DoD News Briefing
Thursday, 4 December 1997
PRESS CONFERENCE GEORGE ROBERTSON, U.K. SECRETARY OF STATE FOR DEFENSE AND WILLIAM S. COHEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE MINISTRY OF DEFENSE, LONDON THURSDAY, 4 DECEMBER 1997
Secretary Robertson: We call upon your generosity, legendary in the British press corps of course, and I am very pleased to welcome to the Ministry of Defense here in London today the Defense Secretary of the United States of America for a day of discussions which follows on the lengthy NATO Ministerial meetings that have just taken place in Brussels. One of the main subjects of our discussions today will be the continuing crisis in Iraq, the stand-point of the British and American governments which remains firmly close together, the continuing danger that Saddam Hussein and his regime poses for his immediate neighbors, but also for the rest of the world, and we have discussed a number of aspects of these matters today.
The clear message for the people of this country, indeed for the wider world community, is that this crisis is not over. Saddam suffered a major defeat in taking on the world community and the United Nations UNSCOM inspectors, but in the face of united resolution among the Permanent Members of the Security Council, and with the military effort of the United states and Britain, Saddam was forced to back down from his confrontation and his expulsion of those among the inspectors that he did not wish to have access to his special sites. The steel fist inside the velvet glove of diplomacy worked in humiliating Saddam in this instance, but the world community must remain vigilant, and strong, and united, unless he seeks to exploit any weakness that might exist in the future.
- There was a triumph for diplomacy. The British Foreign Secretary chaired a 2 a.m.. meeting in Geneva and along with the United States Secretary of State, the Russian Foreign Minister as well as the French and Chinese, a resolution was obtained for this particular crisis, but we intend to remain firm in the face of a continuing threat by Saddam to refuse access to some of the sensitive sites that he has, those sites where we know there is the possibility of weapons of mass destruction - chemical, biological, and possibly nuclear weapons capabilities. And we will remain alert. HMS Invincible is still in the Mediterranean and on call. Our aircraft carrier, which turned from the Caribbean, covering 3,200 miles in 6 days, is there with aircraft of the Royal Air Force in the Mediterranean, our Tornados of the southern no-fly zone are there protecting the reconnaissance missions of the U2 and we stand by the military capability put in place by the United States in support of United Nations resolutions as well.
- However, the main theme that both Bill Cohen and I want to get over today is the risk and the threat posed by Saddam Hussein in his chemical and biological capability. The UNSCOM inspectors, some of them British, some of them American, and it was with them that Saddam had most exception, having already uncovered considerable assets, denied at the beginning by Saddam Hussein, and posing a huge risk both in the chemical and biological context. These deadly weapons are there and in the hands of a regime that has already used them both against its neighbor Iran in the Iran/Iraq war, and against its own citizens in the Kurdish town of Hallajah (phon) in 1980. He has biological weapons, he has chemical weapons, he has huge amounts of deadly substances that can kill almost unquantifiable numbers of people and people need to realize what a danger he represents.
The United Kingdom is proud that we play our part in the UNSCOM operation, the inspectors who bravely and diligently have uncovered the deadly secrets of Saddam's regime. We spend a million Pounds a year on UNSCOM alone, providing as we do, scientists from the Chemical and Biological Defense Establishment at Portsdown, whose job it is to identify these terrible weapons, and the facilities that can make them, and to destroy them as they emphatically have done.
So the British and American governments stand firm against the threat that is posed and are determined to draw to the attention of the public of this country, and the wider world public, of the kind of deadly danger that is represented by a regime that has a capability, that hides a capability, and will use a capability in the chemical and biological sphere if it is allowed to do so.
Secretary Cohen: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary, and let me say what a pleasure it is for me to be here with you and to have spent the past two days with you in Brussels. And to those in the audience, I must say that Secretary Robertson is one of the most articulate and forceful voices in the entire NATO Organization and he spoke eloquently and with great conviction and passion, and I might also say, humor, during the course of the past two days, but a very powerful and persuasive voice throughout defense circles in the NATO organization
Let me also reiterate, because much of what the Secretary has said has made my remarks somewhat redundant--we have members of the American press corps here and they are used to having me be quite redundant, and so I'll not disappoint them this afternoon, the crisis does remain. It has been deferred for the moment. It has been eased somewhat. But the real decisions have yet to be made and that is if and when Saddam Hussein is going to allow the UNSCOM inspectors back into the country completely unfettered so that there are no sites that are placed off limits, that there are no restrictions on where and what they may do. This is what the UN resolutions called for. This is what the UN mandate must insist upon. And so until such time as we are satisfied that that is to be the case then the crisis has been put on hold, it has not been resolved.
I also want to express my thanks for the strong partnership expressed by Great Britain, as a result of the decision to send Invincible to the Mediterranean, nearby, and only a short way away from being on call to help out in the Gulf. It sent a very strong signal that you had the United States and Great Britain in strong unity and partnership, committed to resolving this crisis, peacefully if we could, but militarily if necessary. And I want to express my personal gratitude to the people of Great Britain for their strong support in this regard.
I have a number of charts which, unless you have excellent vision, you will not be able to see from the audience but I would invite you, following the press conference, to examine, and perhaps to photograph. But they lay out precisely what Secretary Robertson has just concluded in saying and pointing out, that Saddam Hussein has used chemical weapons in the past, he has used them against his own citizens, against those of the Iranian people as well.
There was an interesting interview that was conducted on a program called "60 Minutes" just a few weeks ago in the United States during which a high level Iraqi military man who has defected and successfully survived assassination, revealed that Saddam Hussein indeed had biological weapons that he intended to use them during his war with Iran, and would have had the war not ended back in 1988; that he had a plan to hide, and conceal, and secrete these weapons, both chemical and biological; that he was convinced that the UNSCOM inspectors were only a temporary nuisance as such, a temporary problem, that they would go away or, more importantly, they would be bought away because he had indicated that he thought he could bribe the individual inspectors with two notable exceptions--that he could not bribe the United States inspectors or those from Great Britain. But the implication was that others could be bribed. Fortunately, that has not been the case. Fortunately, we have had inspectors who are truly doing an heroic job. They have put themselves in a very dangerous situation. They are completely professional, and the truth is in what they have laid out for the world community--that Saddam Hussein has been lying for a long time; that originally, he said he had small quantities of nerve agent solely for research and then the lie was exposed and it was revealed they at least admitted to having at least 4 tons of VX.
I will resist the temptation for my American press people who are in the audience in holding up a vial, but a small vial of VX would do horrendous damage. This amount of VX in this glass, if this were VX instead of water, could destroy thousands of people because a single drop on your finger will kill you in a matter of a couple of minutes. He lied about how much he had in the way of a biological weapons program, he said he had none, he said he had no offensive BW program. It turned out that he had 2,100 gallons of anthrax. A single spore of anthrax, which is smaller than a node of dust, that is inhaled will kill you within a couple of days, and he had 2,100 gallons that he has admitted to and the UN believes he has far more than that. As a matter of fact, he could have produced, according to the United Nations, Iraq could produce a chemical agent, 10 tons per month; a biological agent, 100 gallons a month; missiles, 10 per month; and to develop a long range missile capability of reaching distances as long as 3,000 kilometers.
UNSCOM has determined that he has this capability. Did he do this during the month long period in which the inspectors were excluded? We don't know. What they do know is that he had the capability, and had he decided to do it, he could have.
And so these are the dangers which we have to look forward to. I used the expression during one of my prior press conferences to another lawyer, the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur, something that originated right here in this country. In Latin it means things speak for themselves. And what speaks for itself is Saddam Hussein's past behavior, it speaks volumes in terms of what he has done, what he has lied about and what he is capable of. And so all of this really means that we must keep the pressure on, that we must remain united in the United Nations, that we must insist that he fully comply with all of the resolutions, and that absent that, there can be no relief provided to Saddam Hussein. This is something that we will insist upon and he, nor his leadership, is in any position to dictate what the terms of his probation should be. It is the equivalent of someone who has been paroled or put on probation trying to tell his probation officer what he will allow that officer to do, when and in what circumstances. That is simply an untenable and unacceptable position. It is one that the United Nations cannot accept and should not, and so we must keep the focus on what he has done, what he is capable of doing and why he must be not allowed to resume these activities.
So it is something that we remain united in. We agree that the crisis has been deferred for this moment but we will have to wait to see if and what the inspectors are allowed to do before we can say it is on the road to being fully resolved.
Q: Is there any chance that you will quickly move Invincible into the Red Sea or the Gulf? And when you say it is ready, prepared, do you mean that you are prepared to move into the Red Sea on short notice, within striking distance of Iraq?
Secretary Robertson: Yes, the Invincible is there, it is paying a ship's visit to Barcelona at the moment but it has the GR7 Tornados on board and as, and when required it can move to the Red Sea and to the Gulf. We keep it in reserve and I was visiting the crew of HMS Invincible last Monday and there is a dedication and a commitment there which made me very proud to be the Defense secretary of this country. But as I pointed out, there are other forces already there. We flew with the U2 during the time of maximum crisis. The Tornados of the Royal Air Force that are permanently policing the southern No Fly Zone were already engaged in that activity and protected the U2 in its UN work during the two missions that it flew during the height of that crisis. So we remain ready to respond, but we hope that the diplomatic solution that was arrived at, and I think that it was a great success for the United Nations, let there be no mistake about that, that we hope that that diplomatic success will hold, that Saddam will no longer feel that he can easily challenge the UN consensus; but if he does, then he knows that there are forces there from at least two countries, and probably from more, up against him.
Q: Secretary Cohen, much has been made about the lack of access to Saddam Hussein's presidential palaces which you have described as sprawling compounds. What do you believe is hidden in those compounds? What kinds of things? Are we talking about missile technology, or what specific things do you believe are hidden in those areas where you are not allowed access now?
Secretary Cohen: There could be a variety of things hidden there. I mentioned the interview that was on a network other than your own, but during the course of the interview the individual involved suggested that there were vast amounts of documents that were stored that would reveal the extent of the programs under way.
They are not all presidential palaces that we are talking about. We are talking about Republican Guard facilities as well. As a matter of fact it gives me an opportunity to point to the center photograph and the first of the lower level of the charts on the board here, and if you look at that very closely, it is a U2 photograph, and what is important about this particular photograph is that this is a Republican Guard facility and a photograph taken prior to this time, 8 minutes prior to this photograph, would show and reveal not a single car, truck or van in the vicinity of that building. When that shot was taken, the UNSCOM inspectors were on their way to inspect that facility. You can count the number of trucks, cars and vans and they total 17 and they are all seen going and putting materials basically out of that building and then removing them from the building so that when the inspectors are finally admitted over an hour later, they find nothing in the facility. This is the type of activity we believe has taken place on many occasions in the past, and the reason that those sites that the UNSCOM inspectors believe may contain either munitions, or documentation, or other facts that would allow the inspectors to conclude that illegal activity either was taking place there, or had taken place there, that equipment was being used for ostensibly civilian purposes but really for deadly purposes.
One other example that I have given in the past is that UNSCOM inspectors discovered at least one professor who was emerging from the University of Baghdad, and he had a stack of papers under his arm and the UNSCOM inspectors demanded to look at the papers and he said they were really very personal, and indeed the top sheet and the bottom sheet were personal but everything in between had to do with the experimentation under way to extract ricin out of castor beans. Ricin is one of the most deadly poisons on earth and it has no antidote. Castor beans can be used to make castor oil or oil and fluid for your car's transmissions but also to extract ricin. And what the documentation revealed was that they had a very active program underway to see how they could extract ricin from the castor beans and of course they have been planting hundreds, if not thousands, of acres of castor beans. So this is the kind of documentation that is important; these are the reasons why UNSCOM must have unrestricted across to those sites that they believe contain material that would verify that he has been concealing that kind of information.
I want to make it very clear, however, that UNSCOM is not restricted to simply 63 sites. These are only the 63 that have been identified at this point. where they have reason to believe that they should inspect and from which they have been precluded. And so we shouldn't be lulled into thinking that there are only 63 sites where they might be allowed to go. These are the 63 which they have focused upon recently but there could be very many more. What we need to have is a demonstration on the part of Saddam Hussein that he really has changed his mind, or had a change of heart, and not simply a change of tactical advantage here. So that is what we have to be sure of and for that reason we have to insist that there be unfettered inspection rights.
Q: Aren't these presidential palaces, these sprawling compounds, the ideal place to hide the kinds of things that you suspect him of hiding?
Secretary Cohen: They are the ideal place to hide these kinds of things and one must only speculate as to the reason why he would not permit serious scientific inspectors to go in, and search for such evidence. They certainly provide the opportunity. We know he has had the will to do this in the past in terms of evading the sanctions regime and so one can speculate only, but I think it is a reasoned speculation, that indeed he has something to hide. If he has, as we have said, nothing to fear then he should have no objection to the UNSCOM inspectors going into these facilities.
Q (Guardian): You referred to the documents that were hidden by the professor with the ricin extraction plans under his arm. These are not things that are susceptible to military strikes. Are there facilities in Iraq that you already know about which would be susceptible to military action in the sense that it would degrade his ability to pursue these problems? Do they already exist and if they do, at what point, in what way, through what mechanism, is your patience going to run out?
Secretary Cohen: You should say our patience run out, because this is something bigger than the United States and important to the world at large. The answer is that there are many facilities and sites that are at least suspected of containing such capability. I would not be one to speculate in public in terms of what action the United States, in conjunction with our British counterparts and others, might take should military action ever become necessary. We are hoping it will not become necessary, so we intend to pursue every diplomatic option, but not rule out any military action and obviously I would not be in a position to talk about these.
Q (Mark Laity, BBC): Both of you have mentioned several times that you are going to remain firm against Saddam Hussein, but the inspectors have been back in for not far short of two weeks now. They are still not gaining access to the places that they want to, so that doesn't seem to me to be a demonstration of firmness, it seems to almost be an indication of weakness.
- Secretary Cohen: Let me respond very briefly to that. As a matter of fact, what the inspectors had to do was to go back and re-draw the baseline from which they had to initiate their inspections again. By virtue of being precluded from inspections for three weeks, they had to go back and start over again and say what happened to the monitors that were taken down; what happened to the equipment that ,was taken out? And so they have gone back to make sure that those monitors and that equipment has been restored to the original places where they were. It is a question of time, obviously. Mr. Butler is scheduled to visit Baghdad I believe in the near future, but I think that it is very clear that he will have to demand and insist that they be allowed to inspect those sites which Saddam Hussein has said are off-limits. So the timing is one, not for the United States, or even for Great Britain, it is for UNSCOM and for the United Nations--but I believe that it should be sooner rather than later, and I believe it will take place in the foreseeable future, but that is up to UNSCOM to determine.
- Secretary Robertson: We are ready to make judgments about what the inspectors are allowed to see, based on what the inspectors feel they need to see. That point hasn't come yet and it will be up to Ambassador Butler to make the judgment as to when he is satisfied that they are getting access to all of these sites. What we need to do in the meantime is first of all keep the momentum going in the United Nations of the unity that brought Saddam Hussein to the humiliating position that he was two weeks ago, and no later than yesterday the United Nations again reminded him of his obligations. They unanimously reminded him of his obligations under the existing resolutions. But we also need to explain to the wider public that weapons of mass destruction is an expression that covers everything and nothing to the majority of the public. That what it represents is that this man, this leader, this dictator, has control over weapons that have got anthrax, botulinum, plague, nerve gasses, blood agents, blister agents, and that in the past he has used them, He is assessed, in fact I think they claimed that they used 3,000 tons of chemical agents during the Iran/Iraq war, that is their own estimation of what they used. So what we are doing at the moment is alerting the world to what we mean by weapons of mass destruction. These are weapons of horrifying consequence in the hands of somebody who can and has used them, so that the solidarity of the United Nations and the solidarity between our two countries is relevant to an immediate threat that faces the neighbors of Iraq, as well as the wider international community to whom he could deliver these weapons himself.
Secretary Cohen: If I could just take the opportunity to hold up one more document. It is something that we released from my office just a couple of weeks ago, and it talks about proliferation, the threat and response, and it identifies what we have referred to as these asymmetrical threats, not of the future but of the present, and that more and more countries are acquiring the technology to develop chemical and biological weapons and this will pose a threat to the global community. When we talk about Saddam Hussein, we are not talking about him just posing a threat to his neighbors. One of the things that the UNSCOM inspectors discovered was that he had been developing a Scud missile with a 3,000 kilometer range and we have pointed out that that runs not only from Baghdad over to Riyadh, or to Israel, or to any of the countries in the region, but all the way, theoretically, to Paris, and he was wanting to extend it perhaps to London, or to the United States. And so he has been dedicated to this, we have seen his use of what we call eco-terrorist, environmental terrorism, setting 500 - 600 oil wells on fire, and many have forgotten the image of those raging fires at this point and what had to be done to contain them. And if you can imagine the missiles that he had, and we have discovered that he had anthrax in the warheads of a number of missiles, anthrax in the warheads of his Scud missiles could produce casualties ranging from 1 million up to 10 million people. And so it is a danger not simply to those in the neighborhood, it is a danger to the global community and that is why we have tried to raise this threat. Using Saddam Hussein is only one example. There are other countries that we will have to contend with in the future as well. We have got to alert the international community of what is taking place throughout a number of countries and what danger they pose for humankind.
Q: Just to be clear, are you - the United States and Great Britain threatening certain military action if eventually all diplomatic means fail to gain unfettered access to those sites?
Secretary Cohen: Let me repeat what I have said time, and time again, that the President has reserved all options; that the President would like to see this matter resolved and hopes it can be resolved diplomatically, and he has used every diplomatic channel to achieve that. He continues to seek a diplomatic way of resolving the crisis, but he has ruled no option out, and no option in, and that is as specific as I, or anybody else is going to get on that subject matter.
Q: Since my question on Iraq has already been answered, could I shift topics to Bosnia and ask Secretary Robertson if you could explain to us your views on extending international troops in Bosnia after June, and how you view the United States as reluctant to make a firm decision at this point on extending the mandate?
Secretary Robertson: All of us who are involved in Bosnia believe that it is an operation of international significance. We all recognize that huge progress has been made since the intervention force went in under NATO's command and control. And we do not wish to be preoccupied by next June when there needs to be progress made in December 1997. And all of the NATO allies who gathered in Brussels believe that we have to maintain the pressure that was started at the Sintra Conference and maintain that right through the winter and into the spring. But it was the unanimous view of the NATO Defense Ministers that we should task the military authorities with coming up, without prejudice, with a number of options for a possible follow-on force after June 1998 which would critically depend on what progress had been made before then. We have made huge progress. I don't think there is anybody in Europe, and in the world who would want to see that progress diminished or destroyed by precipitate action. The Dayton Agreement was a triumph for the world and in particular for American diplomacy and it has provided the foundation for a moment of peace during which the Bosnian people themselves can start to determine their own future. And I think there is a collective determination to make sure that the Dayton Agreement is delivered and that peace, and sense, and decency returns to Bosnia. So we tasked the military authorities with exploring options.
Q: ... have made clear that you are prepared to put British troops into Bosnia next June if necessary. The United States has not said that. How do you feel about that?
Secretary Robertson: We want the United States to be part of the force, any force, that remains in Bosnia after next year. That is a decision that will be taken by the Americans, by the Congress, as well as by the Administration. We have used both public and private exhortations to make sure that there is an American presence and I hope that we will persuade America by the progress made on the ground, as well as the stakes that are involved, that they have a role to play after that. But critically, at the moment we are all concentrating, including the Russians and the Ukrainians, who were yesterday in Brussels with us as well, on what progress can be made just now, and not becoming preoccupied with a date next June.
Q: Given that the US and British aircraft control northern Iraq, what is your reaction to the Turkish invasion of northern Iraq, and indeed their own admission of at least 2,000 troops being killed by forces in northern Iraq? What is your position on Turkey's action?
Secretary Robertson: The No Fly Zone is policed by coalition forces in order to make sure that Saddam himself does tot attack the native Kurdish population in the area. But there is a dispute between the two Kurdish forces in that part of the world which is complicating both the No Fly Zone as well as their own possible future. The Turkish authorities have taken action against those who use northern Iraq as an insurgency base for southern Turkey, but clearly the integrity of Iraq itself is something that we in the past have said must be protected.
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