NEAL CONAN, Host:
At a news conference yesterday, two lawmakers announced that hundreds of weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq. Quoting from a newly-declassified intelligence report, Senator Rick Santorum, of Pennsylvania, and Congressman Peter Hoekstra, of Michigan, said that coalition forces had found some 500 munitions since 2003, mostly degraded sarin or mustard agents. Those are before the 1991 Gulf War. Charles Deulfer is the former chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq from October of 2004. He issued a massive report on his team's 16-month investigation into Iraq's nuclear weapons program. His conclusion: Iraq had no stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons and no capacity to make nuclear weapons. Charles Deulfer joins us now from his office in Reston, Virginia. Nice to have you on the program again.
Mr. CHARLES DEULFER (Former Chief U.S. Weapons Inspector in Iraq): Thank you for having me.
CONAN: The report says hundreds of WMDs were found in Iraq. Does this change any of the findings in your report?
Mr. DEULFER: No, the report - the findings of the report were basically to describe the relationship of the regime with weapons of mass destruction generally. You know, at two different times, Saddam elected to have and then not to have weapons of mass destruction. We found, when we were investigating, some residual chemical munitions. And we said in the report that such chemical munitions would probably still be found. But the ones which have been found are leftover from the Iran-Iraq war. They are almost 20 years old and they are in a decayed fashion. It is very interesting that there are so many that were unaccounted for, but they do not constitute a weapon of mass destruction, although they could be a local hazard.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. So these - were these the weapons of mass destruction that the Bush administration said that it was going into Iraq to find before the war?
Mr. DEULFER: No, these do not indicate an ongoing weapons of mass destruction program as had been thought to exist before the war. These are leftover rounds, which Iraq probably did not even know that it had. Certainly, the leadership was unaware of their existence, because they made very clear that they had gotten rid of their programs as a prelude to getting out of sanctions.
CONAN: Couple of questions. One of the questions obviously that this raises is why earlier UN inspections and indeed your inspections didn't find them.
Mr. DEULFER: Well, that's an interesting question. Iraq is a big place. Iraq had told us in an earlier job I was at the UN, they had told us that they had produced and used 101,000 chemical munitions in the war against Iran in the 1980s. We came to an agreement with them, we being the UN and Iraq; we basically accepted their declaration of these numbers. My suspicion is that the rounds which are being found now are ones which no one had accounted for, they didn't know where they were, and now they're emerging from the various bunkers that are being looted and otherwise opened up.
CONAN: Now, are these - you said these are potentially dangerous?
Mr. DEULFER: Sarin agent decays, you know, at a certain rate, as does mustard agent. What we found, both as UN and later when I was with the Iraq Survey Group, is that some of these rounds would have highly degraded agent, but it is still dangerous. You know, it can be a local hazard. If an insurgent got it and wanted to create a local hazard, it could be exploded.
When I was running the ISG - the Iraq Survey Group - we had a couple of them that had been turned in to these IEDs, the Improvised Explosive Devices. But they are local hazards. They are not a major, you know, weapon of mass destruction.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. And, let me ask you a final question, which I guess is a question about the political debate. Those opposed to the war say we went into the war to find these weapons of mass of destruction, and no weapons of mass destruction were found. Now, we have Senator Santorum saying in the Senate debate yesterday, you can't say that anymore - we did find hundreds of weapons of mass destruction.
Mr. DEULFER: Well, people want a bumper sticker or a, you know, a clear yes or no answer on this, but Iraq did not have an ongoing weapons of mass destruction program. They had taken a decision that they wanted to get out of sanctions first, as their highest priority. However, Saddam did retain the ambition to restart those programs as soon as he could. So the - you know, a reasonable question is, were the conditions which contained him sustainable?
He certainly was going to restart his weapons of mass destruction program if he had the opportunity.
CONAN: Charles Deulfer, thanks very much.
Mr. DEULFER: Thank you.
CONAN: Charles Deulfer, chief U.S. weapons inspector and former Deputy Chairman of the United Nations weapons inspection team in Iraq, with us today from his office in Reston, Virginia.
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