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 You are in: Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security > Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation (ISN) > Releases > Remarks > 2002

Interview on Iraq

John Stern Wolf, Assistant Secretary
Newstalk with Presenter David McWilliams
Washington, D.C.
August 2, 2002

Question: This morning Iraq announced that it would begin what it calls technical talks about the resumption of UN weapons inspections to the country. In the past weeks there has been growing speculation that this issue would be used by America as a pretext for the invasion of Iraq, and many see the Iraqi move today as an attempt to stave this off. If this is the case, it calls into question a sanctions policy followed by the U.S. and the UN, and I put this to John Stern Wolf, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation.

Assistant Secretary Wolf:  Well, sanctions have worked in the past, and we think that they do work. Sanctions certainly worked in the case of South Africa, … but what’s important is maintaining an international consensus. If we focus on Iraq, the sanctions that were in place in 1991 until now have made it more difficult for Iraq to acquire the kind of technologies and equipment that it needs to reconstitute arms programs that are prohibited by the United Nations. It hasn’t stopped them, but it has certainly made them more difficult. The sanctions programs have controlled 12 to 13 billion dollars worth of oil revenue last year, a little bit less this year, but had that money been in Saddam Hussein’s hands, it would have gone for weapons before it went for food, medicine and anything else that the Iraqi people actually need.

Question:  Can I bring you back to the analogy with South Africa because it is an intriguing one? Many argue that the reason sanctions worked in South Africa was that there was a white middle class that ran the place, that benefited from the regime and that ultimately suffered both in their pocket and psychologically from sanctions. In the case of let’s say Mr. Milosevic in Belgrade or Mr. Hussein, there isn’t the same structure of support for the leader and, as a consequence, sanctions tend to criminalize the economy and prolong the dictatorship.

Assistant Secretary Wolf:  The problem we are trying to deal with, for instance, in Iraq is controlling the vast amount of resources that Iraq gets from oil revenue, and the ‘Oil for Food Program’ does that. It’s been specifically recast to make very clear that the program is designed to enable Iraq to purchase those things that it needs for its civilian economy, while creating a watch list, a goods review list of sensitive technologies that could be used by Iraq to reconstitute its military prowess. It’s important to focus on the differences. These sanctions are letting things get to the civilian economy, things that people need to survive and things that the Iraqi government has shown a cavalier disinterest in, in the past. But under the United Nations, we will be able to assure that those things get to the civilian economy. On the other hand, the things that Iraq needs to build chemical and biological weapons, nuclear weapons and missiles we will hope to stop.

Question:  Can I ask you about the politics of sanctions? In Europe in particular, to a very small degree in the United States, but in Europe in particular, the political propaganda that Mr. Hussein has got from sanctions, in galvanising an image of Iraqi children suffering dramatically from a lack of health spending for example, has in some way enflamed European opinion. It certainly enflamed Arab opinion and, as a consequence, would seem to be rather retrograde for the United States’ view, which is to try and isolate the man.

Assistant Secretary Wolf:  Well, yes. If you accept your proposition, then one should simply lift sanctions and let Saddam Hussein buy whatever he wants. I think the fact that Saddam Hussein has…had been doing better on the p.r. side reflects our inability to make a proper case, but it doesn’t change the soundness of the policy that we are pursuing. The policy is designed to deny him access to those technologies that he is trying to acquire to rebuild his chemical weapons, his biological weapons, his nuclear weapons and his ability to deliver them, to deliver those things by missiles. No one should be under any illusion that that is not happening. It is happening, and he is doing it. The sanctions are designed to limit his access. 

Question:  Now in recent weeks, we’ve had two specific UN weapons inspectors, former weapons inspectors from Iraq, suggesting that the capability of Mr. Hussein has been over inflated and ultimately the UN inspectors have done their job very well, and this is something that Saddam does not necessarily have, this potential.

Assistant Secretary Wolf:  Well, there’s a kind of cottage industry among former UN special commission experts. They make a living going around talking about it. I guess they need to have something to talk about. Whatever the facts that they ascribe, whatever they say about the facts pre-1998, when UNSCOM was kicked out by the Iraqi government, the fact is that the UN public record, the Amorim report, and other public statements by UN officials make clear that there was work that was still to be done when the inspections were ended in 1998, and it is very clear to anybody who cares to look that in the four years since, Iraq has been working very hard, without the benefit of inspectors being there, to reconstitute its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and the missiles that would deliver them. That work goes on. They are rebuilding buildings that were used in the weapons program. They are trying to buy dual use technology and then to divert it from the legitimate purpose for which is was purchased and to put it into these facilities. They are reconstituting their biological weapon production capability, their chemical weapons production capability. They’re working on missiles, and they are doing procurement in the international market place that suggests that they may also be trying to reconstitute their nuclear program.

Question:  Can I ask you about the international market place, which seems to be very leaky with respect to non-proliferation? Does it worry you greatly that countries like Ukraine are seeing it as absolutely necessary and imperative to sell some nuclear technology on the open market, or so we’ve been led to believe?

Assistant Secretary Wolf: Well I don’t know about nuclear technology. We’ve had conversations with the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian government has worked on tightening its export controls. We are very concerned by leakages; we believe that it is important that manufacturers and the governments that licence exports look very carefully at the destinations for exports. It’s not enough for exporters simply to say ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I didn’t know that this particular broker or middle man was then going to sell it on to a country that is trying to develop weapons of mass destruction.’ That’s a cop-out and it’s not sufficient in the wake of September 11th. There can be no question that we all need to heighten our scrutiny. Technologies that have benign purposes, technologies that can be used for good, making vaccines for instance, can also be used to make biological weapons material. So one needs to look if one’s going to sell. One ought to think what one is being asked to sell, and licensing officials in the EU, in western countries and in the developing world need to look because proliferators will go wherever they find a weak export control regime.

Question:  Now Assistant Secretary John Wolf, earlier on you mentioned the, at the very beginning of this interview you mentioned the need to solidify the coalition around Iraq. This coalition seems to be fragmenting, not least because the flash point that is the Middle East seems to be dividing Europe, United States and particularly some of America’s more formally client allies in the Middle East.

Assistant Secretary Wolf:  And the question is?

Question:  The question is how are you going to keep it together?

Assistant Secretary Wolf:  Well I think people need to recognise the threat that Iraq poses. This is a country which is making an assertive effort to acquire weapons of mass destruction in complete contravention of a set of mandatory UN resolutions passed, albeit passed 11 years ago, but just as valid today. Iraq with these weapons poses a threat in its region, and it poses a threat beyond the region, and that’s something that none of us should be willing to tolerate.

Question:  Can I ask you finally, many people are looking for a pretext for an American attack on Iraq. Many people are saying that America will have to have some reason to go ahead with this much touted war on Iraq that has been mentioned over the last couple of months. Could using a failure to meet UN regulations on inspections be reconciled with stepping outside of the UN framework and as a consequence used as an excuse to launch an attack on Iraq?

Assistant Secretary Wolf:  Eleven years ago the world passed a series of resolutions, including resolution 687. They called for the disarmament of Iraq. When we did it then, the world community did it with a good purpose, which was to stop the threat that Iraq posed in its region and beyond. That resolution is still being observed in the breach. Iraq has not disarmed; indeed it is developing weapons of mass destruction. Those weapons pose a threat. Our goal, the United States’ goal is, on the one hand, to see the full disarmament of Iraq in compliance with that resolution. We also think that the current government in Iraq is the kind of government, which also poses a threat to the Iraqi people. If…you talked earlier about the privations that are suffered by the Iraqi people, that’s not because of sanctions, that was because the Iraqi government diverted money and it diverted goods from the people and their legitimate needs to the military and their illegitimate needs. That’s the problem that Iraq poses, and it’s the problem that we need to deal with. It won’t get any better simply by burying our heads in the sand.

Question:  Was that a yes or a no answer?

Assistant Secretary Wolf:  That was a "the problem won’t get better if we bury our heads in the sand."

Question:  The question was whether it could be used to…as a pretext to launch an attack on Iraq.

Assistant Secretary Wolf:  Our goal is to see the disarming of Iraq and the ending of the threat that Iraq poses in its region and the threat that the Iraqi government poses to it own people.

Question:  Assistant Secretary John Stern Wolf, thank you very much indeed for talking to me this morning.

Assistant Secretary Wolf:  It was my pleasure, thank you very much. Have a good day.

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