Former arms inspector urges U.S.-Iraq dialogue
Scott Ritter's about-face draws critics
March 24, 1999
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Scott Ritter, a former chief U.N. weapons inspector who once advocated military force against Iraq, now says dialogue is the best way for Washington to avoid further conflict with that country.
Ritter, who resigned to protest what he considered failed U.S. policy on Iraq, said he still considers Saddam Hussein a "monster." His call for dialogue has taken some people by surprise.
"(Diplomatic) engagement, I believe, should be focused on the issue of economic reconstruction of the Iraqi economy, what I call ... the new Marshall Plan for Iraq," Ritter said in New York during a promotion tour for a book he has written on his experiences in Iraq.
Speaking at a U.S. policy forum on the Middle East, Ritter called the appearance his first public defense of the book.
Once critical of the Clinton administration, accusing it of interfering with his weapons inspection efforts and putting too much faith in Hussein's eventual removal through Iraqi internal opposition, Ritter resigned last year.
Meanwhile, since mid-December, U.S. and British warplanes have bombarded Iraqi sites regularly to punish what the allies say are Iraqi violations of the southern and northern "no-fly" zones.
The continued aerial assaults, Ritter now says, have led to a new situation. But his call for establishing better relations led to the first of many challenges from puzzled members of the policy forum audience.
"I interviewed Saddam Hussein a long time ago and I don't know anyone who agrees with your analysis," said Washington Post columnist Lally Weymouth.
"You may have interviewed Saddam," Ritter shot back, "but I had his gun in my face, the gun held by his bodyguards. It was my brain that was being threatened to be splattered on the road. I pursued him harder than anybody. The world let me down."
Failure to pursue a diplomatic solution with Hussein will result in a wider war in the next century, the former Marine insists.
"It's easy to sit here and say you can't engage with the demon. He is a demon. He's a bad man. But we do business with bad people. That's called life," he argued. "What's your counterproposal?"
David Kay, another former U.N. weapons inspector, praises Ritter's field work in Iraq but not his attempts at diplomacy. "My criticism of Scott since his resignation is ... he started doing policy as opposed to inspections, which he knows very well."
Ritter says he expects his controversial idea of diplomatic engagement with Iraq to "die on the vine" due to lack of support.
What he really wants is to provoke a debate. And if his book tour reception in New York is any indication, he'll get one.
U.N. denies knowledge of spies on weapon inspection teams
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