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Showdown: Iraq: World Awaits Address by Powell to Security Council

Aired February 5, 2003 - 10:10   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: We have CNN correspondents posted along the many points of this developing story, Richard Roth at the United Nations, John King at the White House, Andrea Koppel at the State Department and Nic Robertson from the Iraqi capital.
Our national security correspondent David Ensor is going to get us started. He is getting some of the first hard details of Secretary Powell's speech. He joins us from Washington with more.

Good morning, David.


Well, some of the evidence, of course, will include, as you mentioned, intercepts of conversations between Iraqi officials. These will show the world, in the belief of officials who I've spoken to, that the Iraqis were covering up, that there was this massive shell game going on, is still going on, that the Iraqis are seeking to move weapons, move evidence, move documents just ahead of the inspectors, and that clearly, they have ways and means of knowing what the inspectors are going to do before they do it.

This could include, of course, agents within the inspectors. It could include surveillance of the inspectors. Now, talking to officials about some of these decisions, they talk about a very difficult and complex process that's gone on pretty much day and night for the last couple of weeks, where there's a cost-benefit analysis that the officials had to make.

On the one side, intelligence officials eager to produce what they -- the best evidence they have, on the other hand, concerned about protecting sources and methods, and there were a lot of tradeoffs.

One the one hand, I'm told officials believed that some of the evidence that will be put out today will, in fact, cost the United States in intelligence terms. It will allow the Iraqis and other agencies to know how the U.S. collected certain intelligence.

For example, if you have the audiotape, the intercept of two Iraqi officials talking, and you play it at the United Nations and to the world, those two men and others associated with them now know that that particular form of communication is being monitored by the U.S., and it is likely that that particular form may not be used again for confidential information. So there will be an intelligence cost to the presentation that Colin Powell is going to make this morning. But at the same time, officials say, what's the point of having this extraordinary intelligence gathering apparatus if you don't use it when it really counts? And officials believe that this morning counts a lot -- Paula.

ZAHN: That's what I'm curious about, the extent to which Saddam Hussein might be surprised by the breadth of the eavesdropping that went on.

ENSOR: Well, there are going to be some surprises, as Wolf mentioned earlier. At the same time, there are some things that have been held back, I understand.

In the debate over what it was safe to put out and what was not safe to put out, there was always the consideration if the United States has to go to war with its allies against Iraq, we can't put anything out here today that might risk the lives of American soldiers.

And some of these intelligence sources, officials say, that might have provided yet more evidence than Colin Powell will present this morning, had to be held back in order to protect the lives, the possible risks to American troops -- Paula.

ZAHN: David Ensor, if you'd stand by, as soon as you get more information, we'll come back to you. Let's head back to the United Nations, where CNN senior U.N. correspondent Richard Roth will set the stage for us for what promises to be a dramatic morning. Everybody is saying this is the most important address by an American at the U.N. since Adlai Stevenson's well covered address during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Good morning, Richard.

RICHARD ROTH, CNN SR. U.N. CORRESPONDENT: Yes, history will probably write a very interesting story, depending on what happens, war or peace with Iraq. Chief inspector Hans Blix will be a very interested observer. He canceled a trip to Germany to be in the Security Council chamber. He's awaiting to hear just what Colin Powell has to say.

This is Powell about 15 minutes ago entering the United Nations headquarters after a short ride from the nearby hotel on Manhattan's east side. Hans Blix at a press conference yesterday was virtually pleading with Iraq to provide substance. Blix is going back to Baghdad this weekend, third trip in three months, and he had a rather ominous forecast if things don't improve.


HANS BLIX, CHIEF WEAPONS INSPECTOR: Isn't there -- it's five minutes to midnight in your political assessment.

QUESTION: Is it your political assessment? BLIX: Well, certainly -- ambassador Negroponte says that the diplomatic window is closing. Well, I'm listening to that, and hear others who would like to give more time, and I've said I would welcome more time, fine. But no, I mean, don't just joke, we all know that the situation is very serious.


ROTH: Blix said he needed Iraq -- quote -- "to give us hope." And he has key areas, Paula, such as U2 reconnaissance flights, interviews in private with Iraqi scientists, that it appears Iraq must finally agree with the U.N. weapons inspectors this weekend, or it might be, as many diplomats have said, Baghdad's final opportunity -- Paula.

ZAHN: Richard, help us understand the position Hans Blix finds himself into today, when he has said he has not seen any evidence himself to date that Iraq has tried to subvert his work, although he has seen evidence to suggest that.

ROTH: Blix yesterday said he's heard reports of Iraqi officials maneuvering weapon as of mass destruction. He never comes out and says, yes, we were told this by the United States government, and we're checking it and working on it. This may finally be the trigger that will perhaps get the inspectors in on the same page as U.S. intelligence. It's been a long struggle. The U.N. says they don't get enough, the U.S. says they didn't want to compromise sources.

But Blix would be interested in sites, specific sites -- quote -- actionable information that they can act on quickly. It's not clear that Powell is going to come up with site information. It may deal with just past history.

ZAHN: Richard Roth, thanks so much. Please continue to stand by. We'll be coming to you throughout the morning.

In the meantime, let's go back to Wolf, who is standing by in Washington -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Paula. The president briefed congressional leaders of both parties this morning on Powell's appearance before the U.N. Security Council. The greater test may be with the American people at large. A new CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll shows the majority of Americans by a more than two to one margin place greater trust in Colin Powell than the president himself when it comes to issues involving Iraq. 63 percent of those polled trust Powell; 24 percent said they trust the president more. Let's check in now with our senior White House correspondent John King.

John, can you give us a little flavor, what happen at this meeting this morning at the White House?

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we are told, Wolf, that the president came in and said good morning to the members of Congress, but it was mostly his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, who gave them a preview of the Powell presentation, not in the detail that Secretary Powell will get into moments from now at the United Nations, but she did layout from them the strategy and some of the material Secretary Powell will present.

Some lawmakers are emerging from it, said it was about time, in their view, that the administration instead of having speeches from the president and other presented what they called a legal brief, making the case against Saddam Hussein. We are told, in fact, that that is what Secretary Powell will do in his presentation, showing the United Nations Security Council satellite photos that the United States says are proof that Iraq has been moving evidence just before inspectors arrive on the scene. Also intercepts, audio intercepts, as well as transcripts of conversation, in which Powell will say there is clear proof Iraqi officials have been conspiring to hide information from the inspectors, as well as to coach scientists and teach them how to mislead and lie to inspectors.

Also Secretary Powell will make the case that even as Saddam Hussein said he has no weapons of mass destruction and promised to cooperate with inspectors, that Iraq has been trying to import banned materials, even in the past month or two.

Now the presentation, obviously, is critical as the president tries to change the political dynamics on the Security Council. Ari Fleischer, just moments ago, Wolf, in the White House briefing room, saying the president hopes the world takes notice of this presentation today, and then Ari Fleischer actually reading from resolution 1441, the Security Council resolution that sent the inspectors back into Iraq, reading the sections in which it is made perfectly clear in that resolution that a failure by Iraq to cooperate and any efforts by Iraq to hide things, to conspire to frustrate the work of inspectors, could and should lead to -- quote -- "serious consequences."

Secretary Powell will close his presentation today, we are told, by telling the Security Council, it voted unanimously to back the resolution. It must now back up those words and be prepared to go to war if Iraq's behavior does not change immediately.

BLITZER: John King at the White House. John, thanks very much.

Paula, back to you.

ZAHN: We're going to catch up with a woman who has actually been traveling with Secretary Powell and has insight into what else the secretary of state might have to say today, and that is our State Department correspondent Andrea Koppel. She joins us from the U.N. today.

Good morning, Andrea.


Well, right about now, Secretary Powell is supposed to be meeting with the German Foreign Minister Yoshka Fisher, who also happens to be the president of the Security Council this month. It's also a permanent member of the Security Council with veto power. Germany has not been supportive of a potential second resolution which would authorize war.

So Secretary Powell is going to be making a one final attempt ahead of his presentation to sway the German foreign minister. Having said that, this has been a week full of active and detailed work by Secretary Powell, as he preps much as a college student would ahead of a final exam.

Secretary Powell has been working really hands-on with members of the intelligence agency. He had a couple of trips, we're told, to the CIA over the weekend. He also has been meeting with the CIA director George Tenet as recently as last night. I'm also told he had a couple of thorough and complete run-throughs of that 90-minute presentation as they made final tweaks ahead of Secretary Powell's, what is arguably going to be one of the most important presentations of his career.

Now having said that, the audience that Secretary Powell is hoping to reach both here in the United States, many Americans still not convinced that war will be necessary in the next six weeks or so. But most importantly, also the international audience, not only members of the Security Council, the 14 other members that will be in the Council with him, but also many overseas, domestic audiences in France, in Russia, in Britain, countries whose publics are not convinced this really that this really is the tax to take.

So look for Secretary Powell to perhaps get up during his presentation, Paula. He's going to be wearing a wireless microphone. They made all kinds of preparations in the council yesterday.

They had -- they set up the slide presentation. They set up the microphones and the cameras for what will be, as you already pointed out, perhaps one of the most dramatic presentations in almost 40 years here at the U.N. Security Council -- Paula.

ZAHN: Yes. One thing we can't underestimate, Andrea, is the fact that according to a Gallup poll this morning, that nine out of 10 Americans will make up their mind about what military action is necessary against Iraq based on what they hear from the secretary of state today.

Give us some background information on what he thinks is the most important thing to say to convince that very special part of the audience.

KOPPEL: Really, they expect that there will be a little bit of something for everyone. All of those people, perhaps, who are questioning whether or not Saddam Hussein has, as the U.S. charges, an active weapon as of mass destruction program, most of the presentation will focus on that.

But there will also be a fair chunk devoted to allegations of links between Iraq and terrorist groups, as well as human rights allegations.

So, depending upon what particular audience might be looking for, the U.S. is hoping that by the time Secretary Powell completes this hour and a half long presentation, they will have heard enough so that those fence-sitters decide, as the U.S. hopes, that there is enough evidence there to support the U.S. case -- Paula.

ZAHN: Thank you so much, Andrea Koppel.

Right now, we head back to Wolf, who is in our Washington bureau.

BLITZER: Paula, Iraq, of course, is already attacking the U.S. case, saying the White House has fabricated evidence. In a rare one- on-one broadcast with a retired British lawmaker and antiwar activist, the Iraqi leader says Saddam Hussein says the accusations of forbidden weapons are nothing but a Washington sham designed to seize Iraqi oil.

Let's go straight to the Iraqi capital, Baghdad. That's where our CNN senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is standing by.

Are they anticipating any surprises from their point of view, the Iraqis, Nic?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. U.N. CORRESPONDENT: Difficult to tell, Wolf. They're certainly going to scrutinize this more carefully than they've scrutinized anything in the past, but if the indications we've been given so far are accurate, we'll get comment much more quickly from top Iraqi officials than we've seen in the past.

This view that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction stretches right from the top, President Saddam Hussein, all the way down to the people on the street here.

I was in tea houses earlier on today in Baghdad, talking with some of the intellectuals here, and they all told me this is rubbish, it's all lies. Everyone here sees this as a very black and white issue -- Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction.

Now, the officials that we get to talk to here, President Saddam Hussein's top scientific adviser has said that he believes any satellite image will be fabricated, that any audiotape recording of phone conversations will be cut, will be doctored, will be manufactured. They have absolutely no faith that what they're going to hear from Secretary of State Colin Powell will be the truth.

Indeed, when you listen to President Saddam Hussein speaking, as he did over the weekend, he said, again, Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction, and challenged the international community to prove it.


SADDAM HUSSEIN, IRAQI PRESIDENT: These weapons are not an Aspirin that someone can hide in his pocket. These are weapons of mass destruction. It is very simple to prove whether Iraq has any chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. We said it before and we'll say it again, Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROBERTSON: Now Iraqi officials say that they are going to react to whatever Colin Powell says. They also say that they're going to ask the U.N. inspectors here to verify whatever he puts forward -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Nic, the average Iraqi who lives anyplace in Baghdad or anyplace else around the country, will he or she be able to hear what the secretary of state is saying? I assume Iraqi Television, Iraqi Radio certainly not going to broadcast it. But what are the capabilities of Iraqis to be able to listen to this upcoming 90-minute address by the secretary of state?

ROBERTSON: Well, there are some international radio broadcasts that do reach into Iraq, and people do listen to them very closely, and they will be listening if they can to a live broadcast or recording of it afterwards.

People here do focus a lot of what their attention on those international broadcasts. Of course, the daily broadcasts here, the news, very unlikely to cover Colin Powell's speech.

But people here will be keen to hear how it's presented. But the daily filter, the daily way that they see the news coming to them, the newspapers, the radio, the television here, it presents for them one picture, and that picture up until now has been that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction, whatever Colin Powell says is lies.

BLITZER: Nic Robertson, he's going to be with us all day in Baghdad. Nic, thanks very much.



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