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Interview with Scott Ritter

Aired September 9, 2002 - 08:17   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: The report from the International Institute for Strategic Studies confirming Saddam's enduring interest in developing weapons of mass destruction, that comes a day after former United Nations weapons inspector Scott Ritter insisted Iraq is not a threat to the U.S. He told the Iraqi parliament the country is on the verge of making an historical mistake by trying to remove Saddam Hussein.
But in 1998, when Ritter resigned his U.N. post, he criticized the international community for being too easy when Iraq violated Security Council resolutions.

So, what do you think of Scott Ritter now?

Well, he joins us from Baghdad and you can make your own assessment.

Mr. Ritter, thanks for joining us. Appreciate your time this morning.

The first question for you, just...


ZAHN: I want to have, hear your reaction to the whole range of Bush administration officials yesterday who essentially came out and have said that Saddam Hussein has been trying to obtain materials to build nuclear weapons, particularly trying to buy thousands of aluminum pipes that could be used in the manufacture of a centrifuge and ultimately used to manufacture weapons.

What do you make of that?

RITTER: What an absurd statement. Thousands of aluminum pipes, and we're going to go to war over thousands of aluminum pipes? Even the ISS report that you cite says that if Iraq was to have trying to do uranium enrichment, it would take them many years before they could do it. This is patently ridiculous. These are aluminum pipes coming in for civilian use. They are not being transferred to a covert nuclear processing plant or any covert nuclear activity whatsoever.

But the best way to figure this out is to send the weapons inspectors in. If they, if the United States has this evidence that Iraq has these pipes, why not, heck, give me the data. I'll come to Iraq, hunt it down and we'll bring it to a close. That would save us going to war, killing thousands of people and destroying our reputation in the international community.

We cannot go to war because Vice President Cheney's worried about some aluminum pipes. This is ridiculous.

ZAHN: But, Scott, why are you so convinced that these pipes would be used for civilian use when so many other people out there are absolutely convinced these pipes could ultimately be used to build a centrifuge? I mean that is true. These pipes could be used that way, right?

RITTER: Sure they could. But you say they're ultimately convinced. What makes them convinced? What evidence do they have? We're talking about going to war here, Paula. War. War kills people. War destroys things. War is something that's going to put the lives of American service members at risk and if we go to war along the lines that Bush is talking about, destroy our reputation in the international community.

So frankly speaking, I'm going to need a hell of a lot more than some aluminum tubes before I'm convinced there's a case for war. The bottom line is in 1998 the International Atomic Energy Agency said that Iraq had no nuclear weapons capability, none whatsoever, zero.

So how suddenly are they now an emerging nuclear threat? We'd better have a heck of a lot more to go on than some aluminum pipes.

ZAHN: Let's talk more about what some say is the only independent voice in this whole argument, and that is the International Institute for Strategic Studies. And you just cited the study. In this report, it suggests -- and this report is just out this morning -- that Iraq could make a nuclear weapon in months if it had foreign help.

Let me read to you what the conclusion was, that, "War sanctions and inspections have reversed and retarded but not eliminated Iraq's nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and long range missile capabilities, nor removed Baghdad's enduring interest in developing these capabilities."

RITTER: Paula, what do we have here? Rhetoric? Where's the facts? Enduring interest in weapons capability? What does that mean? What evidence do they cite for this enduring interest? You know, ballistic missiles, they say he has 12. What, did they grow? Where are they? They didn't have 12 when I was a weapons inspector.

Chemical weapons? Biological weapons? They talk about bulk agent in terms of Iraq's biological weapons program. What bulk agent? Where did they make it? Bulk agent has a three year lifetime in terms of storage in ideal conditions. The last time Iraq was known to have produced bulk agent was in 1990. That stuff, even if they held onto it, is no longer viable. So to have bulk agent today, Iraq would have had to reconstitute a manufacturing base in biological weapons. Where is it?

This report is absurd. It has zero factual basis. It's all rhetoric. It's all speculative and, frankly speaking, it's meaningless without, you know, with the sad exception that hawks in the Bush administration are going to point to this as justification for war.

We need a heck of a lot more than this if we're going to talk about sending our forces off to fight in a war in Iraq.

ZAHN: Scott, you say this is all speculative, but Colin Powell had something strikingly different to say yesterday. I want you to react to that on the other side of the break.

We're going to take a short break here and continue our conversation on the other side.

We'll be right back with Scott Ritter, a former U.N. weapons inspector.


ZAHN: And we want to welcome back Scott Ritter, who is a former U.N. weapons inspector from Baghdad, to continue our conversation.

Scott Ritter making it abundantly clear that he does not think the U.S. should be considering a war right now.

A question to you about inspections, because you support that idea. What makes you think that if U.N. weapons inspectors went in now, after not being on the ground for four years, it would be any different than the last time around, when Richard Butler, who was the chief U.N. weapon inspector, said the Iraqis often moved stuff when they knew you guys were going to be on the ground?

RITTER: I had been there since 1991 working under Ralph Acquas (ph) when the vast majority of the actual disarmament took place. By the time Richard Butler came, we had already destroyed Iraq's weapons programs. We were hunting down for, you know, missing items, you know, a piece of metal here, some documents there.

And, yes, Iraq could have moved them, but this does not constitute a weapons program. It's illegal, and this is what inspectors need to do, come back here, finish the job so that Iraq can get on with rebuilding its economy, etc. But, you know, Richard Butler knows for darned sure that the Iraqis were not moving weapons from his weapons inspectors.

The weapons inspectors were trying to get into some of the most sensitive facilities in Iraq that dealt with presidential security. I was the guy leading these inspections and Richard knows that he allowed the United States to use my inspections to spy on Iraq, which is why they don't trust the inspection process.

So let's not bring up Richard Butler. Frankly speaking, he has no credibility on this issue.

ZAHN: I still don't understand why you think the inspections will be any different this time around. The administration seems convinced that if Iraq had nothing to hide, they wouldn't have broken all these U.N. regulations and they would have allowed inspectors in over the last four years.

RITTER: Come on, Paula, let's be fair. The administration knows that the Central Intelligence Agency used the weapons inspection program as a Trojan horse to insert intelligence collection capabilities to go after Saddam Hussein. There's no way the Iraqis are going to let the inspectors in right now, given all the war rhetoric going on in Washington, D.C. Why would they let inspectors in to spy on them, to target them more effectively and then be used to manipulate justification for war?

You know, I know that inspections did work. We achieved a 90 to 95 percent level of verified, absolutely certain accountability for Iraq's weapons program, including all the factories and associated production equipment. This is why I'm just amazed when I hear reports coming from the IISS that Iraq suddenly has the capability. Where did it come from? Did they suddenly grow factories?

You build factories, not in a basement, not in a mountain cave, but it's a modern industrial capability. Where did it come from? Where are the facilities? Where are the weapons? I'm tired of speculation. I won't support a war in which the marines that I used to associate with are going to go off and fight and maybe get killed. It's just not worth it.

ZAHN: The former head of the CIA, James Woolsey, says you're very far off the beam on this one. This is what Senator Shelby of the Senate Intelligence Committee, had to say about you earlier this morning.

Let's listen.


SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R-AL), VICE CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I have met Scott Ritter before and I think he's an idealist. I think he wants to believe that everybody's good and the world's going to be safe. But I don't believe there's any real credence to his statements. It looks to me like that he's over there courting Saddam Hussein at the wrong time at the wrong place.


ZAHN: What about that perception that you're courting Saddam Hussein, wrong time, wrong place?

RITTER: Well, Senator Shelby, with all due respect, back off, buddy. I'm an American citizen doing the right thing for the United States of America. I'm not courting Saddam Hussein or the Iraqi people, I'm courting the American public. I'm trying to win over public opinion by asking the American people before you sit back and allow your government to go to war against Iraq, make sure they have the facts on the table to back this war up.

Right now the government has provided nothing but rhetorically laced speculation. And I'm in here in Baghdad trying to facilitate the return of weapons inspectors to keep your service members from going to a war that doesn't need to be fought.

Senator Shelby and everybody else, you want to debate Iraq, let's do it face to face in front of a TV camera where we can put the facts on the table and I guarantee you this, I'll win that debate.

ZAHN: Scott, you've got five seconds left. Do you acknowledge, though, that Iraq has defied a number of U.N. regulations here and resolutions?

RITTER: Absolutely. I'm not giving Iraq a clean bill of health. But, again, we're talking about war here, Paula, not about a game of diplomatic chess. Let's get the inspectors back in, let's get them to find out what the ultimate disposition of these weapons programs are and if Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction program, thank goodness, we just diffused a war. And I think that's a good thing worth trying to do.

Every American politician better be seeking to exhaust every viable option, including diplomacy and the return of inspectors, before we send American troops off to fight and possibly be killed in this war.

ZAHN: Scott Ritter, thanks for joining us. We'd love to take you up on that debate and if Senator Shelby or any member of the administration will debate you, we'll offer them and you the platform right here.

Thanks for your time today. Appreciate it.




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