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Scott Ritter: Facts needed before Iraq attack


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

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter spoke to CNN International's Fionnuala Sweeney about his own experience in Iraq, and his views on the possibility of a new attack by the United States.

SWEENEY: Scott Ritter, you are against any strike attack on Iraq for the reasons currently being given. Can you explain why?

RITTER: No one has substantiated the allegations that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction or is attempting to acquire weapons of mass destruction. And of course that is the reason we have been given for going to war against Iraq -- because of the threat posed by these weapons. It has been nothing but rhetorically laced speculation, not hard facts, that have been presented by either the United States or Great Britain to back this up, and until they provide hard facts, there is no case for war.

SWEENEY: But didn't the United Nations present a report last year saying they believed there were weapons?

RITTER: No, the U.N. presented a report saying they could not account for everything.

SWEENEY: But it is hard to account if you cannot get into the country.

RITTER: That's right. Then why did the United States pick up the phone in December 1998 and order the inspectors out -- let's remember Saddam Hussein didn't kick the inspectors out. The U.S. ordered the inspectors out 48 hours before they initiated Operation Desert Fox -- military action that didn't have the support of the U.N. Security Council and which used information gathered by the inspectors, to target Iraq.

SWEENEY: So you are saying that even before this administration came into power, that they were gunning for Iraq?

RITTER: Removing Saddam Hussein has been the policy of every American president since George Herbert Walker Bush.

SWEENEY: Well let's not go over that in the very short time we have. Let's ask what you believe the weapons of mass destruction situation is in Iraq at the moment.

RITTER: Well, look: As of December 1998 we had accounted for 90 to 95 percent of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capability -- "we" being the weapons inspectors. We destroyed all the factories, all of the means of production and we couldn't account for some of the weaponry, but chemical weapons have a shelf-life of five years. Biological weapons have a shelf-life of three years. To have weapons today, they would have had to rebuild the factories and start the process of producing these weapons since December 1998.

SWEENEY: And how do we know that hasn't been happening?

RITTER: We don't, but we cannot go to war on guesswork, hypothesis and speculation. We go to war on hardened fact. So Tony Blair says he has a dossier; present the dossier. George W. Bush and his administration say they know with certainty; show us how you know.

SWEENEY: How much access did you get to the weapons inspection sites?

RITTER: One-hundred percent. Every site we wanted to get to, we eventually got to. There was some obstruction, it wasn't pretty, but we got there.

SWEENEY: And after what period of time?

RITTER: It depends. A matter of hours sometimes, days sometimes, months, depending on the level of the international crisis. But remember we approached the weapons inspections the way that for instance a forensic crime scene investigator approaches a crime -- forensically. And we always uncovered every lie the Iraqis told us. They didn't get away with anything.

SWEENEY: But when you say you always uncovered every lie that Iraq told you, it means that Iraq didn't fully cooperate by any stretch of the imagination.

RITTER: I have never said that Iraq was fully co-operating and when I make an assessment about Iraq's disarmament level, it has nothing to do with what Iraq has declared. I do not trust them, I take nothing they say at face value, it is based upon on the hard work of weapons inspectors who have verified that Iraq has been disarmed through their own independent sources.

SWEENEY: So you don't believe that Iraq has any weapons of mass destruction at the moment, or are you not sure?

RITTER: I would say it is a difficult case to make, based on my experience, and if you are going to make that case, back it up with fact.

SWEENEY: Is the current debate about the re-entry of weapons inspectors something you believe is directly linked to Washington's decision on whether or not to attack Iraq?

RITTER: I believe Washington D.C. is using the concept of inspections as a political foil to justify war. America doesn't want to inspectors to return. The best way to stop war is to get the inspectors back in. I believe it should be the policy of the United Nations to get the inspectors back in.




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