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CNN SATURDAY MORNING NEWS

U.N. Disapprove Iraqi Deceleration

Aired December 14, 2002 - 08:02   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ARTHEL NEVILLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: First up this hour, a very busy day for U.N. inspectors in Iraq. Let's go to Baghdad now for details.
Our senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is standing by in the capital city -- Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Arthel, well, Chief Weapons Inspector Hans Blix taking a big step forward in the weapons inspection program, announcing that he's asked the Iraqis to submit a letter to him of all Iraqi scientists the U.N. may want to question. That letter to be delivered to him within about two weeks. Now, under the terms of U.N. Resolution 1441, U.N. weapons inspectors have the right to take Iraqi scientists out of the country if they think they may be able to provide them with useful information.

Now, Dr. Mohamed al-Baradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the head of the nuclear inspectors here, said that he wouldn't hesitate to ask any scientist to leave the country if he thought that would help their mission, their work here. But both heads of missions do say that there are details to be worked out, asylum for any scientist that leaves, a set of modalities to do it. It's something that Iraqi authorities say they are prepared to do but so far haven't submitted that list.

Now, on the inspection front, 98 different weapons inspectors inside Iraq. Almost a dozen sites inspected today, one of those a heavy industrial facility to the south of Baghdad. Employs some 3,000 employees. It lies over several square miles, makes engines, makes pistons, makes a lot of heavy industrial components. A team of nuclear inspectors believed to be there.

Also, a new step in their inspection process. A team of nuclear inspectors yesterday taking what are called hydrological samples. Now, these are samples taken a long way south of Baghdad in the river basins of the two major rivers here, the Tigris and the Euphrates. They test water, they test silt and they test vegetation. And these are called environmental type studies and should give a very wide indication, a wide catchment area, if you will, of what may have happened, the sort of microscopic radioactive particles believed to show up in these samples many, many miles away from wherever that radioactive work may be going on. So that will give the weapons inspectors a good indication of how much or how -- or give them a good level of belief, or trust, if you will, in Iraq's nuclear weapons component of its recent declaration.

Also here, a festival for poets from the region. Some 400 of them listening to an address by Tariq Aziz, the deputy prime minister. Aziz pointing out to them at this time while there are U.S. war games going on in Kuwait, computer simulated such war games going on in Qatar, pointing out that nobody in the region is away from the threat of the United States or other countries.

NEVILLE: OK, Nic Robertson, thank you so much for that live report.

CHARLES MOLINEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, as U.N. inspectors press for their, press their hunt for prohibited materials in Iraq, efforts to translate and analyze Iraq's weapons declaration continue. The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency says so far nothing really new has been found in the report.

For more on Iraq's weapons declaration, we're joined by Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Thanks for joining us.

What have we seen so far? Obviously this is extremely preliminary. It's still being translated. Any initial impressions?

JOSEPH CIRINCIONE, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT: Well, all the officials, both at the United Nations and at the United States, are expressing their disappointment in this supposedly full and complete declaration. It doesn't seem to be either. A lot of rehash of old statements. We were hoping for new evidence, new arguments from the Iraqis to explain what happened to some of the weapons we know they made, but we were unable to verify their destruction, particularly chemical shells, rockets and biological agents. None of that so far present in the report.

MOLINEAUX: Unsatisfactory is one thing. Is there anything that would qualify as a smoking gun?

CIRINCIONE: Not so far, and it might have been, we all hoped that there would be some new evidence here but Saddam has not been spooked into that. For example, the U.S. has not yet shared its intelligence with the inspectors. Part of that was a little bait, trying to get Saddam to come up with information on the hopes that he feared we already knew where he had certain materials. He didn't take the bait.

MOLINEAUX: Well, which means what? If that actually had happened, would that be of consequence? Or what if we do have variances between what is in this report and what intelligence already knows? Does that add up to a material breach?

CIRINCIONE: We're about to find out. I expect that over the next 10 days or two weeks the United States will come up with a detailed rebuttal of the Iraqi declaration. You know, we had thought that the U.S. had more concrete evidence than apparently we do on what Saddam has. Our intelligence estimates before the inspection process began were very definitive -- Iraq has this, they have done this. Now we're hearing from officials that well, the evidence is more circumstantial. So it is quite unlikely that anything in the next couple of weeks is going to give a definite material breach, a definite violation. Therefore, we're likely to be in for weeks or months, maybe as much as a year of inspections before we can say much with anything certainty.

MOLINEAUX: What about this call for Iraqi scientists?

CIRINCIONE: Yes...

MOLINEAUX: Demand that they be turned over, that a list be made. Is that a desperation move to come up with something? Is it a fishing expedition?

CIRINCIONE: No. This is, it's very encouraging to hear the U.N. inspectors talk about their willingness to do it and not hesitate to do it. And the reason is simple. Anyone who's watched a police drama on television knows that in police investigations often you get your breakthrough, you get your leads from information that witnesses are providing you, whether or not they were actually implicated in the crime or not.

It's the same with this kind of investigation. These U.N. inspectors are going out looking for physical evidence, looking for paper audit trails and talking to people. And right now what they're starting to do is talk -- and they've asked for a list of all the scientists connected with these kinds of activities.

Most they will interrogate in Iraq. But they have the option to take them out of the country, where they supposedly can feel safe, although they're, this is tricky business. You take out a scientist, his wife and children, what happens to his brothers and sisters? What happens to his uncles and cousins? It's a little more complicated than some people may think.

MOLINEAUX: And so far there have been no takers. Is there anything to be inferred from that?

CIRINCIONE: No. We're in the early stages of the inspections. We're just getting rolling. I mean we haven't even started getting the high tech equipment that the inspectors have been promising the United States, like U2s or drones or ground penetrating radar. This is the early stages of the investigation. No one expected the inspectors to come up with any, something in the first 10 days, two weeks. That's why I say it's going to take a few months. By Christmas we should have almost 150 inspectors. By January, 300. and they are combing the area.

As you just heard in your report, it's not just going to plants. It's doing environmental testing. You know, anyone familiar with industrial processes here in the United States or weapons plants know that we have environmental problems around all those plants.

MOLINEAUX: But absent any...

CIRINCIONE: Imagine what Iraq has done, dumping chemicals, dumping radioactive material. There are traces you can find of this activity even if the Iraqis didn't want you to find it.

MOLINEAUX: But absent any dramatic discovery or confrontation involving the inspectors, what do we end up with, a report from the inspectors or a report from U.S. intelligence that is in significant conflict with what the Iraqis are saying? Can the U.S. line up evidence and say we're not getting the whole story, material breach?

CIRINCIONE: Well, it depends what your goal is here. If you want to go to war with Saddam, if you're intent on removing him, well, then you're looking for some excuse to do that. But if your intent is, as the president keeps telling us, our intent is to disarm Saddam, then inspections can do it, step by step.

For example, while the inspectors are in the country, it's very difficult, if not impossible, for Saddam to do any ongoing weapons work, nuclear or chemical or large scale biological. These require large scale, very visible activities, easy to spot, easy to detect. And given enough time and resources, the inspectors can find the activity, the weapons that he's made in the past, particularly in the chemical and nuclear area. Biological is a little harder.

So we've got Saddam in an iron box right now. If we can keep up the pressure, if he can keep up even this level of cooperation, there's a very good chance the inspectors can actually get the job done.

MOLINEAUX: OK, thank you very much, Joseph Cirincione.

Appreciate your joining us.

CIRINCIONE: My pleasure.

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