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Interview: Ambassador Richard Haass Discusses The Current State Of Affairs In Iraq Situation

Weekend Edition Saturday: December 21 2002

'Flaws' in Iraq Arms Document Add to War Talk


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Coming up, US military broadcasts to the people of Iraq include announcements and love songs. There's a new format.

But first, the prospect of war with Iraq seemed to draw closer this week. President Bush said yesterday that Iraq's recent 12,000-page weapons declaration shows that Saddam Hussein is not serious about disarmament. And on Thursday, Secretary of State Colin Powell said that Iraq's report was full of lies and omissions. He declared that Iraq was in material breach of a UN disarmament resolution for failing to disclose its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and said that unless Iraq comes clean, quote, "We should be very discouraged with respect to the prospects of finding a peaceful solution."

We're joined now by Ambassador Richard Haass, director of policy planning for the State Department.

Ambassador Haass, thanks so much for being with us.

Ambassador RICHARD HAASS (Directory of Policy Planning, State Department): Good to be with you.

SIMON: And can you share with us what the State Department, anybody who's willing to be identified or not, identifies themselves as the most serious flaws in this report?

Amb. HAASS: Well, these are essentially flaws of omission. There's all sorts of evidence over the years, for example, that Iraq imported certain technologies, certain items that would be necessary, say, for the production of chemicals or biological weapons. Those sorts of things don't show up in the report. There's also, over the years, from inspections we know that certain capabilities existed. Again, there's no record of those in the report.

SIMON: A question which may no longer be hypothetical: If Iraq refuses to revise this report in any way, but nevertheless permits UN inspectors wherever they want to go, and if the US and Britain and perhaps other nations supply intelligence information, is there still a diplomatic solution available?

Amb. HAASS: Well, the short answer is yes in the sense that, you know, the window hasn't closed, and all along the secretary of State and the president have said that Resolution 1441, this declaration constitute a diplomatic track, but only if Iraq chooses to avail itself of it. I think also, though, as time passes with this declaration, it seems to be the Iraqi regime is not taking advantage of this diplomatic opportunity, but at the end of the day, it's going to be up to the president and leaders of other governments to decide how to respond to continued Iraq non-compliance.

SIMON: Is the United States, to the best of your knowledge, sharing intelligence information with the UN inspection team that could guide them on the ground?

Amb. HAASS: That process has begun, yes.

SIMON: OK. So it's possible that despite this report, some sites could be identified and UN inspectors might want to pay them a visit.

Amb. HAASS: All member states of the United Nations are asked to provide any information that could assist the various UN inspection teams, and then we would obviously not simply hope, but expect, the various teams to professionally take advantage of any leads that they have.

SIMON: There seems to be a difference of opinion, at least enunciated, between Hans Blix, the chief of the UN inspection team, and the US and Britain over the whole matter of spiriting out Iraqi scientists to be interrogated. Mr. Blix seems to think there are a lot of problems with that. The United States and Britain seem to think this is an essential part of the program.

Amb. HAASS: When the entire inspection process was devised, roughly--What?--12 years ago now, the whole idea that this was meant to be a cooperative endeavor; that after the Gulf War that the Iraqi government was going to meet its international obligations and demonstrate that it didn't possess any precluded or prohibited chemical, biological, nuclear technologies, any missiles beyond a certain range and so forth. That's clearly not the case.

What we have now is a truly non-cooperative or adversarial process where the Iraqis have now spent more than a decade concealing, burying things under the ground; lying to international inspectors. So as a result, that places a premium, first of all, as we were just talking about, on the provision of information and intelligence by the United States and other governments to the inspectors. And, secondly, the only other way to really find out what is going on, since the Iraqis clearly are not prepared to volunteer honest information, is through access to the people in the know--the Iraqi citizens, the Iraqi individuals, who've essentially been building or manufacturing certain items.

SIMON: But that sounds like a very grave and complicated business--Doesn't it?--to get fair testimony from people who must be concerned about the security of their families, even if they're safe individually?

Amb. HAASS: Very much so. But, again, I don't see much choice. I really do think, unless the inspectors just simply happen to have an awfully lucky afternoon, I think the only real way we're likely to get to the bottom of this is either through intelligence provided to the inspectors or through information gleaned from the Iraqis directly involved in these prohibited programs.

SIMON: Mr. Ambassador, a few weeks ago, President Bush suggested, a bit surprisingly to some people, that the United States could accept Saddam Hussein continuing in office if he complied with UN orders and disarmed. And Prime Minister Blair said as much a couple of weeks ago. Does it become logically difficult to maintain that the US and Britain and perhaps other nations of the Security Council would accept Saddam Hussein remaining in power under any circumstance?

Amb. HAASS: The way I would put it is that in the current context, the emphasis is bringing about Iraqi disarmament. If the current government of Iraq wakes up tomorrow or the next day and decides to, in fact, change course and to begin to comply, the United States and, I think, the international community would accept that.

SIMON: Ambassador Haass, do you think a coup's in any way likely? I meant in Iraq, not here.

Amb. HAASS: You know, to paraphrase Yogi Berra, if I'm allowed to use a sports metaphor, you know, predictions are always tough, particularly about the future. This ought to be one of the most successful countries in the region. It's got tremendous oil reserves--the world's second-largest. It's got water. It's got good soil. And it has an extraordinarily talented and well-educated people. That said, Saddam has dedicated tremendous resources to his own power. That's what this is about. This is as close to a totalitarian regime as you find anywhere in the world, with the possible exception of North Korea. So a coup that would get rid of this regime is, obviously, extraordinarily difficult to carry out. It's possible that in a different context--if there were, for example, a conflict, if things come to the use of force--it's possible in such a context as that that some Iraqis might decide they would be better off challenging the regime rather than have their people and their country face the fury of the international community.

SIMON: Ambassador Richard Haass, who's director of policy planning for the US State Department, thanks very much for being with us.

Amb. HAASS: Thank you for having me.

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