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News Conference by British Foreign Secretary

Aired March 6, 2003 - 13:22   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, we want to take you to that news conference we were telling you about at the beginning of the show with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.
Let's listen to what he has to say.


JACK STRAW, BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY: Tomorrow the United Nations Security Council will hear reports from Dr. Blix and Dr. ElBaradei on the extent of Iraq's compliance with Resolution 1441 and the host of resolutions previously passed by the Security Council going back to 1991.

It's worth recalling that 1441 asked for full, active and immediate compliance. It asked the Iraqi regime to account for all aspects of its chemical and biological weapons, its ballistic missiles and other delivery systems, the, quote, "holdings and precise locations of such weapons, components, subcomponents, stocks of agents and related material, and the locations and work of its research, development and production facilities."

The one and only certain thing we know is that Iraq has not complied fully, actively and immediately on substance. And there is overwhelming evidence that it has made no serious attempt to do so.

And instead Saddam Hussein has followed his familiar pattern. First, conceal. Second, deny. Third, delay. Fourth, make the minimum of concessions, which you judge will buy time. And fifth, then conclude you've succeeded once again in keeping your weapons of mass destruction.

The process is currently at stage four in respect of some, but by no means all of the WMD holdings and its capabilities. In other words, what we've seen is that Saddam has been destroying some missiles, reluctantly, and at the last moment, but why not all?

And Saddam must be close to concluding that he's near to reaching stage five: that the international community is going to let him succeed.

But we need to be clear that in the coming days, if we take the pressure off, Saddam Hussein will never disarm and other dictators with similar ambitions will get the message that they can get away with defying the Security Council if they are prepared to prevaricate and procrastinate endlessly. And just ask people to think of the consequences if we allow Saddam Hussein to draw us any further into this maze. Once he concludes that the pressure is slackening, the concessions will stop, and I guarantee once the concessions stop we'll be back to where we were at the end of 1998 with the inspectors frozen out. And what will then happen is that the Security Council can pass as many further resolutions as it wants, like it did with 1284, and he will refuse his compliance.

STRAW: And then the Iraqis will never have to account for up to 3,000 tons of precursor chemicals; 8,500 liters at least of anthrax; at least 2,160 kilograms of growth media for biological agent production; 360 tons of bulk chemical warfare agents, including 1.5 tons of VX nerve agent; 6,500 chemical bombs; 1,000 liters of chemical agent for these bombs; and 30,000 missing munitions for delivery of chemical and biological agents.

Nor would Saddam have to properly explain why he was developing prohibited missile systems.

Why, even more culpably, he refurbished the prohibited rocket motor casting chambers at Al Mahmoun, and the chemical processes at Faluja, which had been destroyed by UNSCOM as prohibited facilities?

Why Iraq built the missile test stand at Al Raffa capable of testing engines with over four times the thrust of the prohibited Al Samoud 2 missile?

And what we've seen, and this comes up week after week in the reports of Dr. Blix particularly, is some attempt at compliance on process, no serious attempt on that full, active and immediate compliance on substance, and that those who have been able to read the report which the UNMOVIC produced just last weekend, on the 28th of February, will again be able to see that at the end of the report there is further chapter and verse on the failure by Iraq to meet its obligations.

And it's because of this failure that we have put down the second resolution saying that Iraq has relinquished its final opportunity to comply with the obligations which were imposed three months ago by 1441, but the phrase "final opportunity" was originally used over 12 years ago when Iraq was given until the 18th of April, 1991, not the 18th of April, 2003, to make a full, final declaration of all its WMD and start the process of its removal.

It was the council, unanimously, which on the 8th of November said that Iraq's holdings of weapons of mass destruction, its missile systems and its failure to comply with repeated obligations set down by the Security Council poses a threat to international peace and security.

If words mean what they say, the Security Council will have to meet its responsibilities for international peace and security which are fundamental to the operation of the United Nations.

Thank you. I'll take questions, please? QUESTION: On behalf of the United Nations Correspondents Association, sir, let me welcome you. Thanks for your statement.

I understand that the rumors that have gone around recently of an amendment to the resolution are unfounded.

Nevertheless, there has been a Canadian proposal out there that has attempted some compromise, there are variants on the Canadian proposal, and members of the Security Council who are considered swing votes have said that they could support something like that that would establish a deadline of perhaps a month down the road.

So my question to you is, why not take something like that? Why now?

STRAW: Well, can I say that when Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the British ambassador to the United Nations, tabled a second draft resolution in blue, he made clear that whilst we obviously attach to the principles set out and to the inevitable conclusion that Iraq has missed its final opportunity, of course we were ready to discuss the wording of that second resolution and to take on board any constructive suggestions as to how the process set out in that draft resolution could be improved.

And that is exactly what we are doing, and I look forward to further discussions as fellow foreign ministers arrive.

QUESTION: In other words, there's a possibility of an amendment?

STRAW: There's certainly a possibility of an amendment, and that's something we're looking at.

QUESTION: If I may go beyond the current draft resolution and the looming war in Iraq, when Iraq, as a state, was created as we know it today, you were the map makers in the region, and some of your critics now are saying the fact that we are here today, the fact that we are where we are today means that you did not do a good job at that time. What makes you think you can do a better job this time around in terms of creating a stable and democratic region?

STRAW: Well, I mean, first of all, without being drawn down the history of this, we had to accept our responsibilities as members of the League of Nations and as a country with particular responsibilities for that part of the Middle East. And, yes, indeed, we were responsible under international auspices for drawing the boundaries. That was in the early 1920s, 80 years ago. And in the meantime, Iraq has had an interesting and differentiated history.

I remember my father used to bring home Iraqis to meet, friends of his who were working in London, and Iraq was enjoying a period of economic growth and its GDP per head was similar to Malaysia and Portugal. And it's because of Saddam Hussein's regime and not because of the British boundaries that Iraq has been dragged backwards, it's become one of the pariah states of the world, and it's in more flagrant breach of a greater number of United Nations obligations than any other. Now, as to today, we, as a British government, have very clear responsibilities as members of the Permanent Five of the Security Council for international peace and security. That is the fundamental responsibility of the Security Council, and it's that that we're following through.

QUESTION: Foreign Secretary, you've seen a new, so far unpublished, 167-page report, an internal UNMOVIC report that sets out Iraqi deception, but also perhaps points the way to a further work program for the inspectors.

QUESTION: Do you think it strengthens or weakens your hand? And do you want that report published?

STRAW: I would like to see the report published as quickly as possible. I mean, it's a matter not for me, but for UNMOVIC and Dr. Blix.

I have indeed seen it. I've read every page of its 167 pages of contents. It is a shocking indictment of the record of Saddam Hussein's deception and deceit, but above all, of the danger which he poses to the region and to the world.

It also sets out a draft work program.

And I'll just make this point, which is that if Iraq takes up, even at this stage, the opportunities afforded to it by 1441 and gets itself into full, active and immediate cooperation with its obligations, then that kind of list of work laid out there could come into play. And we'd, then, if you like, be in the South African situation where it was nine inspectors in three years for the inspection process to work through with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Why? Because South Africa wanted to be in compliance.

But what that document and plenty else shows is what happens when the country doesn't want to be in compliance, it simply wants to deceive inspectors and the international community and, worse still, under that deceit, maintain and indeed improve and increase the dangerous threat which it poses.

QUESTION: We had a meeting as U.N. journalists yesterday with Dr. Blix. He actually informed us -- and this in the exact word -- that Iraq is being actively -- not only actively, but proactively cooperating with the inspectors for the last month. These are his words.

Does that (OFF-MIKE) make your life more difficult to get the resolution you want to justify? And isn't it really more practical to (INAUDIBLE) the inspectors do their job, since Iraq is proactively now, according to Blix, is cooperating?

STRAW: Nothing would please me more than to see Iraq in full, active and immediate cooperation.

And just to go back to the question that was asked by the gentleman from Al Jazeera, we do not want military action. STRAW: Let us be quite clear about this. Even at this late stage, we want to strain every nerve to avoid military action. We want to see Iraq come into full, active and immediate cooperation.

But I know this, two things.

One is that we've only got to this stage where the inspectors are able to do any kind of work at all in Iraq because of 1441 and the credible threat of force provided by U.S., U.K. and other countries. And the experience of 1284 was that nothing happened until we got the force in.

But the second thing is, if you take one (inaudible) critical issue, that of interviews, and all of us represent here different countries, all have the same process for getting at the truth in any kind of criminal judicial proceedings. And that is by bringing people forward for free interviews. It cannot happen in Iraq.

And if you look at paragraph 70-G of Dr. Blix's report published just last week, what Dr. Blix says, it has not yet proved possible -- this is three months after the passage of 1441 -- to obtain interviews with Iraqi scientists, managers or others believed to have knowledge relevant to the disarmament tasks in circumstances to give satisfactory credibility. The Iraqi side reports that it encourages interviewees to accept such interviews. But the reality is that so far no persons -- no persons -- not nominated by the Iraqi side have been willing to be interviewed without a tape recorder running or an Iraqi witness present.

QUESTION: This has changed, sir. In their conference yesterday, he informed us. You must not have read his comments.

STRAW: I have read his comments.

QUESTION: Well, he said they are conducting now interviews without recordings.

STRAW: A few. And I just point out to you, a few, a very few, and still none of them have gone outside Iraq.

Thank you. I'll take another question.

QUESTION: Could you tell me how you would qualify the Canadian, so-called Canadian compromise proposal. Is there anything in it that you (inaudible)? STRAW: Well, I thought it was a very constructive proposal from the Canadian prime minister. And I've talked at some length to Bill Graham, the Canadian foreign minister.

I'm not going to get into a negotiation here in this press conference, if you'll excuse me. But what we have to do is to look at all the constructive suggestions that come forward, see how they can be distilled, but how they also take account of the realities of the situation as well.

QUESTION: The secretary general said this morning that in order to get concessions, you have to make concessions. Would you consider amending the draft to include a window, some kind of new deadline, something to give the Iraqis a little bit more time, a little bit more wiggle room?

STRAW: Well, I don't think wiggle room, if I may say so, is the appropriate phrase for the Iraqis, because they've been wiggling for the last 12 years. And the result is they've been able to mock the international community, mock the whole of them, particularly the P-5.

But to come back to the point, when Jeremy Greenstock tabled this resolution on behalf of the United Kingdom government, he made it clear, and he said so in the statement that he issued, that we were open to discussion about the wording, the principle we were holding firm to, and that is that it is incontrovertible that Iraq has failed in the final opportunity that it was offered.

STRAW: But, of course, we should, within that context, strain every nerve that we have to see whether, even at this late stage, it is possible to resolve this peacefully.

QUESTION: Some of those on the other side of the fence, you might call it, are calling your suggestion of a deadline simply cosmetic. Is this going to be a cosmetic compromise or something more substantial?

STRAW: This is very, very serious, indeed. There is nothing whatever cosmetic about what we are proposing.

And we wouldn't have to have these meetings in an atmosphere of some crisis in early March if Saddam Hussein had recognized the reality on the 8th of November of last year and in his declaration, which he had to submit in early December, instead of telling fibs and putting in recycled old documents, he'd set out the truth of what has happened since 1998 since the inspectors were frozen out, which is that they have used that opportunity to increase their capacity to produce chemical and biological weapons and to develop prohibited missiles.

QUESTION: Sir, you do acknowledge that at the moment, despite the optimistic comments that have been made about getting a second resolution, you still only have four confirmed votes. And what can you say that you haven't said over and over again to the undecided six to make them change their minds and back your resolution?

STRAW: What I say is, let us see. I remember that we were in a very similar position of speculation, in which I, with respect, won't join, in the run-up to Resolution 1441, and there were all sorts of stories saying that the resolution would not attract more than three or four votes, that there was deadlock and so on, and in the end, on the 7th and 8th of November, matters came together and we achieved unanimity.

Now, this is harder. Perfectly open to admit that. Why? Because what we're inviting people to do is to come to the conclusions that they voted for on the 8th of November, and those are difficult for people. But there is a very, very serious choice here and it's a choice not only about what we do about a tyrant running a rogue state with the capabilities to produce and to use nerve agents and chemical weapons and has the capacity to send those to neighboring countries, but also there's a choice here about the future authority of the United Nations. And that's why we have posed that choice to the Security Council and the international community, and we believe that it's in the interest of every single member of the Security Council to take the choice that we've suggested.

I'll just take two more questions.

QUESTION: You've stood shoulder to shoulder so far with the Americans up to this point. Are the Americans supporting the British attempt to find some compromise solution? And are the British supporting the Americans in their request for regime change?

STRAW: I speak for the British government. I have close and collaborative relations with all members of the Security Council, but, obviously, including the United States, but these are suggestions that I've made -- we've made -- but I think they should find reasonably fruitful, fertile ground.

STRAW: But as I say, the principle we laid down in the draft second resolution stands.

On the issue of regime change, the position of the British government is very straightforward. Yes, of course, in a different world we would like to see a different government running Iraq. And that, I think, must be the case for everybody in this room, unless there's a representative of the government of Iraq press here. On that, there is complete unanimity.

But so far as 1441 is concerned, the purpose of 1441 is to secure the disarmament of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. That, and that alone. We have made it clear, the British prime minister, Tony Blair, has made clear repeatedly that if Iraq complies with 1441 and disarms of its weapons of mass destruction, we accept that the government of Iraq stays in place. And let us make that clear, and that has always been clear, Saddam Hussein has known that.

QUESTION: What (INAUDIBLE) sponsors of the resolution, Britain included, care to do to address the concerns of diplomats here, and others, that the sponsors, the U.S., U.K. and Spain, have not made the case that war is necessary now?

STRAW: Well, we are involved in detailed discussions about this.

On the issue of is military action necessary, it wasn't U.S., U.K. and Spain that said that if Iraq did not comply there would have to be military action. It was the United Nations as a whole. That was the point of operational paragraph 13 in 1441.

What else is meant by serious consequences? Everybody knew what was meant by serious consequences. And everybody understood when they put their hand up for 1441 that if Iraq did not take the final opportunity for full, active and immediate cooperation, then serious consequences will follow.

That's what we said. And in our view, law can only be law if you follow through words like that into action.

Thank you very much indeed.

COLLINS: All right, we have just been listening to the British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, holding a news conference there about the situation with Iraq. And of course the position of Britain. We were hearing him talk a little bit about an amendment that the country is proposing to the second resolution. And want to hear much more about that. Of course, one of the things he did say, or did question a little bit, was the future authority of the United Nations. So of course we'll keep our finger on that and bring more to you if anything should develop.


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