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U.N. Experts Report Chemical Warheads Found in Iraq

Aired January 16, 2003 - 13:19   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: We're following the breaking story that U.N. experts report chemical warheads found in Iraq. We have Rym Brahimi in Baghdad. We also have Michael Okwu at the U.N. Let's go to Michael and find out what he learned from there.

MICHAEL OKWU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello to you. I can tell you this much, that the security council was actually talking about a great deal of issues, including the Middle East and Iraq, when, in fact, they have got the news here at the U.N. headquarters about the warheads that were found.

I want to show you live pictures now outside the security council, a great deal of anticipation. The climate is sort of a hot here, you should say. Essentially the security council has been talking about Iraq. Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the British ambassador to the United Nations, came out just moments ago to say that he needs to wait on the report coming from Baghdad, from the inspectors, but it sounds interesting.

Just moments ago the U.N. inspectors office released a statement to the press. We want to show that to you now, essentially reading, "during the course of their inspection, the team discovered 11 empty 122 millimeter chemical warheads and one warhead that requires further evaluation. The warheads were in excellent condition and were similar to the ones imported by Iraq during the late 1980s."

There has been some debate inside the security counsel about how inspectors should proceed. Clearly, this is going to supersede any of the discussions they were having this morning.


PHILLIPS: By talking to your sources there, Michael, I mean, what could this mean? I mean, is this just that bit of information that crosses the line, that may lead the United States in a different direction here? Could this speed up the process? They're supposed to meet on January 27 and discuss, you know, let's talk about that date and if this bit of news could maybe cause the process to move a little quicker here.

OKWU: Well, the United States has been pushing all along for this process to be resolved as quickly as possible, to go faster. The U.N. has been saying essentially to go slower. You mentioned January 27, that is the date according to the last resolution that was passed, that sent the inspectors back in after a close to four years, that essentially will have Hans Blix, the chief weapons inspector, briefing the council quite substantially about what their findings are in Baghdad.

We do know that Blix has been having some discussions with the United States about trying to move a little faster. Some of the other permanent five members of the security council not necessarily working in cahoots or working in coordination with the United States, agreeing with them that they should move faster.

But the very interesting issue here, Kyra, is everybody has been talking about a smoking gun. The diplomats here say that the resolution was written in such a way that one smoking gun will not necessarily do the trick, that you basically needed to build a body of evidence against the Iraqis. If in fact this chemical warhead turns out to be something in the U.N. weapons inspectors' conclusion that was certainly weaponized, that was being used in some way to wage some sort of war using chemicals, then you can be sure that the United States and maybe the other members of the permanent five of the council will be pushing, will be trying to say that essentially, yes, this is, in fact, a body of evidence. It may move things faster. We just have to wait and see, in the words of the British ambassador.

PHILLIPS: Well, tell me about the communication process between the weapons inspectors and the security council. Weapons inspectors are in Iraq, they're checking out these bunkers, these factories, these different areas. How often -- when discovering a piece of information like this or coming across chemical warheads, is it the type of thing where immediately the security council is contacted? Sort of tell me about the chain of command, and how fast this news travels?

OKWU: Well, there are all sorts of leaks all the time. There is a chain of command, but as you can see in this case, it appears anyway that the British ambassador, for example, find out perhaps from the media because the security council happened to be meeting when this news broke out.

But essentially there is a media operation in Baghdad that's been set up. The U.N. has basically split its teams between Baghdad and here at the headquarters. News coming from the inspectors is released by the media folks in Baghdad and then it makes its way here to the U.N. offices where they share that information with Hans Blix. And then it's really up to Hans Blix, the chief weapons inspector, if there is anything very significant to share that with the security council. He essentially takes his marching orders from the council.

So anything that he considers to be substantive goes to the security council through him and then they decide what steps they should take from there. But clearly, it is not an exact science. There's so many reporters here keen on covering this story and this was something that basically came over the airwaves to folks here at the U.N. and then made its way directly to the security council members.

Kyra? PHILLIPS: And so, now what do the security council members do? Are they -- now, do they sort of go into an emergency session or are they in a wait-and-see mode? Or what is the role of the security council members as this information sort of comes forward and further evaluation, at least on one of these warheads has to be made?

OKWU: Well, that's a really good question. The fact is that the council has been meeting pretty much almost every day for the past several weeks. So, they're in constant communication about what is going on in Iraq, and it's certainly within the five permanent members of the council and specifically Great Britain and the United States, there's always communication about what inspectors are finding or not finding on the ground and also about whatever intelligence that these powers may be sharing with the U.N. inspectors.

So essentially what's going on now is, the council, having convened on other issues, will likely bring this issue up. They will start talking about it. And clearly somebody will take the lead as to, you know, what we should do with this.

But I think I should echo the words of Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the British ambassador, where he says we have not seen the report yet from inspectors, we need to know a little bit more. He said, in his words, it sounds interesting, a euphemism, perhaps, but that is clearly the position that many of the counsel members will have as well, that it sounds interesting and they will try to reach some sort of conclusion about what to do about it in the coming days ahead.


PHILLIPS: Michael Okwu, at the U.N., thank you so much. We'll ask you to standby as we continue to get more information on this breaking news story.

If you're just tuning in now, we are told that weapons inspectors have found empty chemical warheads during an inspection of a storage area in Iraq. This happened just moments ago. We have a number of people working the story. On the phone with us now, former UNSCOM weapons inspector, Olivia Bosch. Olivia, your first reaction to this bit of news?

OLIVIA BOSCH, FMR. U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: Yes, hello. It's not unreasonable that they did find these. One will remember (ph) that on the 7th of December, the Iraqis provided their declaration. And we heard Blix, Hans Blix, say today, as we've heard over the past few weeks, that there have been several questions, questions that have remained unanswered. One of those has been that there have been several thousand chemical munitions left unaccounted for. So these chemical warheads could be part of that kind of stock that has been left unaccounted for. It is not certain either whether they may be new or whether or not they have been cleaned out. We have to wait and see from the inspector's report on that.

PHILLIPS: And, Olivia, as I am reading through the information, this coming to us through the wires, evidently one of the U.N. spokesperson said the warheads were in excellent condition and were ones similar or were similar to ones imported by Iraq during the late 1980s. Can you tell us about these individual warheads that were imported by Iraq during the late 1980s and what this can mean, these ones that have been discovered now and the fact that they are in excellent condition, according to one inspector.

BOSCH: Well, that they're in excellent condition could be either one of two things. One is that -- one of three things, actually. One is that they were -- when they were imported, they were warheads that had never been filled but they were in an assembly line, perhaps at some future date to have been filled. One, they could have been filled, but then subsequently been emptied and cleaned, and cleaned very well. And thirdly, they may be warheads that might have been -- well, they say imported in the late 1980s, whether or not they've have been new ones that have been either subsequently imported or otherwise acquired and not yet filled or cleaned. So I think we have to wait and see from the inspector's report exactly what range that these might fall in.

In terms of next steps, just to follow on a little bit from your previous correspondent, the November resolution, 1441, says that at any time either Hans Blix or Mohamed ElBaradei, being chief inspectors of the teams, or member states can provide a report to the security council. So the 27th of January deadline is not a fixed one other than that as a reporting date by Hans Blix. So, it is possible, given the various paragraphs in resolution 1441, that at any time there can be a report submitted to the U.N. Security Council at which time there would then be a mandatory meeting of the security council. So it might be one course for speculation is that the U.N. security members -- council members await a more formal report from Hans Blix, which would not be unreasonable for him to make in the next few days about this.

PHILLIPS: So, are you saying that that January 27 date could be pushed up?

BOSCH: Well, the 27th January date is actually a fixed date. Okay. Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei have to make a report on that day. But what the resolution also says is that at any other time, reports can be made to the security council if there have been acts of noncooperation, or other kinds of false statements have been discovered in the meantime. So what 1441 is, it allows for additional opportunities for reports to be made to the security council in addition to the 27, January date.

PHILLIPS: All right. Let's talk about these warheads. You're a former weapons inspector, so let's get specific. You brought up three possibilities here of what this could mean. One of the U.N. inspectors saying that these warheads were found in excellent condition.

All right, one option is that these warheads could be in excellent condition, but they were never filled. Is that a crime?

BOSCH: Not on itself. You see, what we're -- what this whole incident would appear to indicate --

PHILLIPS: Olivia, I am going to ask you to stand by.


JOHN NEGROPONTE, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: ... further reports than you have, so any reaction has to be on the basis of press reports. So I think I'd say that sounds like it's an interesting development. I'm sure that it's being followed up actively by the inspectors, and we'll have to wait and see what further develops on this question.

QUESTION: Ambassador, do you think that Resolution 1441 takes precedence over...


NEGROPONTE: We had a consultation on this question this morning in the council, and some of this is quite technical, some of it is not. Both resolutions are valid, both of them are in force.

I think there was a harmony of views within the council that, however we handle differences or nuances of interpretation, that it's got to be done in a way that maintains council unity on the one hand and keeps the pressure on Iraq to cooperate immediately, unconditionally and proactively with the inspection regime. And I think that was the almost universal message that came from all the members of the council who spoke to this subject today.

We also didn't come to any decision.

We agreed that this was a matter that we would continue to discuss within the council and probably take up again on the 27th or 29th of January, once we have heard the report from Dr. Blix and Dr. ElBaradei.

QUESTION: Ambassador, assuming no smoking gun (OFF-MIKE) is found, do you have a sense that this is an open-ended process of reports that Blix is going to continue doing or is there some kind of time line, time limit in your mind after which...

NEGROPONTE: Well, I really think that we've got to wait now. We've got this January 27 date. The inspectors are going to report on the extent of cooperation or lack thereof with respect to Resolution 1441 by Iraq.

As you know, our government's position is that Iraq's cooperation has been sorely lacking, there are many unanswered questions, and that there are many, many ways in which Iraq could show much greater cooperation with the inspectors.

But we'll just have to wait and see until January 27, and then we'll take it from there.

QUESTION: The discovery of some chemical munitions, even if empty, could be the kind of thing that the inspectors would have to report immediately to the council? NEGROPONTE: Well, let's -- you know, it's very difficult to react on the basis of just a press report. I'm sure that the inspectors are giving this their most rapid attention possible, and I'm sure that we'll be getting further information. But I simply can't enter into that kind of hypothetical proposition without having more facts at my fingertips. But I'm sure that we'll be learning more as the day and the week progresses.


QUESTION: When would you like to see Dr. Blix present to the council a work program that outlines (OFF-MIKE)?

NEGROPONTE: Well, we made the point today that it is important that the implementation of these resolutions is done in such a way as to maintain maximum pressure on Iraq to cooperate immediately and unconditionally and proactively with the inspection regime.

And we also said, in expressing our view on this subject, that no impression be left with Iraq that somehow we are slipping back into business as usual. And that was the key point that we made with respect to the issue at hand.

Question on the Middle East? Yes, sir?

QUESTION: The German ambassador just said that there's an idea out there to have a verification and monitoring mechanism for the implementation of the road map. Is that something the United States will support?

NEGROPONTE: Well, I think you're getting out a little bit farther ahead of anywhere than I'd be prepared to go at the moment. As you know, the road map has not been published yet, it hasn't been divulged. So I think it's premature at this stage to start talking about discussing various features of its implementation, although I'm sure these are questions that'll come to light in the weeks ahead.

Yes, sir? Last question. I do have to go.

QUESTION: Do you see any problems (OFF-MIKE)?

NEGROPONTE: Well, first of all, there are regular reports that are visualized under Resolution 1284. These are the regular quarterly reports.

We do have some question as to whether on the 27th of March is the right time to outline the key remaining disarmament tasks of UNMOVIC and to talk about an ongoing verification and monitoring regime, because we believe that that could leave the impression that most of the disarmament tasks had already been accomplished, and that was our concern about implementing that particular part of Resolution 1284 at that particularly time. We think...


NEGROPONTE: That is the issue we raised for consideration by other members of the council, but we've agreed that we will continue to discuss this, exchange views on it. But one thing I do want to stress is we look to handle this way in a manner that in no way undermines council unity or takes the pressure off of Iraq to perform under Resolution 1441.

Thank you very much.

PHILLIPS: John Negroponte, a U.S. ambassador to the U.N. addressing reporters about the latest breaking news here that we've been talking about at CNN, and that is that U.N. arms inspectors have found a number of empty chemical warheads and another one that still needs to be evaluated in Baghdad. This coming to us within the hour.

We're going to go now to find out what this means from a military standpoint. We've talked to Michael Okwu at the U.N. We've heard now from the security council -- various security council members. Let's go to Jamie McIntyre, live, at the Pentagon, our military affairs correspondent. Jamie, of course, everybody is wondering, does this mean we are one step closer to war?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, at this point, empty chemical rockets don't amount to a smoking gun. The key phrase here is "empty." Without any nerve agent inside these rockets, they don't constitute chemical weapons. But we're awaiting the evaluation of the U.N. inspectors about exactly what these rockets show.

These 122-millimeter rockets are the same kind of rockets that U.S. forces discovered in ammunition depots in the Persian Gulf, after the end of the Gulf war. As you know, there's no evidence that Iraq used chemical weapons in the Gulf war. But afterwards, U.S. troops at a chemical weapons -- in a munition storage area near Khamisiyah, destroyed a number of these 122-millimeter rockets, that upon later inspection, will reveal to contain both sarin and cyclosarin at some point.

Now, you can tell these 122-millimeter rockets. You can tell them from just a regular conventional munition because they've been modified to contain chemical weapons. They have a polyurethane inner sleeve, the have a special nozzle for putting the nerve agent in the rockets.

So the key question there for the inspectors is, were these actually chemical weapons or were they recently filled with chemicals or have they never been filled with chemicals. If they've never been filled with chemicals, then they're not really chemical weapons, they're just part of the apparatus or delivery system.

And then there's a whole question about whether these should have been accounted for and whether they were accounted for or whether they were simply something that fell through the cracks of Iraqi inventory. But, for now, the Pentagon has had no official reaction to this. They're just learning the news, as the inspectors are making it publicly available, just like the U.S. ambassadors to the U.N. indicated.

Kyra. PHILLIPS: All right, Jamie. And let's talk about 11 empty or these chemical warheads -- 11 of them -- and you made the point, OK, there's no smoking gun, they're empty. So, really, we have to look at that information, of course, and put that in perspective. But 11, is that a lot? I mean, can 11?


PHILLIPS: OK, it's not.

MCINTYRE: No, there were hundreds of these found after the Persian Gulf war. In fact, as I said, U.S. troops destroyed a whole stockpile of these, after the Gulf war, in part of what they -- when they went through, they were getting rid of all kinds of Iraqi munitions. They were just putting them into big piles and blowing them up.

It wasn't until after the fact, they realized some of these actually contained deadly nerve gas and then there was a whole analysis done about whether the U.S. troops could have been exposed to minute levels of the nerve gas after the explosions, whether that can account for any of the illnesses that some Gulf War veterans say that they've experienced, since the Gulf War.

So, as part of that process, they went back and looked at this, but the U.N. inspections that went on, basically, from the end of the Gulf War through about 1998, found other evidence that Iraq had put nerve gas, both sarin and cyclosarin, a mixture of those, into these 122-millimeter rockets. So, it's not unexpected that they would find something like this. The key question is, is there any evidence that they were used to contain deadly chemicals?

PHILLIPS: All right. Point well taken. Military affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre there at the Pentagon.

Thank you so much.

Now, I want to turn to one of our in-house weapons expert, Ken Robinson. And I think he was just making the point there, and when I was talking with the former weapons inspector about these warheads -- a couple, I guess, points to address -- Were they ever filled, were they filled, emptied and cleaned and, if, indeed, are these warheads new or just have been in the bunkers for a number of years? What's your take?

KEN ROBINSON, NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Everything Jamie said I concur with. In 1997 and I believe it was in August, there was a discovery of some chemical storage facilities at Ukhaider that were hit. UNSCOM went there with ground-penetrating radar at that time -- the precursor to the current, you know, UNSCOM inspection team. and when they looked down there and they dug up, they found 122-millimeter shells and a big inspection was done.

There's a good report on it on the Department of Defense's Web site called "Gulflink." The Central Intelligence Agency's nonproliferation center did an evaluation of it. It was part of the Gulf War illness investigation. And those rounds that were found there then -- so it's not surprising that you might find others at that location.

The United Nations weapons inspection teams have combed that area before. And probably, if we check back with them and check back with the nonproliferation center, we may find that this might be the same garbage that's just left all over the battlefield.

PHILLIPS: So when you say "garbage left over the battlefield," these are -- I mean, are these warheads that have been used or are they just kind of in stockpiles for maybe future use? What happened when they were discovered the first time around? Were they empty? Were they -- have they been cleaned out?

ROBINSON: Well, it was interesting. The Iraqis, during the previous war, recognized that their storage facilities might be targeted by coalition bombing. So the Iraqis moved their rounds out of their bunkers and placed them about 50 meters away and covered them up with tarps and sand. Then coalition bombing dropped on a lot of these sites.

And what they found at Ukhaider was that while they were bombing specific sites, a coalition bomb had errantly gone awry and it actually hit one of these locations where, through deception, the Iraqis had moved their munitions and a lot of them were destroyed and they discovered this by going back to the site, using ground- penetrating radar, excavating some locations.

And a very detailed report was derived from that, where the nonproliferation center of the Central Intelligence Agency was doing an item-by-item count, where they would try to track how many weapons were produced? Where were they produced and then where were they moved to and stored, Ukhaider being one of those locations. And so, it's not surprising to me that they might find more rounds at that location because they had done a very thorough look at that area in the past and possibly these were some others that were destroyed and, possibly through shifting sand, are now showing up.

PHILLIPS: So -- OK, then the fact that they came across these warheads, if it was something that was really a major threat, wouldn't the Iraqis have made sure that they had hid them in a much better way? Would it, I mean, as soon as they came across these -- the U.N. Inspectors came across, using portable X-ray equipment to conduct a preliminary analysis of these warheads. So, I mean, is it really that big a deal that they found these?

ROBINSON: In my mind, it's not, if these are the same type of rounds that were there in 1997 and 1998. It just may be more of the same. It may be a different location. It is a -- Ukhaider is a large facility. And so the -- I can't believe that anyone is going to go and jump to a conclusion that this is, all of a sudden, a smoking gun. This is simply part of a very large, dirty battlefield. The Iraqis were experts at deception. And these locations where munitions were destroyed, went in a lot of different directions and some of them were covered up in sand. And you know, we'll be finding stuff in that desert, probably, for the next ten years. PHILLIPS: All right. Ken Robinson putting it in perspective there for us. One of our in-house weapons inspectors. Thank you so -- or experts.


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