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Cheney Says U.S. in Final Stages of Diplomacy With Iraq

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 16, 2003 – Tim Russert of NBC's "Meet the Press" cut right to the chase: "How close are we to war?" was the first question he asked Vice President Dick Cheney on today's edition of the news show.

"I think we're still in the final stages of diplomacy obviously," Cheney said. "That's one of the main reasons the president is speaking today with the British and Spanish prime ministers in the Azores."

Cheney said there's no question that the United States is close to the end of diplomatic efforts. "We've done virtually everything we can with respect to trying to organize a second resolution with the United Nations Security Council," he said. "Clearly, the president is going to have to make a very difficult and important decision in the next few days."

Asked what could Saddam Hussein do to stop war, the vice president said, "The difficulty here is he has clearly objected up till now all efforts -- time after time after time. And we have had 12 years and some 17 resolutions now. Each step along the way he had the opportunity to do what he was called upon to do by the U.N. Security Council. Each time he's rejected it."

Cheney observed with that kind of track record, he's not sure anyone would believe Saddam Hussein, no matter what he did now. "We have been down this effort now for six months at the U.N., with the enactment of 1441," he said. "We asked for a declaration of all of his weapons of mass destruction . He refused to do that."

Cheney said Hussein has always had the option of coming clean by giving up all of his weapons of mass destruction, making his scientists available without fear of retribution, turning over the anthrax, VX nerve agent and all the other capabilities he's developed. But Cheney said Hussein has consistently refused.

Even if Saddam Hussein said he'd turnover everything today if he's allowed to stay in power and offered to go on television and denounce weapons of mass destruction, that wouldn't be enough at this point, the vice president stated.

Cheney pointed out that after the 1991 Gulf War, Hussein was stripped of certain capabilities, and inspectors were able destroy significant capacities he had acquired.

"As soon as they were gone, he was right back in business again," he said. "I think that would be the fear here. If he gave everything up tomorrow and stays in power, you have to assume that as soon as the world is looking the other way and preoccupied with other issues, he'd be back again rebuilding his weapons of mass destruction and chemical weapons capabilities and once again reconstituting his nuclear program."

Cheney said the only acceptable outcome would be for Hussein to totally disarm and leave the country. "But we'll continue to try to work through the United Nations and work diplomacy to try to arrive at an acceptable outcome," he said. "But to date, we haven't been successful."

Russert said many people throughout the country and around the world are asking why it is acceptable for the United States to lead a military attack against a nation that has not attacked this country.

"We have a new and unique set of circumstances we're trying to deal with," Cheney answered. He said the nation had to deal with different threats in the 20th century large states, significant military forces and intercontinental ballistic missiles "the kinds of threats we dealt with throughout the Cold War."

"All of that changed on Sept. 11," the vice president pointed out. "Since that time, we've had to deal with the proposition that truly deadly weapons could be delivered to the United States by a handful of terrorists. We saw on 9- 11 19 men hijack aircraft with airline tickets and box cutters and killed more than 3,000 Americans in a couple of hours.

"That attack would pale into insignificances compared to what would have happened if they had a nuclear weapon detonated in the middle of one of our cities," Cheney said. "Or if they had unleashed weapons of mass destruction biological weapons, smallpox or anthrax in a major attack on the United States."

Cheney said how the U.S. thinks about how to deal with that is a whole different proposition. "At the front of our concern is the proposition that the al Qaeda organization is absolutely determined to do everything they can to acquire chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. We've found ample evidence of that in camps, tunnels and caves in Afghanistan. We see evidence of it in the interrogations we're able to do with many of the al Qaeda members we've captured."

Cheney said he's confident that if terrorist organizations do acquire that capability, they'll use it. "There's absolutely nothing to restrain them from doing that," he said.

Strategies used in the 20th century, such as the policy of containment, alliances such as NATO and a policy of deterrence, worked against potential enemies, the vice president pointed out.

Then, he said, "you look at the proposition of a handful of terrorists operating in part of the world where they find sanctuary and safe haven in a rogue state or in an area that's not governed by anybody. How do you apply containment to that situation? How do you deter a terrorist when there's nothing they value that they're prepared to defend -- when they're prepared to sacrifice their own lives in their effort to kill Americans."

In doing everything possible to protect the homeland, officials know defense isn't enough, "you've got to have a good offense," the vice president said. "We also must address the questions of where might these terrorists acquire weapons of mass destruction chemicals weapons, biological weapons and nuclear weapons.

"Saddam Hussein becomes a prime suspect in that regard because of his past track record and we know he has developed these kinds of capabilities," Cheney continued.

"We know he has used chemical weapons. We know he has reconstituted these programs since the Gulf War. We know he's out trying again to produce nuclear weapons and we know he has a long-standing relationship with various terrorist groups, including the al Qaeda organization."

Cheney said if the U.S. sat back and operated by 20th century standards, "and we say wait until we're hit, the consequences could be devastating for the United States. We have to be prepared to prevent that from happening."

French President Jacque Chirac said Sunday he might be able to buy into a 30- or 60-day deadline. Cheney retorted, "That's exactly what we've been doing for 12 years. That's what U.N. Resolution 1441 was all about that was passed last fall. We negotiated that with the French and other Security Council members and got a 15-to-nothing vote on it.

"It said unless (Saddam) came into compliance, serious consequences would follow," he noted. "We're approaching the point where further delay helps no one but Saddam Hussein. The more time passes, the more time he has got to work on developing new capabilities. And the more time he has got to position his forces to attack or try to mount and support terrorist operations against our forces in the region or elsewhere."

Cheney pointed out that France has consistently resisted efforts to hold Saddam Hussein accountable for his actions.

He rattled off a litany of events: In 1995, France opposed an effort to pass a resolution finding him in security breech. In 1996, France opposed a resolution condemning Saddam Hussein for slaughtering the Kurds. In 1997, when there was an effort to block travel by Saddam's intelligence and military officials, France opposed it. And in 1998, France announced that the Iraqi leader was free of all weapons of mass destruction.

"Given that pattern of behavior, it's difficult for us to believe that 30 days or 60 more days are going to change anything," Cheney said.

He noted if the United States does go into Iraq, the objective would be to defeat whatever forces opposes the U.S. actions and to take down the government of Saddam Hussein. Then a series of actions would follow, such as eliminating all weapons of mass destruction, preserving the territorial integrity of Turkey and standing up a broadly represented government of the Iraqi people.

He predicted that Saddam Hussein would either be captured or killed by his own people, or he might flee. The objective is to get rid of his government and put a new one in its place, the vice president said.

"The suggestion that somehow the war on terror has suffered as a result of the difference over Iraq I don't think is valid," Cheney said. Cooperation in intelligence, law enforcement and finance has been "enormously successful and continues to be effective. We've seen it in recent weeks with the arrest of very significant figures of the al Qaeda organization."

Russert asked Cheney to speculate about actions in North Korea or Iran. The vice president responded, "The fact of the matter is we hope we can deal with those issues in peaceful means wherever that kind of problem arises. That's one of the reasons the president tried so hard to have the U.N. Security Council be effective with respect to the Iraq question. They are best addressed if possible through the U.N. Security Council."

But, Cheney said, it will only work if the council is going to be a meaningful organization that is prepared to enforce its own resolutions. "Up till now they haven't been willing to do that," he noted.

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