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Remarks by David Albright at the Carnegie International Non-Proliferation Conference 1999

by David Albright

January 11, 1999

Thank you very much. I'm certainly humbled to follow Ambassador Butler. I also must say I think Joe has me here to get into the areas that are tougher for the Ambassador and for other government officials to get into. So I thank Joe for that, too. Let me just start by saying few observers would currently call the effort to permanently stop Iraq from acquiring weapons of mass destruction successful. Moreover, if steps are not taken soon, Iraq may emerge in a relatively short period of time with weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. One message I'd like to give is that steps can be taken to try to correct the current situation. Like in 1991, creating these steps will require persistence and international consensus. And at the same time, they may be unprecedented and unexpected. Again, as Ambassador Butler made it clear, the current situtation is that there are currently no inspections in Iraq and it's very unclear when those inspections will start again. He also has made it very clear that these inspections have been remarkable in what they've accomplished and that to lose them would be a great tragedy. But the situation is worse than that. Support for sanctions is eroding. Increasingly, sanctions are seen as imposing too much of a burden on the Iraqi people. With the change in U.S. policy, the question has come up, can the Iraqi opposition overthrow Saddam Hussein. Or are statements that will take a long time equivalent to us having the face Saddam Hussein will be around for a long time? Also, the British and U.S. air strikes have had limited effect, and that future ones could be very costly politically. In the background, Saddam Hussein continues to be as defiant as ever. One could come up with endless examples. The Iraqi parliament this weekend, first on Saturday recommended rescinding Iraq's recognition of Kuwait and then decided not to stick with that on Sunday. However, this appears more tactical than a real change of heart. A sobering effect of this situation is that Iraq is likely reconstituting its weapons of mass destruction programs, particularly its nuclear weapons program. Within a few months to a few years, Iraq could have nuclear weapons, and under the current situation with no inspections and weakened sanctions, detection of such a reconstituted nuclear weapons program is unlikely. Certainly the situation as I presented it is dire, but I think the seeds of resolution are slowly appearing. However, some items must be confronted first. We must get beyond recent charges that the U.S. intelligence agencies misused UNSCOM. From my perspective the situation looks bad. U.S. intelligence may have used intelligence information or information gained via UNSCOM to try and overthrow Saddam Hussein. Worse, because the U.S. Government controlled that information, it cannot prove its innocence. It's damaging to UNSCOM, it's damaging to U.S.-UN relations and it's damaging, as I think as Ambassador Butler implied, to transparency and inspection efforts in general. At a minimum, the U.S. Congressional intelligence agencies should investigate this case to see what happened. I think we also have to face honestly the question of whether the Iraqi opposition can overthrow Saddam Hussein and help make the problem go away. Certainly in this evaluation, the U.S. Government should not raise expectations if it believes that that cannot be done in the current form or if it is simply not sincere about it. In any case, the removal of Saddam Hussein must remain a priority. After all, he is a brutal reckless dictator who has made the life of the Iraqi people miserable. Despite these immediate problems, two priorities are emerging. They will be difficult to deal with, but the first is re-establishing inspections that are effective and equal. This must be one of the highest priorities. I believe that U.S. hopes of detecting weapons of mass destruction programs are not credible, citing past experience. More importantly, even if they are detectable, garnering evidence to present to other nations to justify actions is proven to be extremely difficult, as most of us in the non-proliferation community have learned over the years. Inspections are not like a light switch. They're not either effective or a failure or a sham as some would call it. Many things can be done to compensate for weaknesses that are insisted upon by the member states or the Security Council. You can't go too far down that path, and some governments are proposing things that are much too far down that path. Nonetheless, inspections remain vital to efforts to stop Saddam Hussein from getting weapons of mass destruction. The international community must once again confront the question of what to do when a nation violates international treaties or commitments. Does the international community have the right and will to replace Saddam Hussein's regime. And I'm not talking about a U.S.-British invasion or U.S. supported Iraqi opposition forces. I personally believe that these are rather fanciful at this point in time and also potentially disastrous for broader U.S. interests. However, there have been recent indications from the Arab community that they're also getting fed up with Saddam. Saudi Arabia's official news agency recently urged Iraqis to overthrow Saddam Hussein because of the misery he's caused to the Iraqi people. Egypt's president, Mubarak, has been regularly attacking Saddam Hussein. The motivation is principally that Sadam Hussein asked that the peoples of those countries overthrow their rulers because of lack of support of Iraq in a recent campaign. This Arab support for changing the regime in Iraq is certainly fragile, but I think in terms of any discussion of changing the regime in Iraq, it's critical that the Arab nations really lead together or be deeply involved in that effort. Finally, it's not the U.S.'s responsibility or right to overthrow the Iraqi regime despite the need to do that. Throughout such an effort, it's critical that the U.S. and Britain maintain their commitment for putting military pressure on Iraq. Developing a broader coalition will require the United States to step back a little bit from seeing itself as the leader of all Iraqi sanctions. Just to conclude, whatever develops during the next several months, we should all be focused on the goal of preventing Iraq from acquiring weapons of mass destruction. In that light, we should avoid forming our firing squads into a circle. Thank you.

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