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American Morning

Interview With Vice President Dick Cheney

Aired September 09, 2002 - 09:03   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: The Bush administration is stepping up the push for a preemptive strike against Iraq. Vice President Dick Cheney has been out front, stating the administration's case.
Senior White House correspondent John King sat down him and talked to him about the administration's campaign against Iraq.

And John joins us now from the lawn of the White House.

Good morning again, John.

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good again morning to you, Paula.

Administration officials now talking publicly about what they say is an effort by Saddam Hussein to buy aluminum tubes that they say he could use to enrich uranium. The administration saying Saddam Hussein back again trying to build a nuclear weapon, and the administration telling us privately, that is just one piece of evidence in a dossier this administration is building that it says shows that Saddam working not only on his nuclear program, but also his chemical and biological weapons program.

Vice President Cheney telling CNN in an interview that he is confident that once skeptics in Congress and skeptics around the world see this evidence, they will rally to the president's position, that Saddam Hussein must prove he has completely disarmed or be removed from power.


KING: You say fairly confident and based on what you have seen. I understand you can't discuss this in a public setting, but if you sat down with a key member of Congress, or the German chancellor and show them the file, would they walk away saying, there is evidence now in the past year or past several months that Saddam Hussein is working on his nuclear program again, working on his chemical and biological program, they would answer the question yes, you think?

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, we will do that with members of Congress. I don't know how much we'll share with the German chancellor, but the -- there is no question, what the evidence is there to support those conclusions, that his weapons of mass destruction capability is growing more robust.

We also have circumstances now that are different than before September 11th. What happened on September 11th was an attack that was launched on the territory of the United States against us. We know our vulnerabilities, and when we think about these weapons of mass destruction, and when we know, as we do, the Al Qaeda organization that hit on September 11th is doing everything they can to acquire chemical, nuclear and biological weapons. We know they have tested chemical weapons on dogs. Your network broadcast that last week.

So we have to be concerned now about the possibility that we're vulnerable to an attack the likes of which we did not experience prior to last September 11th with a far more deadly weapon. We have to worry about the possible marriage, if you will, of a rogue state like Saddam Hussein's Iraq, with a terrorist organization, like Al Qaeda. And we have to worry about the possibility that Saddam Hussein, for his own reasons, can use growing capability on our friends and allies in the region, on U.S. forces in the region or on the United States itself.

We know he has this capability. We know he is developing it. We know he sits on top of 10 percent of the world's oil reserve. He has got a significant cashflow coming in to finance acquisition and procurement projects, and the world has sort of gotten relaxed about him, if you will, and a lot of people are doing business with him now. So we find ourselves in a situation where there is a growing threat. It needs to addressed. It's not just a U.S. problem; it's also a problem for the United Nations.

KING: You have captured the world's attention again, the administration's by focusing on this. The president will go to United Nations. And one of the debate now that is back again, is let's get the inspectors back in. You have voiced great skepticism that, a, Saddam Hussein would let them in the first place, but that if he did, that in your view, it would most likely be a fraud, that he would try to block that.

Politically, and trying to build international support, is it your belief today that you will have to go through this exercise again, despite your skepticism, that inspectors will have to go back in to Iraq?

CHENEY: The president will speak to United Nations this week and lay out the case and also his recommendations for how to proceed. Those are presidential decisions, and I don't want to preempt that approach. Now, I based on the past history and I am a skeptic -- inspectors were in there for seven years and worked for seven years, and they did a lot of good work, but they didn't get everything.

And what we found was that oftentimes, even with a very robust and aggressive inspection regime, he was able to go forward and hide some of these weapons capabilities that we were never able to account for. That is the concern, if you are going to have any kind of a inspection regime, it needs to be better than last one.

KING: When you traveled to the Middle East a few months back, you said if the inspectors go back in, allowing your skepticism, it had to be any time, any place, anywhere, not like the last experience. As this debate comes back again, whether the administration likes it or not, do you think it needs to be anytime, anyplace, anywhere, or else, and the United Nations needs to say that? There needs to be a new resolution that makes that clear?

CHENEY: I have my views. The president will set the policy and he'll enunciate it later this week.

KING: But you're not interested in reopening this inspections debate again as indefinite, if they go in and don't get access, they haggle about it. That would serve no purpose in your view?

CHENEY: The only option that has been ruled out is doing nothing. We're not going to simply stand by this time and take no action. That's not an option. And given growing threat, we think that the United Nations has to address this issue. I mean, it is partly this is a challenge to them. They have had repeated assertions of authority over Iraq. Saddam has thumbed his note at them, and there has been no consequence from them.

KING: Tom DeLay walked out of meeting with president the other day at the White House, and said that president has made clear he has not settled on a military option, but in his view, looking at this, it is inevitable. Do you have that view?

CHENEY: I work for the president. He has not yet made a decision. He does want to discuss this with Congress, and he does want to discuss it with our friends and allies and with the United Nations. And I think that is as it should be.

He is bound and determined that we will address this issue. We have to deal with that emerging threat. The question is how best do it; and we would like to have this support of international community as we go forward here. We have worked with them in the past on this issue. In a sense, it is failure of international effort that puts us in a position where we are today where we have to even think about a possibility of military action in Iraq.

KING: You talked about how much you would like the support of the international community. It has been slow to come, as you know, and the president asked you specifically to go to the Middle East region because of your relations, both in government and out of government with that part of the world. The secretary-general of the Arab League said a U.S. military confrontation with Iraq would -- quote -- "open the gates of hell" in the Middle East. Still a steep hill to climb?

CHENEY: Yes, but I disagree with that assessment on his part. I think that strong U.S. decisive leadership has traditionally produced valuable results on that side of the world. If we were forced do it, I think it would encourage the moderates and friends of the United States, know that we mean business, and know that it would discourage the more radical elements out there that have been a big part of the problem.

I think that the people of Iraq would welcome the U.S. force as liberators; they would not see us as oppressors, by any means. And our experience was after the Gulf War in '91 that once the United States acted and provide leadership that in fact, the community, the region was more peaceful for some considerable period of time. That is what made possible a lot of progress in peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians back in the early '90s.

So the idea that somehow the U.S. acting decisively to deal with a major international threat and a threat to the United States automatically leads to chaos I don't think is a valid judgment.


KING: He speaks in very measured tones, as you can see there, but the vice president made clear the administration views this as a two-step process. The president goes to the United Nations this week. He has said that body must stand up to Saddam Hussein, and that if it does not, if the United Nations refuses to act, that the United States is prepared to act on its own -- Paula.

ZAHN: So walk us through, John, any timetable, if you will, that you were able to glean from what the vice president cautiously told you.

KING: Well, what vice president said to us and what other administration officials are telling us is that the president will go to the United Nations, and say Saddam signed agreements with you. Your very credibility is on the line here. If you want to go through this exercise once more, I will give you, the United Nations, one last chance. Sends inspectors in, if you insist, but it must be an aggressive, no-holds barred inspection regime. That would take us through probably the next month or two, if that is arranged. And whether Saddam would let the inspectors in is the next big question.

As that plays out, look for the United States to begin more military troops into the region. Most believe if there is a military confrontation -- and many in this White House believe that is inevitable -- that it will come early next year.

ZAHN: Based on what you heard in your interview and what we heard all weekend long, I am just curious whether the White House has told you whether the president will unleash any bombshells before his address before the U.N. on Thursday? Any surprises expected at all?

KING: Look for the president to talk in more detail about some of the evidence the United States has. One question in the administration is, do you go to United Nations Security Council for a new resolution that essentially says, more inspections now or else for Saddam Hussein. Before the United States commits to such a resolution, it wants to make sure it would win the debate in the Security Council. That is one reason the president reached out to the presidents of Russia, France and China last week. They have a veto in the Security Council.

But essentially, what the president will deliver to the United Nations is an ultimatum, if you do not enforce your agreements reached with Saddam at the end of the Gulf War, I will take matters into my own hands.

ZAHN: Thanks, John. Appreciate it. Senior White House correspondent John King.