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Interview With Jim McDermott, David Bonior

Aired September 30, 2002 - 07:14   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Fighting words from Iraq, but it's not the Iraqi government doing the talking. It's Democratic Congressman Jim McDermott. He has accused President Bush of exaggerating the threat to justify a war with Iraq.
The comments drew angry criticism from Republican leaders, who believe Iraq's invitation to weapons inspectors is just a ploy.

Congressmen Jim McDermott and David Bonior are wrapping up their trip to Iraq. They both join us this morning from Baghdad.

Welcome back, gentlemen.

Representative McDermott, I'm going to start with you. You accused the president of potentially misleading the American people down the road. What evidence do you have that he would do such a thing?

REP. JIM MCDERMOTT (D), WASHINGTON: Well, the inspectors are meeting with the Iraqis today in Vienna, and they are about come back to Iraq. And the president says it's a ploy. I would suggest that he and Mr. Lott make a trip over here and have a look and see if they really honestly are allowing inspections.

If you want peace, then you've got to let those inspections go forward. As long as they continue to try and agitate and derail it, that's simply not good for the American people or the Iraqi people.

ZAHN: Well, let me ask you this, sir. The Iraqi vice president over the weekend made it very clear he is not going to accept any new resolutions. He will only go with the old resolutions, which means he would be barred from going into eight presidential sites.

Let me see if the congressmen are still with us. Congressman McDermott, are you still with us?


ZAHN: So, my question to you is, if the Iraqis are now saying that they're going to give the U.S. unfettered access and they're going to not let them into the presidential palaces, isn't that a problem for you? Do you have a problem with that at all?

MCDERMOTT: Why don't we wait until Hans Blix meets with them and comes over here and begins the inspection? I trust Mr. Blix to be a fair and impartial and professional inspector. And if at 60 days he comes back to the United States and says, they wouldn't let me into this place, they wouldn't let me into that place, that's a new circumstance. And at that point, we'll make another decision.

ZAHN: But, Representative Bonior, don't you already know that inspectors aren't going to be allowed into these places, when the Iraqi vice president says, no new rules, let's go back to the old ones, and the old ones prohibited the inspectors to going into those eight very sites?

REP. DAVID BONIOR (D), MICHIGAN: Well, no, we don't know that. What we have heard repeatedly on our trip from leaders of the government of Iraq -- the foreign minister, the deputy prime minister, Mr. Aziz -- is that they will have the ability to go wherever they want to go -- unrestricted, unconditional, unfettered opportunities to do that.

And today, the meeting in Vienna is to set the rules and regulations on which that will take place. And so, we ought to let that happen, rather than jumping to the conclusion that it won't happen, dooming it before it ever happens, and thus laying the pretext or the path to war.

The emphasis ought to be placed on trying to get this done as opposed to not getting it done, and we don't need pressure by Saddam Hussein or by George Bush or Tony Blair on the process. Let the U.N. inspectors do their work, and then we will see what happens.

ZAHN: Representative Bonior, do you trust Saddam Hussein?

BONIOR: Well, of course, Saddam Hussein has committed some very bad atrocities while he has been in public office, and we all know that. The question is not whether or not I trust Saddam Hussein. The question is whether I trust impartial observers, like Mr. Blix from the United Nations, to come in and make a good judgment.

We need people like Nelson Mandela and other people who have stature in the world community, who don't want us to go to war, by the way, to come here and look to see if the process is working. I think with the media, with the U.N. and with that kind of corroboration of what is happening, we will then know the answer and to where we are headed in the months ahead.

ZAHN: Representative McDermott, yesterday, Senator McCain suggested that to think that you're going to get unfettered access is a bit of -- joke is not the word -- but he is pretty cynical about that actually happening. And he went on to say that the last time inspectors were in there, it was a hide-and-seek game. They go to sites, and then Saddam Hussein would hide stuff.

Why do you think it would be any different this time? Or do you think it really would be?

MCDERMOTT: Well, you're seeing from the White House and some members of Congress setting up a self-fulfilling prophecy. They start by saying, it isn't going to work, they're not going to do it, they are liars. They're doing all -- they're setting it up not work.

Now, if you don't trust Hans Blix to go in and negotiate parameters that he can live with, and then to come and make these decisions, I guess we should give up now. But I will not do that. I don't want war. I want the process to go forward, and there is no reason why we have to do it tomorrow or the next day to declare war or anything else. We can let the process work.

BONIOR: Can I make a comment on that, if I could, please?

ZAHN: Yes, very briefly.

BONIOR: Senator McCain has his assertions, but the reality is that for seven years, thousands of inspectors went in. They did thousands of inspections. They did a good job, and then the process became politicized. This can work, and it has worked in the past. We just need better guidelines and rules to make it work.

ZAHN: Representative McDermott, we've got 15 seconds before we lose the satellite here. Senator Trent Lott accusing you of being "irresponsible," says you should "shut up and come home." You've got other critics out there suggesting that you're acting as a spokesperson for the Iraqi government. Your quick response to those criticisms.

MCDERMOTT: I'm speaking for the peace process. If Senator Lott thinks that, that's fine, but what I would suggest he do is get on a Royal Jordanian airplane and fly over here and take a look. He is talking from absolute ignorance of what's going on, on the ground. And I think he ought to be a little more careful about what he says in a country where we value free speech. Dissent is an American right, and without it, it's not a democracy.

ZAHN: Gentlemen, we're going to leave it there. Congressmen McDermott and Bonior, thank you very much for your time this morning.

BONIOR: Thank you.


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