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Scott Ritter: Case against Iraq is speculation

'Bush needs to make the case'

Former United Nations weapons inspector Scott Ritter: Iraq
Former United Nations weapons inspector Scott Ritter: Iraq "has not been demonstrated to pose a threat worthy of war at this time."  

Editor's Note: CNN Access is a regular feature on providing interviews with newsmakers from around the world.

(CNN) -- Former United Nations weapons inspector and documentary maker Scott Ritter has said the United States' case against Iraq is all speculative and there is no proof that Iraq has biological or chemical weapons of mass destruction. Friday morning he discussed his position with CNN anchor Paula Zahn.

ZAHN: To hear Scott Ritter, all of the talk of war with Iraq is groundless. The former U.N. weapons inspector says Iraq poses no threat to the U.S. and military action would be a historic mistake. Last night, Ritter and his former boss, former chief U.N. weapons inspector Richard Butler, went on "Newsnight" on the issue of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Butler said Ritter had changed his position and was not telling the truth.

(Videotaped interview begins)

RICHARD BUTLER, former United Nations weapons inspector: Now, [Ritter's] advice to me then, on the basis of good evidence which I knew, was that Iraq continued to retain illegal weapons. He resigned. A few months later, he crossed the road and for some reason -- I don't know why, I'm not a psychoanalyst -- but he crossed the road and started to tell the world that there were no such weapons.

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So, I put it to you this way: Either he was misleading me when he worked for me, or he began to mislead the world's public later. Now, I know which one it is. He was ... not misleading me ... he is now misleading the world's public. And I find that sad, wrong and, frankly, a touch dangerous.

(Videotape ends)

ZAHN: Scott Ritter is back from his controversial trip to Baghdad. He is with us in the studio today.

Scott, welcome -- good to have you with us.

RITTER: Thank you.

ZAHN: Let me talk to you about the transition some people have accused you of making. They said you went to Iraq, to Baghdad, in July of 2000 to produce a documentary film that you said would de-demonize Iraq. An Iraqi-American, according to the "Weekly Standard," who is openly sympathetic with the regime in Baghdad, bankrolled this to the tune of some $400,000.

People out there are accusing you of drinking Saddam Hussein's Kool-Aid.

RITTER: Have you seen the movie?

ZAHN: I have not.

RITTER: Has anybody who has criticized me seen the movie? Watch the movie before you come after me, because I tell you what, I made this movie for the people of the United States to get a fair, objective analysis, so that we don't have to listen to Richard Butler get up there and misrepresent the facts about what happened on his watch.

I made a movie to explain to the American public what had been achieved in regards to disarmament of Iraq and why inspectors aren't in Iraq today and detailing the very complex, murky history of interaction between Iraq, the United Nations and the United States. It is most definitely not a pro-Iraq movie. It is a pro-truth movie. It is a pro-U.N. movie. It's a pro-American movie. It's a movie people should be watching and not denigrating.

Four hundred thousand dollars is not an unreasonable budget for an hour-and-a-half, full-length documentary. What does CNN spend on a documentary of that nature? The fact is, I sought funding from other sources. No one provided the money, because it's too controversial and no one wants to take on the U.S. government. Thank God, an American citizen of Iraqi origin put money up, his money, his own personal money with no links to Saddam Hussein.

ZAHN: Who paid for your last trip to Baghdad?

RITTER: I paid for it, together with donations from American anti-sanctions movement, the Institute for Public Accuracy -- the Iraqi government had nothing to do with funding this trip, or even organizing this trip.

ZAHN: Not a single cent.

RITTER: Not a single cent.

ZAHN: Let's come back to the substance of your disagreement with Richard Butler. You say Iraq poses no threat to the United States. You heard what the president had to say in his speech yesterday. You have probably seen the white paper that the administration is circulating, outlining some 16 times Iraq has violated U.N. sanctions, and then, this report that is considered probably the most independent voice all of this whole debate.

The International Institute for Strategic Study says that Iraq is very close to producing nuclear weapons if it could get its hands on fissile material. The report goes on to say that Iraq has biological and chemical weapons and the missiles to deliver them.

RITTER: No, the report does not say that. The report...

ZAHN: That's exactly what the report says.

RITTER: Absolutely not. Read it. The report says Iraq could have biological weapons, could have chemical weapons, could have ballistic missiles, could have a nuclear capability.

The fact is, there is no hard evidence, no hard evidence whatsoever, and this is my point. I'm not saying Iraq doesn't pose a threat. I am saying that it has not been demonstrated to pose a threat worthy of war at this time. Bush needs to make the case. The IISS report does not make the case. It's pure speculation.

ZAHN: Well, let me ask you this. If you don't believe that this report has any merit, how do you know? There haven't been any inspectors on the ground.

RITTER: My point exactly. I have never said I have known. I have never once said that I know what's happening in Iraq today. But what I'm saying is, no one knows what's happening in Iraq today, and we can't go to war based upon ignorance.

Get the inspectors back in. I've been arguing for the return of inspectors for four years. People say I have flip-flopped. No way. I have been consistent from Day 1. Get them in, let them do their job in accordance with the Security Council mandate. But they are not to be used as spies against Saddam Hussein. They are not to be used to provoke a unilateral military action.

ZAHN: All right, all right. But Richard Butler made the point with us earlier this week that obviously if you're going to do your job well, you need intelligence to figure out where he is putting this stuff.

RITTER: I ran the intelligence program from 1991 to 1998. No, I don't need Richard Butler to lecture to me. Keep in mind, he came in 1997, six years after I and other inspectors were on the job. We disarmed Iraq from 1991 to 1996 without Richard Butler's help.

He was at the helm of the ship when it ran aground. People need to keep that in mind that the weapons inspections process died under Richard Butler's leadership. Throughout the case, a Swedish diplomatic was able to navigate some very treacherous waters for six years, and the inspection process survived. Keep that in mind.

ZAHN: Let me ask you this. The vice president is saying, if inspectors go back in, it is dangerous, they will provide false comfort. Richard Butler has routinely told me, and he said he has the paper to prove it, that there are times that inspections teams went in there and Saddam Hussein moved the stuff.

What kind of guarantees do these new inspectors, if they're allowed to go in, have that he's not going to manipulate the system?

RITTER: There's no guarantees whatsoever. And if you go back to what I told the United States government when I resigned in 1998, let Saddam weave his own rope. Don't manipulate the system. See, if you manipulate the system of weapons inspections, you discredit their work.

Right now, we have the Bush administration talking the talk of disarmament, talking the talk of weapons inspections, but the walk -- the walk they're walking is of regime removal. The world won't support that. Stick with weapons inspectors. Let them go in. Give the inspectors a chance to do their job. You know, we did a good job. If Iraq fumbles the football, then you can pick that up and get international concurrence for military action.

ZAHN: Do you think Saddam Hussein will ever comply?

RITTER: I have no idea. What I know is, we won't know until we give him a chance to comply. We cannot presume guilt. We must go in and allow the process to work, the process of disarmament as set forth by the Security Council of the United Nations in its resolutions.

The United States simply cannot come in and dictate a pre-ordained outcome of Iraqi noncompliance and military action, which is what President Bush did yesterday. Let the system have a chance to work. If Iraq fumbles -- and they probably will, because they don't have a good track record on this -- if they fumble...

ZAHN: Then what?

RITTER: Then, we have no problem lining up support around the world. Then, we won't be standing alone.

ZAHN: Isn't it enough -- and we've just got 10 seconds left -- that he has already violated 16 U.N. resolutions?

RITTER: Inspectors aren't in Iraq today, but not because Saddam kicked them out, but because the United States ordered them out in 1998. Keep that in mind.

ZAHN: That actually was as a result of U.N. negotiations.

RITTER: Negative. That was the result of Richard Butler unilaterally withdrawing from a system of inspection mechanisms.

ZAHN: But you -- Kofi Annan was involved in all of that. But we don't have...

RITTER: No, Kofi Annan...

ZAHN: We don't have a lot of -- well, look, we don't have...

RITTER: Study the chronology, that's all I'm saying.

ZAHN: ... the debate, the chronology of the U.N. and how it involved getting inspectors out.

RITTER: Well, it's important.

ZAHN: We're going to have to leave it there this morning. Scott Ritter, thanks for joining us -- appreciate it.




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