the road to some sort of solution.

    But the likelihood of getting any resolution that will satisfy the needs of total disarmament, the human rights issues of the return of refugees, is to my mind very, very small.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Well, you heard what may be a wedge already driven into the Security Council, Secretary Powell referring to the need for a new governing resolution, and the Russian foreign minister Ivanov saying no, current resolutions that are on the books may suffice in this case.

  • DANIELLE PLETKA:

    And he was echoed very closely by the French ambassador as well. The Bush Administration, if it sticks to its guns, so to speak, will insist on a new resolution. If we can't get there, they made very clear that they're willing to act unilaterally.

    We don't have to have the say so of the Security Council; what we need is a resolute policy, because Saddam Hussein is a threat. His neighbors fear him dreadfully. That they don't have the courage to stand up in the international community and say he's a bad man is one thing.

    But in private conversations, they are dead scared of the man with chemical, biological, nuclear weapons, possibly nuclear weapons, and a total willingness, evidenced by two attacks on his own country and on a neighbor, to use them.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Ambassador, in that scenario that you just heard, it sounds like this is the first step down the road for the United States toward going if not alone at least with a much smaller group of friends at its side than it might have wanted.

  • EDWARD PECK:

    Well, this is the sort of thing that scares an awful lot of people in the world, since it's perfectly clear that nobody can stop us from doing whatever we want. But I think it's important to bear in mind that we do not have the moral right to undertake a change of government.

    More importantly than that, I think it will be catastrophic for all our interests in the region. I'm interested that you mentioned return of refugees. Is that an important issue in all parts of the world or just there? Because what the rest of the world sees is our nation engaging in a very active program of selective morality, where U.N. resolutions must be carried out with respect to an Arab country, Christian and Muslim, but which we don't demand be applied elsewhere.

    And there's a certain amount of, you know, dynamic hypocrisy at work there if you're going to insist that this nation has to do it this way but not other nations. And it makes people nervous about us. The country's in the region who do not like Saddam Hussein and may fear him, to which you refer are far more afraid of what might happen if you de-stablize that country. The process of destabilization does not stop merely because the colors on the map change. And that's an area where we should be seeking, above all, for our interests and those of our friends, the minimum amount of destabilization, not the maximum.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    But even if we go with an optimistic view of the Iraqi offer. Resolution 687, and I'm just pulling out quotes here, it orders Iraq to unconditionally accept destruction under international supervision of all chemical and biological weapons, unconditional destruction of all missiles with a range of grayer than 90 miles. Even this existing resolution, which is now eleven years old, could you see the Iraqis complying with that?

  • EDWARD PECK:

    They certainly came fairly close to it. I saw a piece in the paper where Mr. Ekeus, the Swedish chap who was in charge of UNSCOM in the beginning, said that all the missiles are gone, the IAEA says, you know, that there's no nuclear program to speak of. Chemicals and biologicals, the problem with those is that you can do anthrax in your garage, and so the Iraqis, and others, have said, well, now who is the person, where is she, or he, who will stand up and say I certify that there are no more weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? You cannot prove a negative.

    If the inspections had had in the eyes of the rest of the world a quantitative limit or a time limit of some kind, so that the economic embargo, which has nothing to do with weapons or war making potential could have been released, a lot more people would be on our side today. Two presidents have said publicly that the embargo will never be lifted until the inspections are completed. They didn't say that. They said until Saddam Hussein is gone.

    And that's what this whole program is, as you made clear Danielle, you want to get rid of Saddam Hussein and don't bother us with resolutions. He's not necessarily anybody we seek as a friend, but by his removal, the destruction of that country, could cause, I think, enormous problems for us throughout the region and perhaps throughout the world.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Miss Pletka?

  • DANIELLE PLETKA:

    First of all it's a disgraceful staple of foreign policy that we seek stability through dictators, and so I think if we get rid of Saddam Hussein and we manage to follow through and replace him with someone better, that is a moral high ground to seek. That's the first thing.

    The second thing is the embargo has everything to do with weapons of mass destruction, it has to do with trying to force Saddam's compliance, it has to do with keeping money out of his hand so that he can't buy the very weapons that he couldn't seem to get enough of prior to the Gulf War.

    Rolf Ekeus, the former head of UNSCOM, and Richard Butler, the second head of UNSCOM, have both said that they have absolutely no idea what Iraq has been up to since December of 1998 when they last kicked out inspectors.

    Clearly Saddam, who has been selling illegally $3 billion worth of oil each year, has been buying things with that money — he has tried to import component parts for centrifuges to enrich uranium, there's very little disagreement in the international community about that. The man himself is inextricable from Iraq's WMD program and that presents a clear and present danger for the United States.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    So for the United States even if international inspectors certify that there are no weapons of mass destruction, you're saying that policy of toppling Saddam must continue.

  • DANIELLE PLETKA:

    The policy of toppling Saddam doesn't have to do with the fact that Saddam is not a nice guy or we don't like him. There are plenty of people in the world who are not nice, whom we don't like. We have the rare confluence of a vicious dictator with weapons of mass destruction and terrorists who he is entertaining in his country. We lost 3,000 people last year. It's come a time in history when we have to pre-empt, not hope that we can get a smoking gun.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Miss Pletka, Ambassador, thank you both.

  • EDWARD PECK:

    Can I just say one thing?

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Sorry, sir.

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