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Under Secretary Feith Interview with Al Jazeera

Presenters: Douglas J. Feith, USD (Policy)
January 24, 2003

Please note: Translations of questions were provided by Al Jazeera. Mr. Feith's answers were transcribed by DoD.

[Q: Let us begin the show by hearing the viewpoint of the No. 3 man in the Pentagon, coming to us live from there, Mr. Douglas Feith, Undersecretary for Policy. Let's start with a question being asked in every world capital: Is war with Iraq inevitable?]

Feith: I think the disarmament of Iraq is inevitable. President Bush has said that Iraq must disarm itself of its weapons of mass destruction -- the chemical weapons that it has, the biological weapons that it has, and the nuclear weapons program that it has along with its long-range missiles. It must do that either through cooperation with the UN or the United States will lead a coalition of willing countries to bring about the disarmament of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

[Q: But is there a change in the rules of the game? I.e., are the conditions of Iraqi compliance changing]? The inspectors have entered Iraq, and we're now talking about different examples, like South Africa, Kazakhstan and Ukraine. Those countries said, "We have programs for weapons of mass destruction. Come and disassemble them." Iraq is saying, "I don't have a nuclear weapons program or a program for weapons of mass destruction. Washington is the one who insists on making this accusation. How can I prove this accusation false?"]

Feith: The world community knows that Iraq has chemical weapons and biological weapons. It also knows that Iraq has been pursuing for decades nuclear weapons. The entire apparatus that was created for inspecting Iraq through the recent Security Council Resolution 1441 was created so that if the Iraqi government would finally decide, because of all the international pressure, that it must disarm, then this inspection apparatus would be available to help the Iraqi government demonstrate to the world that it was disarming cooperatively.

The purpose of the UN mechanism, this inspection mechanism, is not to engage in a cat and mouse game with Saddam Hussein and try to find weapons that the Iraqi government is working on concealing. The UN inspectors do not have the capability to find hidden weapons in a country the size of Iraq if the Iraqi government is working to conceal them.

What the UN inspectors can do is demonstrate to the world, help the Iraqi government demonstrate to the world that the Iraqis are cooperatively disarming if that is in fact what the Iraqi government decides to do. Without Iraqi cooperation, without a decision to change Iraqi policies so that Iraq will actually get rid of its weapons of mass destruction in a cooperative way, the inspectors will basically not have anything that they can accomplish.

The key to making the inspections work is the Iraqi government making the crucial decision that because of the international pressure Iraq has to disarm itself. Otherwise, as I said, President Bush has made clear the only alternative that Iraq will have is to be disarmed by force.

[Q: Do the statements coming out of the White House today mean that it's possible that, if Iraq refuses to allow its scientists to meet privately with the inspectors, that this is enough to justify this process and launch a war against Iraq?]

Feith: The fundamental question is the question of whether the Iraqi government is being cooperative in its own disarmament. There are a number of things that the Iraqi government has done in recent weeks that are not cooperative. The one that you've cited is an example that they're not permitting their scientists and engineers in their weapons of mass destruction programs to be taken out of the country to be interviewed, or even to be interviewed privately inside the country. That is not cooperative.

There have been various other types of non-cooperation with the inspectors. Blocking the kinds of equipment that the inspectors can use. One of the key tests of cooperation was whether the Iraqis when they made their declaration at the beginning of December were going to be honest and were going to account for the large number of open questions that existed back in 1998 when the last set of UN inspectors were thrown out by Saddam Hussein from Iraq.

When those inspectors were thrown out back in 1998 the Iraqis had admitted that they had a large number of chemical munitions, that they had large amounts of biological weapons material, and the Iraqi government having admitted that did not account for where those weapons are now. And that, it was hoped that when they gave their declaration in December that they would account for the biological weapons material, the chemical weapons and the like that they had said they had but they didn't explain where they went back in 1998. Unfortunately, the December 2002 declaration didn't provide that information.

[Q: I only have a few minutes left, but I have so many questions. I hope I can get some quick answers from you. You said Iraq threw the inspectors out in 1998, but I think we all know that UNSCOM chief Mr. Butler summoned them out because the U.S. was preparing for Desert Fox, in December 1998, to strike Iraq. So they left for their own safety, at the request of UNSCOM. I won't go into this, but you can correct me or comment, of course.]

Feith: You are mistaken. You are mistaken. The Iraqis threw the UNSCOM inspectors out.

[Q: Wasn't it in the framework of the U.S. preparation for attacking Iraq in December 1998?]

Feith: No, it was the Iraqi government decision to put the kinds of restrictions on UNSCOM that in effect compelled UNSCOM to leave.

[Q: So UNSCOM decided to leave because it did not like the constraints. It was not a matter of Iraq throwing them out. At any rate, "Old Europe," as described by your Secretary, Mr. Rumsfeld - France and Germany - stand opposed to a sudden military action against Iraq, and support giving the inspectors more time. To what extent can that happen? And to what extent can you depend on "New Europe," - Eastern Europe - if we accept this definition? And how long can American forces stay in the region? Do US forces have only till the summer, or the fall, to fight, and otherwise the window of opportunity will close for Washington within the next two months, and after that things will be different?]

Feith: There are various views throughout Europe. Europe is a collection of free countries. It's not countries like Iraq that suppressed speech and the human rights of their people and wind up getting 99 or 100 percent votes in favor of the dictator. Europe is full of countries with a lot of free speech and a lot of different views.

The United States has some people in Europe with whom we disagree on this matter and a large number of people in Europe, including governments in Europe, with whom we agree.

If war were to become necessary, we are confident that we would have a substantial amount of international support and cooperation and countries working with us in the coalition, including substantial participation from European countries.

[Q: Will the disarming of Iraq create regional stability and peace, or do other things have to happen as well? From an Arab point of view, one of these things would be the full disarmament of Israel and its nuclear weapons. I think that if South Africa cooperated, it must have reported on its joint nuclear weapons program with Israel.]

Feith: The issue of stability in the area is a very serious question. Our thought is that if Iraq had a government that was broad-based, that was representative of its people, that was interested in building democratic institutions, then you would have an Iraq that not only would be disarmed of its weapons of mass destruction but it would be an Iraq that would not threaten its neighbors, would not maintain contact with terrorist organizations, and would not tyrannize its own people. All of that I think would contribute to the stability of the Middle East.

[Q: What about South Africa, and whether it reported on Israel, and other weapons of mass destruction in the region?]

Feith: That is not what we're focused on here with the issue of eliminating Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Iraq is a country that has used nerve gas in its wars with Iran and against its own people, the Kurds in the Hilacha area, and the international community is focused on the danger that Iraqi chemical and biological weapons pose and the danger that the Iraqis might soon, if left alone, acquire nuclear weapons.

[Q: Mr. Douglas Feith, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, thank you. Unfortunately, our time for this interview is up, even though there are so many things that could be discussed.]

Feith: Thank you.

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