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Bush Reminds Voters Why He's Prepared for Tough Ultimatum Regarding Iraq

Aired October 31, 2002 - 12:01   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: President Bush reminding voters this morning of why he's prepared so hard for a tough ultimatum governing U.N. inspections in Iraq. Hello, welcome to SHOWDOWN IRAQ. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
Joining me now with the late-breaking news is Rym Brahimi. She's in Baghdad. John King, he's over at the White House, and Barbara Starr, she's at the Pentagon.

In Baghdad today, the foreign ministry accused the Bush administration of plotting to control Iraqi oil while giving Israel -- and we're quoting precisely his words -- "a free hand in the war of genocide against Palestine."

CNN's Rym Brahimi is joining us now from the Iraqi capital -- Rym.

RYM BRAHIMI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, very strong wording indeed today from the foreign ministry. The statement was issued in the form of a public statement, quoting a foreign military spokesman. This is about as official it gets most of the time in Baghdad. Now the statement actually started by blasting the White House and the U.S. administration for holding meetings with the U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix and also with the head of the Atomic Energy Agency, Mr. Muhammad El-Baradei. It said that this was a strange precedence of two international civil servants to be going to Washington.

Is said also that the aim of that meeting was to exert pressure on the two men in order for Washington to gain support for its draft resolution, that it's trying to push the U.N. Security Council. It said that the draft resolution imposed conditions that were impossible were meet, that were -- I'm sorry -- unacceptable.

And also said what you quoted about this being a plot, not only by the U.S. administration, but also to allow Israel to have a free hand in the region. The main goal, it said, was for U.S. to be able to access Iraq's oil reserves. We know Iraq's oil reserves are believed to be the second largest in the world. So this is what they keep replying here, and they keep repeating this here in Iraq, and it also said , we are still ready to have the weapons inspectors in. The U.S. wants to lead the U.N. Security Council into war, destruction and killing, we want the inspectors in. So very strong language from here, Wolf, tonight.

BLITZER: Rym, what about this border checkpoint opening that occurred earlier today, pretty significant development at least on paper. Talk to us about that.

BRAHIMI: Yes. We were at the border point with Saudi Arabia a couple of hours ago. We've only just returned, actually. This is about a four and a half hour drive southwest of Baghdad. This is very important for the Iraqis, because it's the opening of a new border point for trade.

So far, even since the Gulf War, there have still been human beings basically coming and going, whether it will be Iraqi Muslins going to Saudi Arabia for a pilgrimage at Mecca, or Shiite Saudis coming to Iraq or neighboring Iran for pilgrimages in Shiite holy sites.

So this is going to be portrayed, it's going to be monitored by the United Nations that oversees the oil for food deals, and this is important for Iraq, because this is what allows Iraq to send the message that they've trying to send in recent weeks, that we are no longer the pariah and isolated state that you think we are. There is this international trade fair. The highlight of the international trade fair is, in fact, those hundred or so Saudi businessmen crossing the border today officially to come and present their products as the trade fair and exhibition of the products, which include ironically enough, foreign products from Europe. And so this is the message they're trying to convey by publicizing this event as much as they can, Wolf.

The border crossing was a simple ceremony. The trade minister was there, but it means a lot to Iraq in terms of image. It's their way of saying, well, we are breaking out of isolation, and we have regional support -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A politically very significant development, the opening of the border between Saudi Arabia and Iraq, given the fact that they were at war a dozen years ago, very significant, at least on paper. Rym Brahimi in Baghdad, thanks very much.

President Bush, meanwhile, is spending one more day on the stump while people in New York and Washington are continuing to work feverishly on yet another revision of their draft United Nations Security Council resolution.

Our senior White House correspondent John King is joining us now from the White House to bring us up to date -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the hangup now we are told is simply over a few phrases in the resolution. White House officials, State Department officials cautiously optimistic there will be a deal next week.

The hangup now is to how the how to put the terms "material breach" in the resolution. The White House wants the resolution to say, if there is any interference with these inspectors, if they go back in, Iraq will be deemed to be in material breach, period.

The French wanted to say that the Security Council will then consider whether Iraq is in material breach. The United States does not want that additional step. The United States wants it just as a fact, that there is another material breach by Iraq, if the inspectors are interfered with, still, most officials believe this can be resolved over the next few days, and they're pointing to the possibility of a deal next week. One sign of that, when Hans Blix, the chief U.N. weapons inspector was here at the White House yesterday, he met with the president, vice president, Secretary Powell, national security adviser Rice.

Among the items discussed we are told, U.S. officials promised that if those inspectors go back in, they will be given top shelf U.S. intelligence about suspected weapons sites in Iraq. We also are told Dr. Blix was urged to be aggressive from the get go, to immediately go to the most sensitive sites and put Iraq's commitment to inspections quickly to the test -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, Wolf, as far as we know right now, if this latest version is compromised with the French, is worked out, what is the status of a second U.N. Security Council resolution that may or may not be required before the U.S. would launch airstrikes against the Iraqis in the event those U.N. inspectors are interfered with?

KING: Well, the U.S. position right now is that it would go back and talk to the Security Council, consult the Security Council before launching any military action. What the United States will not promise is to seek Security Council approval.

What the Bush administration position is yes, if Dr. Blix say the inspectors were interfered with, the United States would then go to the Security Council and say, it is time to have a debate, it is time to authorize military action, but if that debate bogged down, if it became clear to the Bush administration there would not be quick action, the president would not commit to only acting under the authority, authorization of the Security Council. He will consult the Security Council, he will not be tied to Security Council approval.

BLITZER: All right, John King, with all of the latest diplomacy going on at the White House. Thanks very much.

With all of the war talk, though, the Pentagon is very busy readying the troops, and that includes those of us in the news media. Eleven years ago, some 1,400 journalists were sent to the Persian Gulf region. Could you imagine how many could be going next time, if in fact there is a next time.

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is joining with us more on this fascinating development -- Barbara.


The Pentagon is now offering some of the possibly most out-of- shape people, the Pentagon press corps, an opportunity to take a one- week training course in how to survive on the battlefield. The Pentagon says this is all just prudent planning for the next contingency operation, but certainly it is for Iraq. This course, we are told, will have military instructors, real military troops that will teach the basics to a number of journalists, and this will include everything from how to survive under enemy fire, how to recognize enemy fire when it's coming at you, basic concealment and cover techniques -- the things that real troops do on the field.

The highlight of this whole training course is going to be a five-mile road march with a 25-pound sack. Now that sounds pretty tough to most of us in the pentagon press core, but we talked to real marines earlier this morning and they, of course, just laughed, because they pointed out that real warriors, real people who do what you're seeing here, who really go out in the battlefield, they have a much tougher job. Marines training standards are something like a 25- mile road march with a 50-pound sack, and those Marines did volunteer to take us out in the field and show us how it's really done. We won't reveal our answer to that invitation just yet.

But this is all really quite serious business, because the Pentagon has made a commitment to try and take reporters out in the battlefield with the troops if and when action against Iraq begins, and the Pentagon wants to make sure that reporters are trained, that they understand what's going on around them on the battlefield, so they are not a threat to themselves or the troops that they are moving through the area with.

So this training is going to start later in November, and they're going to try and train as many reporters as they can for when action in Iraq begins -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Where will that training take place, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: There is going to be a number of bases here in the United States. It will be conducted by Army, Air Force, Marine and Navy instructors, and they hope to even have one session overseas, possibly for journalists who are already outside the United States so they can also be trained before they move to the Persian Gulf.

BLITZER: And as far as you know, Barbara, will the reporters, journalists who get this training, have to pass the minimum requirements in order to qualify to go with U.S. troops into combat?

STARR: Well, for the record, it's all voluntary. There will be no final test. There will be no report cards. There will be no pass or fail grade. They want you to take the course because they want you to be trained and know what you're getting into.

And I'm sure you'll remember, Wolf, back during Desert Storm, more than a decade ago, reporters who were in Saudi Arabia were encouraged to undertake physical training to learn how to do pushups, sit ups and a number of other things so they would be in shape for this kind of thing. It's very strenuous work out there, and they just want to make sure that reporters are fit, and that they are not going to have to medevac them off the battlefield because they collapsed from exhaustion.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr. In addition to that kind of training, of course CNN and other news organizations have specialized training as well for reporters and producers going into a hostile environment. We'll continue to watch that situation as well. I assume a lot of reporters are jogging right now, getting on their treadmills, getting ready, trying to get into some sort of shape.

Barbara Starr over at the Pentagon, thanks very much.


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