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Negroponte Addresses Reporters

Aired January 29, 2003 - 13:52   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's move back to New York and the United Nations. Ambassador John Negroponte.
JOHN NEGROPONTE, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: ... to the proposed briefing to an open session of the Security Council on February 5th, where, in the words of the president, he will present information and intelligence about Iraq's illegal weapons programs, its attempt to hide those weapons and its links to terrorist groups.

So Secretary Powell does plan to be here on the 5th for a meeting of the council. And I would expect, although I don't know at the moment, that a number of his ministerial colleagues will also be planning to attend. Those details are being worked out as we go forward.

QUESTION: Mr. Ambassador, if your government is giving intelligence to the weapons inspectors to help them do their job, why have they not been able to find any weapons?

NEGROPONTE: Well, again, as -- we have been sharing intelligence with the inspectors. I think we've been sharing useful information with them. I think it has enabled them to focus their work.

But again, as we've commented a number of times in the past, it is not for the inspectors to go under every rock in Iraq and unearth weapons that the Iraqis may have hidden. The burden of proof in this resolution is definitely on Iraq itself to come forward and do two things: one, to fully and completely declare its weapons holdings and, secondly, to cooperate fully, unconditionally, immediately and proactively with the inspectors.

I made a fairly lengthy statement the other day and we've repeated on a number of occasions that we do not believe that this is the case.

QUESTION: Ambassador, Dr. ElBaradei has cast some doubt on the claims by the United States that aluminum tubes -- high-strength aluminum tubes and uranium have been imported into Iraq. Are you confident -- President Bush mentioned this yesterday in his speech -- are you confident that you're going to be able to make a case that these items are, in fact, used for a secret nuclear weapons program?

NEGROPONTE: Well, certainly on the question of the aluminum tubes, we believe and I think the balance of the -- the preponderance of our intelligence community believes that these tubes are of the fineness and of the kind of tooling and workmanship that is definitely consistent with use in enriching uranium. I didn't have a chance to speak yet this morning. We're going to resume session at 3:30 this afternoon. And the specific issue of the aluminum tubes is one of the ones -- questions that I intend to put to Dr. ElBaradei.

But if your question to me is, are we convinced that those tubes were designed and were intended for enrichment of uranium? The answer is definitely, yes. And I would add that just the way in which Iraq has gone about trying to procure those tubes would suggest quite clearly that they are seeing to do something illicit.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) Russian ambassador said he wants undeniable proof that Iraq is hiding weapons of mass destruction. Do you think Secretary of State Colin Powell...

NEGROPONTE: Look, I'm not going to try to prejudge the secretary's briefing. Obviously, as you know from everything our government has said in the past, we are convinced that Iraq maintains and continues to pursue its WMD programs. Clearly, Secretary Powell wouldn't offer to, and the president wouldn't have offered to have Secretary Powell come and make this briefing next Wednesday if we didn't believe this were the case.

But don't ask me to make the briefing now. He's going to be making it on Wednesday.

QUESTION: I wonder if you can share with us a little bit what kind of questions you plan to put to Dr. Blix this afternoon, number one?

And if I may ask number two, to what extent do you feel that Colin Powell's visit to the Security Council next week may render irrelevant the process of inspection?

NEGROPONTE: Well, with regard to the first point, let me put the questions to Dr. Blix and ElBaradei this afternoon before I signal them through the press.

QUESTION: If the secretary puts new proof on the table, as we have been told he will, question again, why has this proof so far not been given to inspectors to enable them to do their jobs?

NEGROPONTE: Let me just conclude on this note, let me just make several points. First of all, we think the time for diplomatic action is narrowing, the diplomatic window is closing. We feel that the time for decision-making is fast approaching.

The briefing, next week -- we don't have a specific timetable in mind. But the situation is urgent. It is pressing. The window is closing in on us.

Next week, Secretary Powell's briefing will be a part of that process. We also intend to consult with other council members, both at the level of Secretary Powell and at the level of our president, about next steps. So I think what you're going to see unfolding before you in the next several days is going to be a period of intense diplomatic activity, not only here in the council, but across the oceans between ministers and between our presidents. But I cannot foreshadow for you and forecast for you every specific detail at this point.

Thank you.

O'BRIEN: U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Negroponte speaking to reporters in New York at the United Nations, saying the diplomatic window appears to be closing, and thus opens up the door to a whole new level of debate over the issue of whether to invade Iraq.


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