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CNN BREAKING NEWS

U.S. Advised U.N. Inspectors to Leave

Aired March 17, 2003 - 07:01   ET

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

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: We begin this morning with the late developments on what looks more and more like a war with Iraq. The United States has delivered a message to the United Nations advising that weapons inspectors should leave Iraq immediately.
Meanwhile, President Bush has indicated that he would give this type of notification prior to any military action against Baghdad. The State Department overnight ordered nonessential personnel and family members to leave Israel, Kuwait and Syria.

Now, the Security Council hasn't given the order to pull the inspectors out just yet, but it plans to discuss the matter in a closed-door meeting that gets under way this morning at around 10:00 a.m.

President Bush is calling today quote -- "The moment of truth for the world in dealing with Iraq."

So far, France, Russia and Germany continue to oppose a new resolution authorizing war.

Reacting to yesterday's summit in the Azores, the French foreign minister repeats that France will not accept any resolution that poses an ultimatum.

Russia's Prime Minister Putin said this morning a war would be -- quote -- "A mistake fraught with the gravest consequences."

And the same story from Germany. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder says he refuses to speculate on any deadlines at all.

Now on to Baghdad, where U.N. weapons inspectors are being advised to leave the country, and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein says his troops are ready to fight the U.S. anywhere in the world if it launches an attack.

Rym Brahimi joins us now with the very latest.

Good morning -- Rym.

RYM BRAHIMI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Paula.

Well, here in Baghdad, the U.N. weapons inspectors say they have not been given an order to leave just yet. That said, they are ready, they are prepared, they say, for any eventuality, including that of evacuation. There's 134 international staff belonging to that inspection mission, including 60 weapons inspectors proper. Now, they have a plane that is on standby at Saddam International Airport that's ready to take them out of here into Cyprus -- Larnaca, Cyprus, where they have headquarters as well at any moment. That said, they say they still haven't received any orders from New York or any guidance from Hans Blix.

Now earlier on, we caught up with Iraq's information minister, Mr. Mohammed Sa'eed al-Sahaf. He said that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and was continuing to cooperate with the inspectors in order to avert the possibility of war, but he had very harsh words for President Bush and Prime Ministers Blair and Aznar after their summit meeting in the Azores. Let's listen to how he put it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MOHAMMED SA'EED AL-SAHAF, IRAQI INFORMATION MINISTER: I think it's a failure, those despicable three failures. They tried again to divert the attention, and all day presented a series of lies and a series of dark, black propaganda like Mr. Bush and the others.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRAHIMI: The minister also said that the U.S. was preparing to launch what he called a foolish and stupid attack in defiance of the international communities' will, but he said Iraq was preparing to face that eventuality as well -- Paula.

ZAHN: Rym Brahimi, thanks for the update.

Now on to the status of the weapons inspectors. Melissa Fleming is the spokeswoman for the International Atomic Energy Agency, and she joins us now by the telephone.

Thanks so much for joining us.

How quickly can the inspectors get out if they are advised to do so by the Security Council?

MELISSA FLEMING, IAEA SPOKESWOMAN: Well, Paula, they can get out very quickly. Of course, they're well-rehearsed. This has been something that we've been planning for, you know, inevitably -- but hoping it wasn't inevitable -- for a long time. They're well- rehearsed, and we have several options, air or land, depending on what faces us.

ZAHN: And how quick of a turnaround are you talking about? I know Rym Brahimi just reported you have planes on standby. Are you talking hours or even shorter than that?

FLEMING: It could be shorter than that. As Rym said, it's only a half-an-hour to the airport, and then the plane can take off quickly. So it's not really a question of speed right now. The question is, you know, what will the Security Council give us for guidance? They are due to meet at New York time at 10:00 to take up this issue.

The only development that we have now is, of course, advice that the U.S. government gave us last evening to pull out our inspectors from Baghdad.

Mr. ElBaradei and Mr. Blix spoke together on the phone late last night. They've consulted with the president of the Security Council, as well as U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, asking for guidance. It was decided to go to the Security Council this morning before any decision is taken.

ZAHN: Does that mean that your organization is not taking the advice of the U.S. government seriously?

FLEMING: That is not the case at all. Naturally, Mr. ElBaradei is first and foremost concerned about the safety and security of our staff. However, you know, we are the agents of the Security Council and want to consult with the Security Council on any aspect of this. Of course, we're serious about our mandate.

ZAHN: Can you give us any idea of how individual inspectors are reacting to this latest advisory?

FLEMING: Well, our inspectors are used to being in intense situations, and we're in very close touch with them. They will not be carrying out an inspection today, so they're bracing for any news.

ZAHN: Is there a sense of disappointment among any of them who wanted the inspections to go on longer?

FLEMING: Well, Mr. ElBaradei, the chief inspector, has said today that he earnestly hopes even at this late hour that there could be a peaceful resolution of the issue even still, and that the world could be spared a war. So standing by -- the inspectors are standing by with him, and we'll wait and see what happens, what the developments bring us today.

ZAHN: In closing this morning, Melissa, I wanted to ask you something about a charge the vice president of the United States leveled against Dr. ElBaradei yesterday when he implied that Saddam Hussein already has nuclear weapons. He said -- quote -- "We know he has been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons, and we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons."

This flies in the face of what Dr. ElBaradei has said. He said, to date we have found no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons program in Iraq.

Can you explain the discrepancy this morning?

FLEMING: I think that Mr. ElBaradei would stand by his analysis and his positions on the findings of our inspectors after very thorough inspections. That said, he has always said that he has not given Iraq any kind of clean bill of health; that the investigations would need to continue for a few more months before we could be at the point where we could draw a conclusion about whether Iraq has revived its nuclear weapons program or not.

ZAHN: Melissa Fleming, thank you for joining us at this time -- critical time in your inspection process. Very much appreciate it.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com.

u



PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: We begin this morning with the late developments on what looks more and more like a war with Iraq. The United States has delivered a message to the United Nations advising that weapons inspectors should leave Iraq immediately.

Meanwhile, President Bush has indicated that he would give this type of notification prior to any military action against Baghdad. The State Department overnight ordered nonessential personnel and family members to leave Israel, Kuwait and Syria.

Now, the Security Council hasn't given the order to pull the inspectors out just yet, but it plans to discuss the matter in a closed-door meeting that gets under way this morning at around 10:00 a.m.

President Bush is calling today quote -- "The moment of truth for the world in dealing with Iraq."

So far, France, Russia and Germany continue to oppose a new resolution authorizing war. Reacting to yesterday's summit in the Azores, the French foreign minister repeats that France will not accept any resolution that poses an ultimatum.

Russia's Prime Minister Putin said this morning a war would be -- quote -- "A mistake fraught with the gravest consequences."

And the same story from Germany. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder says he refuses to speculate on any deadlines at all.

Now on to Baghdad, where U.N. weapons inspectors are being advised to leave the country, and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein says his troops are ready to fight the U.S. anywhere in the world if it launches an attack.

Rym Brahimi joins us now with the very latest.

Good morning -- Rym.

RYM BRAHIMI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Paula.

Well, here in Baghdad, the U.N. weapons inspectors say they have not been given an order to leave just yet. That said, they are ready, they are prepared, they say, for any eventuality, including that of evacuation.

There's 134 international staff belonging to that inspection mission, including 60 weapons inspectors proper. Now, they have a plane that is on standby at Saddam International Airport that's ready to take them out of here into Cyprus -- Larnaca, Cyprus, where they have headquarters as well at any moment. That said, they say they still haven't received any orders from New York or any guidance from Hans Blix.

Now earlier on, we caught up with Iraq's information minister, Mr. Mohammed Sa'eed al-Sahaf. He said that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and was continuing to cooperate with the inspectors in order to avert the possibility of war, but he had very harsh words for President Bush and Prime Ministers Blair and Aznar after their summit meeting in the Azores. Let's listen to how he put it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MOHAMMED SA'EED AL-SAHAF, IRAQI INFORMATION MINISTER: I think it's a failure, those despicable three failures. They tried again to divert the attention, and all day presented a series of lies and a series of dark, black propaganda like Mr. Bush and the others.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRAHIMI: The minister also said that the U.S. was preparing to launch what he called a foolish and stupid attack in defiance of the international communities' will, but he said Iraq was preparing to face that eventuality as well -- Paula.

ZAHN: Rym Brahimi, thanks for the update. Now on to the status of the weapons inspectors. Melissa Fleming is the spokeswoman for the International Atomic Energy Agency, and she joins us now by the telephone.

Thanks so much for joining us.

How quickly can the inspectors get out if they are advised to do so by the Security Council?

MELISSA FLEMING, IAEA SPOKESWOMAN: Well, Paula, they can get out very quickly. Of course, they're well-rehearsed. This has been something that we've been planning for, you know, inevitably -- but hoping it wasn't inevitable -- for a long time. They're well- rehearsed, and we have several options, air or land, depending on what faces us.

ZAHN: And how quick of a turnaround are you talking about? I know Rym Brahimi just reported you have planes on standby. Are you talking hours or even shorter than that?

FLEMING: It could be shorter than that. As Rym said, it's only a half-an-hour to the airport, and then the plane can take off quickly. So it's not really a question of speed right now. The question is, you know, what will the Security Council give us for guidance? They are due to meet at New York time at 10:00 to take up this issue.

The only development that we have now is, of course, advice that the U.S. government gave us last evening to pull out our inspectors from Baghdad.

Mr. ElBaradei and Mr. Blix spoke together on the phone late last night. They've consulted with the president of the Security Council, as well as U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, asking for guidance. It was decided to go to the Security Council this morning before any decision is taken.

ZAHN: Does that mean that your organization is not taking the advice of the U.S. government seriously?

FLEMING: That is not the case at all. Naturally, Mr. ElBaradei is first and foremost concerned about the safety and security of our staff. However, you know, we are the agents of the Security Council and want to consult with the Security Council on any aspect of this. Of course, we're serious about our mandate.

ZAHN: Can you give us any idea of how individual inspectors are reacting to this latest advisory?

FLEMING: Well, our inspectors are used to being in intense situations, and we're in very close touch with them. They will not be carrying out an inspection today, so they're bracing for any news.

ZAHN: Is there a sense of disappointment among any of them who wanted the inspections to go on longer? FLEMING: Well, Mr. ElBaradei, the chief inspector, has said today that he earnestly hopes even at this late hour that there could be a peaceful resolution of the issue even still, and that the world could be spared a war. So standing by -- the inspectors are standing by with him, and we'll wait and see what happens, what the developments bring us today.

ZAHN: In closing this morning, Melissa, I wanted to ask you something about a charge the vice president of the United States leveled against Dr. ElBaradei yesterday when he implied that Saddam Hussein already has nuclear weapons. He said -- quote -- "We know he has been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons, and we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons."

This flies in the face of what Dr. ElBaradei has said. He said, to date we have found no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons program in Iraq.

Can you explain the discrepancy this morning?

FLEMING: I think that Mr. ElBaradei would stand by his analysis and his positions on the findings of our inspectors after very thorough inspections. That said, he has always said that he has not given Iraq any kind of clean bill of health; that the investigations would need to continue for a few more months before we could be at the point where we could draw a conclusion about whether Iraq has revived its nuclear weapons program or not.

ZAHN: Melissa Fleming, thank you for joining us at this time -- critical time in your inspection process. Very much appreciate it.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com.

u


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