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Senate Hearing on Iraq

Aired July 31, 2002 - 10:01   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to get right to it this hour, As we said earlier this morning, have been following the hearings that are under way in the Senate this morning on Iraq, the debate. They are opening up. The talk this morning is about the threat that Iraq poses.

And right now testifying is Ambassador Richard Butler, a frequent guest here on CNN.

Let's go right now and listen to his testimony.


RICHARD BUTLER, FORMER UNSCOM CHIEF: ... Security Council's instruction to Iraq was binding under international law, and all other states were equally bound by law not to give Iraq any assistance in WMD, weapons of mass destruction.

From the beginning, Mr. Chairman, Iraq refused to obey the law. Instead, it actively sought to defeat the application of the law in order to preserve its weapons of mass destruction capability. The work of UNSCOM, the body created by the Security Council, to take away Iraq's weapons of mass destruction had various degrees of success, varying degrees, but above all -- above all, it was not permitted to finish the job. And almost four years have now passed since Iraq terminated UNSCOM's work, and in that period, Iraq has been free of any inspection and monitoring of its WMD programs.

Now, I have given this briefest of recollection of that history, because Mr. Chairman, I put to you and your colleagues, it shows two key things. One, Iraq remains in breach of international law. Two, it has been determined to maintain a weapons of mass destruction capability at all costs.

Now, we need to know, as far as we can, what that capability is today. First of all, nuclear weapons, although sitting on my left here, Dr. Hamza is far more expert than I am in that field, but I will say quickly what I believe is the case.

Saddam has sought nuclear weapons for two decades. Ten years ago, he intensified his efforts in a so-called crash program. The Gulf War put an end to this. Subsequent inspection and analysis by the International Atomic Energy Agency and UNSCOM showed that in spite of relatively deficient indigenous sources of uranium, Saddam's program was, in fact, when stopped, as close to six months away from making a crude nuclear explosive device.

Of the three components necessary for a nuclear weapon -- materials, equipment and knowledge -- Iraq has the latter two. On the relevant equipment and components, Iraq actually refused to yield them to the IAEA and UNSCOM inspectors.

The key question now is, has Iraq acquired the essential fissionable material, either by enriching indigenous sources or by obtaining it from external sources. And I don't know the answer, and I will say throughout my remarks, Mr. Chairman, what I don't know, as well as what I think is the case. I don't know the answer to that. It is possible that intelligence authorities in the West and Russia, and you all know why I mention Russia in particular, may know the answer to that question.

But what there is now is evidence that Saddam has reinvigorated his nuclear weapons program in the inspection-free years. And over two years ago, the IAEA estimate was that if he started work again on a nuclear weapon, he could build one in about two years.

Now I turn to chemical weapons. Saddam's involvement with chemical weapons also spans some 20 years. He used them in the Iran- Iraq war in the mid '80s and on Iraqis in the north, who challenged his rule, in 1998. UNSCOM identified an array of chemical weapons agents manufactured by Iraq. This included the most toxic of them, VX. Iraq's chemical weapons program was extensive, and UMSCOM was able to destroy or otherwise account for a substantial portion of it, of its holdings of weapons and its manufacturing capability, but, Mr. Chairman, not all of it.

It was particularly significant that following UNSCOM's discovery of Iraq's VX program, and the fact that Iraq had loaded it into missile warheads, together with other chemical and biological agents, it was particularly significant that Iraq then strengthened in 1998 its determination to bring UNSCOM's work to an end.

Now I turn to biological weapons. Iraq also maintained an extensive biological weapons program with an array of BW agents. Its attempts to conceal this program were most elaborate, implying that BW, biological weapons, are, in fact, particularly important to Saddam. I often thought there was a relationship here. The extent of their attempts to prevent us from finding something demonstrated the degree of importance of it. And if that rule applies, BW is very important to Saddam.

Iraq weaponized BW, for example, it loaded anthrax into missile warheads and continually researched new means of delivery -- spraying devices, pilotless aircraft. UNSCOM's absolute refusal to accept the transparently false Iraqi claims about what it called its primitive, failed, unimportant BW program, and UNSCOM's examination of the possibility that Iraq had tested BW on humans, these also contributed to Iraq's resolve in 1998 to terminate UNSCOM's work.

Finally, missiles. Iraq's main prescribed ballistic missile was the Scuds it had imported from the USSR. It also sought to clone those indigenously, and continually sought to develop other medium and long-range missiles. UNSCOM's accounting of Iraq's Scuds was reasonably complete. A good portion of them had been fired or destroyed during the Gulf War. But the disposition of a number of them, possibly as many as 20, was never unambiguously established.

In addition, Iraq was working, while UNSCOM was still in Iraq, on the further development of a missile capability, which would breach the 160-kilometer limit. I asked them to stop that work, but the general in charge of it categorically refused.

And there was another issue in the missile field, which also contributed to Iraq shutting us down in 1998. I had asked Iraq to yield to us 500 tons of fuel that would only fly (ph) a scud engine, and they refused.

Now, what do I derive from this (UNINTELLIGIBLE), Mr. Chairman? Quickly, six main points.

We do not know, and never have known fully, the quantity and quality of Iraq's WMD. Its policies of concealment ensured that this was the case.

Two, we do know that it has had such weapons, has used them, and remains at work on them.

Three, what it has been able to further achieve in the four years without inspection is not clear in precise terms. That is the inner logic of inspections. You cannot see what you are not permitted to look at.

And four, Saddam Hussein knows what he is working on. He always had, and the assets he holds in the WMD field. His refusal to allow inspections to resume has nothing do with notions of Iraqi sovereignty. It is designed to prevent the discovery of, and to protect, his weapons of mass destruction program.

Next, intelligence agencies might know more than they are able to say in public. Certainly what has been published of defector and intelligence reports confirms that during the past four years, Iraq has been hard at work, across the board, to increase its WMD capability.

And finally, there are a number of deeply disturbing possibilities within Saddam's WMD program, which need urgent attention, but especially these: Has he acquired a nuclear weapons capability by purchasing it from former Soviet stock? I think that's an important question. And second, is he working in the BW field on smallpox, Ebola and the plague?

Now, there is a question as to why does Saddam...

HARRIS: We have been listening this morning to some of the opening statements being made by U.N. Ambassador Richard Butler, who may know as much as anyone in the world about the threat that Iraq poses to the rest of the world, in terms of its stockpile of weapons of mass destruction and some of its programs that have been concealed from the international community for some time. Let's go now to our Wolf Blitzer, who is standing by in Washington. He is going to be covering these hearings throughout the day -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you very much, Leon.

Very, very ominous words from the former United Nations weapons inspector, Richard Butler, on a whole array of potential Iraqi capabilities in so-called weapons of mass destruction, perhaps the most ominous involving a potential for a crude nuclear device.

The former U.N. official saying that two years ago, the best United Nations International Atomic Energy experts were assessing that Iraq was perhaps two years away from developing the potential for a crude nuclear device. Well, it has been two years since then. Obviously, that is a source of grave concern.

And then the former U.N. official also suggesting that the Iraqis were moving full speed ahead in the chemical and biological area, as well as in the missile development, missiles that could be used to deliver those kinds of weapons of mass destruction.

Let's bring in the former NATO supreme allied commander, General Wesley Clark.

I don't know about you, General Clark, but that was pretty frightening, that assessment that was offered by Richard Butler.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), FORMER NATO SUPREME COMMANDER: It's a very clear warning that Saddam Hussein is moving in directions that will threaten his neighbors, and could threaten us as well. There is no question about his intent to continue to pursue his weapons of mass destruction programs.

BLITZER: Have you ever heard the notion before the Gulf War, before the Iraqis invaded Kuwait, August 1, 1990, 12 years ago almost exactly, that the Iraqis at that point were only six months away from developing a nuclear capability?

CLARK: No, I had not heard that at the time. Although, to be honest, Wolf, as a brigadier general, I might not have been in a position to have heard that at that point.

But I think we didn't appreciate how close the Iraqis really were, because when the Israelis attacked the Iraqi reactor in 1981, they were given credit for setting back and really destroying the Iraqi nuclear program. So I think what we found out since has been quite a surprise.

So it's clear now that this program was distributed across Iraq, and Saddam Hussein has had 20 years of time to work on concealing and protecting and developing these programs.

BLITZER: If Ambassador Butler is right that they were only six months away from developing that nuclear capability, a capability that would have had a dramatic geo-strategic shift in the region, it would it have changed everyone's thinking as far as Iraqi military capability is concerned, the question, of course, has to be asked: Why did he invade Kuwait at a time when he was so close to achieving that goal?

CLARK: It's an important question. My guess on the answer would be, A, that he wasn't confident that he was that close, and, B, he totally misunderstand the reaction to the invasion of Kuwait.

All of the speculation that I have read in the intelligence and other scholarly work suggests that he invaded Kuwait in order to rally Arabs to his side in preparation to move against Israel or to tighten up the noose on Israel. In other words, he was -- that was the first step in a later move, and I think he was generally surprised at the international outrage that the invasion of Kuwait, which he considered his 19th province, that arose there, and the U.S. reaction I think caught him really off balance.

BLITZER: All right, General Clark, thanks. We will be coming back to you, of course, as this important day continues to unfold.

The next witness who will be testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is an individual who knows a great deal about Iraq's nuclear capabilities. Khidhir Hamza was once in charge of that program. He later defected to the West and lives in this area right now.

We'll be following it all day, Leon -- but for now, back to you.

HARRIS: All right, thanks, Wolf, you got it. We'll get back to you in just a bit.




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