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CNN SATURDAY

Interview With Joseph Wilson

Aired March 8, 2003 - 15:00   ET

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

RENAY SAN MIGUEL, CNN ANCHOR: Diplomats are burning up the phone lines today trying to win votes for or against the latest U.N. resolution on Iraq. The resolution would give Iraq until March 17 to disarm or be disarmed by force. Richard Roth joins us now from the United Nations -- Richard.
RICHARD ROTH, CNN SR. U.N. CORRESPONDENT: Yes, President Bush is going to start making calls on Monday. He made a call to Chile's president on Friday. Chile, one of the undecided six, so-called swing votes that remain on the Security Council. And it's going to be hard in the next couple of days to find out exactly where countries are leaning, because the U.S., you never know, could make changes to the resolution yet again.

Friday, some amendments added, basically a big deadline added. March 17, for Iraq to turn over all of its weapons of mass destruction.

Here at the United Nations, it's quiet, but phone calls are being made around the world. The French foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, is traveling to three African countries, the three swing African votes, Guinea, Cameroon, Angola. Angola's representative yesterday said he wasn't really happy with the draft resolution. Angola and Chile believing that Iraq should be given more time, that the 17th of March just comes up too soon.

The U.S. says it could call for a vote as early as Tuesday, which would give Iraq less than a week to turn over weapons of mass destruction. The impact of such a deadline on the weapons inspectors certainly would give them less time to be in the country to certify that Iraq is in the clear.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MOHAMED ELBARADEI, DIRECTOR GENERAL, IAEA: On the one hand, there is a lot of indication in the intelligence community that there are -- Iraq still has chemical and biological weapons. On the other hand, none of the inspectors are able to find any of these weapons. So there is no smoking gun.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROTH: That's Mohamed ElBaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency saying that the weapons inspectors on his side and Dr. Blix have not found a smoking gun, that Iraq is beginning to cooperating more. And as for the war, well, it means that they will never be able to certify with certainty that Iraq's nuclear program has not been revived, though there are no indications right now about that.

What else is Mr. ElBaradei reporting to the Security Council? Well, it drew little notice, because of the high powered debate and arguments among the big powers, but the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that his group has certified that documents provided by countries that allege possibly that the Iraqis were doing deals with the African nation of Niger to get enriched uranium for nuclear production were fakes, were forgeries. They refused to say whether it was the U.S. that gave them all the documents or Britain, but they're just saying what they were given to examine shows no confirmation that Iraq, as President Bush alleged in his State of the Union address, was getting enriched uranium in a potential deal with the African nation of Niger -- Renay.

SAN MIGUEL: Well, Richard, back in the region that we're talking about here, there are reports that the United Nations is pulling out some of its observers from Kuwait?

ROTH: That's right. Civilian staff being moved away while the U.N. mission along the Iraq/Kuwait Demilitarized Zone remains in place. The U.N. operation there is called UNICOM (ph), and you're going to see this over the next few days. The United Nations humanitarian team has been pared down dramatically in Iraq. Basically, UNICOM's (ph) 195 observers will stay in place the 775th Bangladeshi military support unit will be there.

Also of note along that demilitarized zone, in the last few days, civilians, said to be Kuwaiti construction workers, but some Marines in the area, cutting holes in the fence, an electric fence along that border, holes as wide as 75 feet. You can certainly bring a lot of big military vehicles through that, and also perhaps 75 gaps in all.

The U.N. reported this as a violation of the Security Council resolution. It's up to the Security Council what to do with it. The U.S. defends this action. If there's any link to the U.S. government, and no doubt there is, because they say Iraq has been a threat to Kuwait for more than 12 years. Stay tuned -- Renay.

SAN MIGUEL: As we certainly will. Richard Roth, thank you very much.

Now, as Richard just said, during his report yesterday, Mohamed ElBaradei said some of the evidence that Secretary of State Colin Powell presented to the U.N. was apparently faked. Joining us now from our Washington bureau is Joseph Wilson, who was acting ambassador to Iraq when the first Gulf War began. Mr. Wilson, thank you so much for joining us today.

JOSEPH WILSON, FORMER AMB. TO IRAQ: Hi, Renay. How are you.

SAN MIGUEL: Just fine. How could this happen? It is the perception that documents like these are vetted to within an inch of their life by intelligence agencies. How do you think this managed to slip by? WILSON: Well, this particular case is outrageous. I actually started my foreign service career in Niger and ended my foreign service career doing -- in charge of Africa in the Clinton White House. We know a lot about the uranium business in Niger, and for something like this to go unchallenged by U.S. -- the U.S. government is just simply stupid. It would have taken a couple of phone calls. We have had an embassy there since the early '60s. All this stuff is open. It's a restricted market of buyers and sellers. The Nigerians (sic) have always been very open with us.

For this to have gotten to the IAEA is on the face of it dumb, but more to the point, it taints the whole rest of the case that the government is trying to build against Iraq.

SAN MIGUEL: I was just going to ask you, I mean, I got the idea from your answer about this, but just how damaging is this to the U.S. case with the stakes being as high as they are?

WILSON: Well, you know what it's like when you go into court. A prosecutor comes up with some evidence that is obviously false, it casts doubt on every other bit of evidence that he produces. And I think it's safe to say that the U.S. government should have or did know that this report was a fake before Dr. ElBaradei mentioned it in his report at the U.N. yesterday.

SAN MIGUEL: There's also another courtroom saying that, you know, lawyers like to say, never ask a question that you don't know the answer to. That could play into this as well.

But Mr. ElBaradei did tell our Richard Roth today, during an interview, that the intelligence isn't just coming from the U.S., that there were other countries involved. Which other countries do you think, and how is it that all of these intelligence agencies or intelligence agencies from these countries that were involved could be taken in by these forgeries?

WILSON: Well, the report I saw said that the Brits were involved. Maybe it was the British that passed this report on. I don't know who else might have been involved, but I can tell you this: The report in "The Washington Post" today said -- quoted a U.S. official as saying, "we just fell for it."

That's just not good enough. Either he's being disingenuous, or he shouldn't be drawing a government paycheck.

SAN MIGUEL: So how do you play this, then? I mean, what, do you admit it, do you just move on? Do you try to get these things verified if you do believe, indeed, that Iraq was trying to buy this material from Niger? I mean, how do you handle this? What's the damage control on this?

WILSON: I have no idea. I'm not in the government. I would not want to be doing damage control on this. I think you probably just fess up and try to move on and say there's sufficient other evidence to convict Saddam of being involved in the nuclear arms trade. But Dr. ElBaradei yesterday was pretty clear. He doesn't see that this is happening.

SAN MIGUEL: We'll have to leave it there. Joseph Wilson, former acting ambassador to Iraq for the U.S., thank you very much for your time.

WILSON: Good to be with you.

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