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CNN SATURDAY MORNING NEWS

General Wesley Clark Analyzes Weapons Hunt in Iraq

Aired January 18, 2003 - 08:14   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In Iraq today, we have weapons inspectors back at that site where they found those empty chemical warheads Thursday and the U.N.'s top weapons inspectors are due in Baghdad tomorrow for key meetings with Iraqi officials.
Is this all putting the U.S. a step closer to war?

Let's put that question to our military analyst, Retired General Wesley Clark, joining us from Little Rock, Arkansas.

General Clark, good to have you with us.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST, FORMER NATO SUPREME COMMANDER: Good to be with you, Miles.

O'BRIEN: It's interesting, the administration says those empty casings are a troubling sign. Hans Blix says it doesn't amount to much at all.

What's the reality, do you think?

CLARK: Well, they're both right. I mean we've known for a long time that the Iraqis have had chemical weapons. Hans Blix says this doesn't prove anything, they could have been left there. He's right. The administration says this shows that there's a lot of potential there and there's trouble and the administration's right and this will add fuel to the fire and help the president make the case that it's necessary to go ahead and use force.

O'BRIEN: All right, but it's well short of a smoking case, then, isn't it?

CLARK: It is. It is. But this is more of the evidence that everybody's known for a long time. He does have weapons of mass destruction.

O'BRIEN: And you could say that categorically?

CLARK: Absolutely.

O'BRIEN: All right, well, where are, where is, they've been there a long time and thus far we've got 12 empty casings. Where are all these weapons?

CLARK: There's a lot of stuff hidden in a lot of different places, Miles, and I'm not sure that we know where it all is. People in Iraq do. The scientists know some of it. Some of the military, the low ranking military; some of Saddam Hussein's security organizations. There's a big organization in place to cover and deceive and prevent anyone from knowing about this.

But they make mistakes, too, like big organizations always do, and that's why we found those 122 warheads in that bunker.

O'BRIEN: Let's shift now and talk a little bit about the buildup and the potential timing for any sort of assault on Iraq. First of all, are there enough men, women and material in the region right now to engage in any sort of attack? I don't think we're quite there yet.

CLARK: Probably not there yet, but we've certainly got air power there. We could start it. It'd be a low intensity start compared to what we're capable of and I think the administration wouldn't do it yet. The timetable has always been pegged around, I think, the end of January, the report from Hans Blix. And then it was a question of what's going to be in the report, what does it take to get U.N. support. Will you get a second resolution? Not necessarily, but how do you get enough support from the key allies in the region to give you the access you need and to help you in the end game?

And so we're looking toward a mid-February start date, in my view.

O'BRIEN: And we've talked an awful lot about the seasons and whether this is something -- that military planners would prefer to wage war in Iraq in the wintertime. Should we put a lot of credence into that or will the U.S. military do its job whatever the season?

CLARK: I think the military is going to do its job no matter when it is. It's easier to do it when the weather is a little bit cooler if you're wearing protective suits. But there's no hard and fast cutoff date. It's not like do it by the first of March or that's it. It could drag on.

I think the decision here is going to be political. It's how much more do you get if you wait another two weeks, another four weeks, another six weeks? Waiting over there with the troops is possible, but not for a year. You're not going to keep that force level there for a year. A month maybe.

But is there any realistic possibility that Hans Blix is going to come up suddenly with a smoking gun if you give him another 30 days? And that's what people inside the administration have to be asking right now.

O'BRIEN: All right, just quickly, what constitutes a smoking gun then?

CLARK: Well, let's say that you stumbled onto a scientist who said, you know, they've blackmailed my family, get me out of here. Go to this location, this location, here's the documents, here's where we bought it. And this whole thing started to just unravel. That's a smoking gun. If you found a place where the SCUD, the missing SCUDs were buried and the warheads were there with them and there was a secret unit in there and they were prepared to, let's say, they had orders, you found the orders, it says hey, in the event of war we're going to launch against Israel, that's a smoking gun.

O'BRIEN: All right, General Wes Clark, thank you very much.

Always good to have you with us, joining us from anywhere.

CLARK: Good to be with you.

O'BRIEN: All right, we'll be back with more in just a moment.

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