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Time Running Out for Iraq, Wolfowitz Says

Author: Bernard Gwertzman, Consulting Editor
January 23, 2003
Council on Foreign Relations

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[Note: A transcript of this meeting is unavailable. The discussion is summarized below.]

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz said Thursday that Iraq has not destroyed its chemical and biological arsenal and is working hard to produce nuclear weapons.

Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Wolfowitz offered no new evidence to back up the administration’s claims that Iraq was concealing weapons of mass destruction in violation of repeated United Nations Security Council resolutions. Instead, he focused on Iraq’s alleged failure to cooperate fully with United Nations inspectors who have been in the country since November 27.

“So far, they have treated disarmament like a game of hide and seek— or, as Secretary of State [Colin] Powell has called it, ‘rope-a-dope in the desert,’” he said.

After his address, Wolfowitz was peppered with questions on the administration’s reluctance to produce intelligence information to back up its claims of Iraqi noncompliance. One of those putting that question to Wolfowitz was William Webster, the former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency. To all such questions, Wolfowitz replied that it was important to protect intelligence sources, although he held out the possibility that more information might be divulged later.

“What we know from the testimony of Iraqis with first-hand knowledge, from U.N. inspectors, and from other countries, about Iraq’s current efforts to deceive inspectors, suggests that Iraq is fully engaged today in the same old practices of concealment and deception,” Wolfowitz said. “Iraq seems to be employing virtually all of the old techniques used to frustrate U.N. inspectors in the past.”

He said that the decision on whether Iraq’s weapons will be dismantled voluntarily or by force “is not up to us or to the U.N.”

“The decision rests entirely with Saddam Hussein,” he said. “So far, he has not made the fundamental decision to disarm and, unless he does, the threat posed by his weapons programs will remain with us and, indeed, will grow.”

“And time is running out,” Wolfowitz added.

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice made a similar point in a January 24 op-ed in the New York Times. In the run-up to a January 27 Security Council meeting on Iraqi disarmament— and in the face of growing public skepticism about the administration’s war plans— officials have intensified their efforts to make the case for Iraqi disarmament.

In his speech, Wolfowitz sought to link indirectly Iraq and the events of September 11, 2001.

“We know the terrorists are seeking more terrible weapons— chemical, biological, and even nuclear weapons,” he said. “In the hands of terrorists, what we often call weapons of mass destruction would be more accurately described as weapons of mass terror.”

“Iraq’s weapons of mass terror and the terror networks to which the Iraqi regime are linked are not two separate threats,” he said. “They are part of the same threat. Disarming Iraq and the war on terror are not merely related. Disarming Iraq of its chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction and dismantling its program to develop nuclear weapons is a crucial part of winning the war on terror.”

“Despite 11 years of inspections and sanctions, containment and military response,’ Wolfowitz said, “Baghdad retains chemical and biological weapons and is producing more. And Saddam’s nuclear scientists are still hard at work.”

At one point, he said that the United States had provided “a comprehensive package of intelligence support” to U.N. inspectors in Iraq. Another member of the audience challenged Wolfowitz on why the American public should “trust” the administration’s allegations in the absence of firm evidence. These questions resulted in an appeal by him to trust the administration. “I find it startling when you ask if you can trust the United States government.”

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