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Interview: Terry Taylor Discusses the Arms Inspection Process and What Might Happen in Iraq

Weekend Edition Saturday: December 7, 2002

What's Next in the Arms Inspection Process


As we mentioned, we're joined in the studio by Terry Taylor, who spent six years as a United Nations weapons inspector. He now heads the Washington, DC, office of the International Institute on Foreign Relations(ph). Mr. Taylor, thanks for being here with us this morning.

Mr. TERRY TAYLOR (International Institute for Strategic Studies): A pleasure.

SIMON: And Iraqi officials have said to you, and you have heard it said by them, `We have no weapons of mass destruction.' Do you believe that?

Mr. TAYLOR: No, I don't believe that, and I think it'll be fascinating when we see the results of this declaration. This is a pivotal declaration. This is, in fact, the last chance, as President Bush has described it and, I think, as Prime Minister Blair of the UK has described it, for them to actually come clean. And it's vital, in a sense, to get a proper assessment of what's in this document. But as a plain statement, `We have no weapons of mass destruction or prohibited missile programs,' that's just not credible with the evidence that's available publicly now.

SIMON: Yeah. Is this declaration that's being made--is it taken straight-faced? I mean, at some point will the US and British intelligence say, `But what about this? What about that?' or will they say it at least to the UN and someone will say it to the Iraqis?

Mr. TAYLOR: Well, more likely they're going to pass this information to the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission--that's UNMOVIC--and, of course, to the International Atomic Energy Agency as well. I think it's quite right that they didn't release information ahead of this declaration because it--one has to remember the essential point in the cease-fire resolution, which is still extant, it's still the basic document, puts the onus on Iraq to declare, show and tell if you like...

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. TAYLOR: ...and to dismantle. So the onus is not on the UN inspectors and the IEA inspectors or any other country to go and find if they can. That's not what this is about. So this Iraq's last chance to make a credible and verifiable declaration, and we've just got to wait and see if that's the case.

SIMON: Mm-hmm. One of the features of this plan under which this raft of inspectors, if I might call them that, have entered Iraq and have undertaken these inspections that are different from yours is that it was specified this time by the US and Britain that they have the authority to take Iraqi scientists outside of Iraq, and their families as well. How could this change the kind of information that's available?

Mr. TAYLOR: Well, I don't think that's as important as some have made out. I think Dr. Hans Blix, the head of UNMOVIC, the chief UN inspector in effect, I think, has made clear the difficulty of doing something like that, somehow the UN is a defector organization. And I think one can't guarantee that key people who know the vital information even want to leave Iraq anyway in the first place. And it's my experience of inspecting in Iraq and doing interviews that these indeed were productive if you went about them the right way. But if you gave the Iraqis a list of names and said, `We want to talk to these people in this room over here,' that plainly brought very little value because the people were coached and prepared or you were simply told they were not available. But we did create opportunities through imagination and surprise where we did interview people very successfully and got some very valuable information.

So I would say it's something that's useful for Dr. Blix and Mohammad Al-Baradi to have in their back pocket just in case somebody says, `I will tell you everything, but you've got to get me out of the country now.' You know, I mean, that might happen. And I think they might get lucky in that respect. But I don't think this is as important a provision as one might think.

SIMON: Based on your experience there, Mr. Taylor, what would inspectors need on the ground right now, over the next few weeks?

Mr. TAYLOR: Well, they need the results of this 11,000-page-plus document, and that's going to take them a little while. It will guide their future inspection effort, and they'll be matching it with the information they already have from the precious UN and IEA inspections, and also to new information they might already have or might get, not just from government, but from open sources. There's an enormous amount of information that certainly I as an inspector found immensely valuable from open sources. For example, if there are declarations about supplies of material to Iraq, maybe the inspectors, as we did, have to go to the companies that are all around the world to check that this is true, to check that quantities are correct and the dates--when this stuff was sent to Iraq.

SIMON: Oh, yeah, because they could report one level...

Mr. TAYLOR: Yes. Yeah. Yeah.

SIMON: ...and if that doesn't match up with what was sent through a vendor. I see what you mean.

Mr. TAYLOR: This was a vital ingredient in our success in the UN Special Commission. One mustn't forget the UN Special Commission was actually very successful. One tends to forget that because of the way that those inspections came to an and.

SIMON: Yeah. What role is there for US and British intelligence right now? Openly they are granted a role that wasn't true under your regime, was it?

Mr. TAYLOR: Well, no, I don't think that's right. I think that they have the same role. I as an inspector and many of my colleagues benefited from the hand-over in intelligence. And I have to say very clearly, not just US and British, but from many other countries as well, immensely valuable information. I don't think UN inspectors and IEA inspectors can do this just with their own information internally and what they might get from open sources. They do need the support of governments, all governments, and the UN resolutions make it place an obligation on all UN member states to give information if they have it that will help the inspectors. This is not just something done voluntary. There was a legal obligation on governments to give this kind of information.

SIMON: And in the half a minute we have left, Mr. Taylor, is there a difference in attitude that you can detect in the Iraqi government between this time and your time?

Mr. TAYLOR: Well, I think there's a similarity in one sense, that it's clear that when faced with a threat of the use of substantial force that might sweep the regime away, they feel they have to cooperate to some degree and they make a fine judgment as to the degree of that cooperation. So what we're experiencing now is something like we experienced in the early 1990s. And so I think the dynamic of a threat of the credible use of force is a key factor in this situation now.

SIMON: Mr. Taylor, thank you very much for being with us.

Mr. TAYLOR: My pleasure.

SIMON: Terry Taylor is former weapons inspector in Iraq. He new heads the Washington, DC, office of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, joining us here in our studios.

And the time here on WEEKEND EDITION is now 18 minutes past the hour.

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