Global Policy Forum

Pickering Hits Iraq's Handling

US Department of State
September 19, 2000

The day following the commemoration of Iraq's aggression against Kuwait, Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering discussed the continuing problems of non-compliance by Iraq during a digital video conference (DVC) on August 3 to London with editors and journalists of Arabic newspapers.

The secretary dealt with the issue of sanctions in his opening remarks. "The sanctions themselves, you know, have been heavily criticized, I believe unfairly and without sufficient background information." He continued, "I think it is a tragedy that the Iraqis, in administering the program in their own territory ... have badly misused it. They have refused to increase their orders, even though their monetary income has increased this year to $20 billion dollars a year." He stressed that sanctions had never included food or medicine.

Pickering also emphasized the conviction of the United States "that the future of Iraq can only be determined by a democratic and free Iraq, and that Saddam Hussein's continued presence is incompatible with that future. We are prepared to support Iraqis, in and out of Iraq, who are prepared to work for a different future for the country, including a future without Saddam."

Following is the transcript of the remarks by Secretary Pickering:


August 3, 2000

Moderator: I thought that you would want to make a few statements, then turn it over to questions from our group here. This session is on the record.

MR. PICKERING: Thank you very, very much. I'm happy to see all of our friends from London. I want to begin by apologizing for having to move the time of the meeting and thanking you very much for your continued interest in persevering with this. I thought I could just say a few things to set the stage, recognizing that I know your questions are going to be important: we want to devote as much time to them as we can. We are now just past the day commemorating the Iraqi aggression against Kuwait, and the aftermath of that. It was one of the seminal events in the region and one of the most important developments in recent history. I would, of course, just remind all of you that it was a coalition of many of our countries that succeeded in reversing the military aggression.

I had the honor of serving my country at the United Nations at the time and spent a lot of my time on the resolutions then and on the resolutions that followed the end of the military activities. Since then, I have devoted a great deal of time, particularly these last four years, to this question.

There are a number of areas that people find increasingly difficult and troubling. Among these areas, from our perspective, is the large number of missing people who are not properly accounted for, and the fact that the United Nations disarmament people are out of Iraq and not back in, despite the most recent Resolution 1284. We remain deeply concerned that the sanctions remain, but that the Iraqis remain out of compliance with a host of resolutions, including most recently 1284. The sanctions themselves, you know, have been heavily criticized, I believe unfairly and without sufficient background information. I hope that in the course of our conversation I can supply some of that information to you.

It remains clear from the very beginning, that we never had the intention, and never did put sanctions on food and medicine. We made the provision from the earliest days to provide for Iraq to sell oil so that it could generate income to feed and take care of the health needs of its people. This has been broadly expanded to include significant funds, $600 million this year, to repair and refurbish the Iraqi oil industry to be the machine to provide this funding. The fact is that health issues are now widely seen to be of concern. But items in this, including for water and sewage have recently been taken off the list so they can be pre-approved for contracts. The United States has recently dropped its objection to well over a billion dollars worth of contracts, and will continue to review these against the backdrop of contracts that should provide for genuine humanitarian needs, and not be dual use items that could be used in a weapons programs. These are, I think, all significant points.

I think it is a tragedy that the Iraqis, in administering the program in their own territory, particularly in areas that are under their control, have badly misused the program. They have refused to increase their orders, even though their monetary income has increased this year to $20 billion dollars a year, and that they have refused to allow the United Nations to carry out appropriate monitoring. They have used contracts as a political device to encourage their friends in the Security Council to be more friendly. They have refused to monitor the quality of the goods that they bring in. There are serious problems in this effort, and we are convinced that the bulk of those problems lie basically with the government of Iraq. The United Nations, as it administers the programs in the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq, has done quite a different job. There, children's malnutrition rates and children's mortality rates have come way down, well below what they were before the Iraq - Iran War.

It is important to note that the United States remains convinced that the future of Iraq can only be determined by a democratic and free Iraq, and that Saddam Hussein's continued presence is incompatible with that future. We are prepared to support Iraqis, in and out of Iraq, who are prepared to work for a different future for the country, including a future without Saddam. We are working very closely with a number of organizations, including some in London, that are gathering information on the war crimes of Saddam and some of his close assistants, and we hope, as more information becomes available, governments who have criminal courts and jurisdiction in these cases will move to return indictments on those issues and to take practical steps to do whatever can be done to indicate the depth, the breadth, and the heinous nature of those crimes. Even more importantly, it will further restrict Iraq's senior officials' capacity to operate if they are indicted.

That's a very broad compass. I apologize for taking you on five or seven minutes over such a broad course, but I hope it can set the stage for what we would like to talk about. And now I look forward to your questions, and thank you all again for coming.

QUESTION: My name is Diwani, Editor-in-Chief of the Mushahis Al-Siyassi, a daily based here in London. I would like to ask Mr. Pickering what do you want Baghdad to do? Don't tell me please that you are looking to the Baghdad regime to oblige the Security Council's demands. Exactly what does the United States want from them, because you are leaving the people in the regime to survive forever. Could you please tell me?

MR. PICKERING: The resolutions provide a complicated structure. Let me answer some of the key questions that relate to Iraqi noncompliance with the resolutions. One of these has to do with weapons of mass destruction. In that particular area, Iraq has refused to accept Resolution 1284, which provides road map to sanctions suspension and sanctions lifting. Part of that road map involves the return of United Nations monitoring body, a new body led by Hans Blix, the former Director General of the IAEA, and which is professionally constituted. We believe that Dr. Blix will be ready to take his monitors and inspectors back to Iraq as early as next month.

We hope that Iraq will comply. Dr. Blix cannot go, obviously, until Iraq does comply with that resolution, accept the resolution, and move ahead. That resolution provides for Dr. Blix, once he returns to Iraq, to set up permanent monitoring and to provide a list of key disarmament tasks. When they are complied with by Iraq, this will lead to consideration of suspension of the sanctions. This is very important and it has been something that the Iraqis continually are concerned about. Arab friends of the Iraqi people, as well, are concerned, but I think mistakenly so, because they don't understand that the sanctions don't involve the health of the people of Iraq. It is the malicious actions of the government of Iraq that they need to see removed.

It is in Iraq's hands to move in that particular direction as rapidly as possible. Secondly, a very important part of the resolutions have to do with the depredations that Iraq committed in Kuwait at the time of the conflict, principally missing property and over 600 Kuwaitis who have completely disappeared from the face of the earth. There are areas where Iraq has refused to allow the International Red Cross/Red Crescent access to its prisons to examine those prisons for those missing people.

Recently the Secretary General, in accordance with this resolution, appointed an old and very distinguished colleague of mine, Ambassador Vorontsov, who was the Soviet, and later Russian, representative at the time of the Gulf War, to be his personal representative, to look in to this aspects of this question.

Finally, I think the people of the world hope for the Iraqi government to truly take a serious interest in the lives and health of its own people, since it is the major roadblock to the full execution and the adequate implementation of the Oil-For-Food program.

Saddam has his own malicious intent. He tries to create the notion among people to ignore his own actions, which cause misery for his people, and then use that misery to try to get the world community to remove sanctions, which really never covered the reasons why these people are miserable. The sanctions only cover the reconstruction of weapons of mass destruction, and the capacity of Iraq to threaten its neighbors, something we have seen twice in the last few decades.

I hope that this is clear, and succinct, and straight forward, and I hope that you will understand that it in those three areas, major progress could be made if Iraq were willing to do so.

QUESTION: I'm sorry, Mr. Pickering, I would like to say that we've heard this story from the beginning of the War of the Gulf. I am Iraqi. I've lost all my family there. I am against the regime and would like to get see them out of power as soon as possible. Most of my family has died, and all are going to die because of the bad situation there. The Kuwaiti prisoners of war will not survive forever for you [to] wait until Saddam Hussein to comply with your resolutions. I don't think this is a good theory to change the situation in the area. Neither in Iraq or in the Gulf or Kuwait, because people worry that the economy in the area is going very bad. All these things push us to ask you to do something as soon as possible.

MR. PICKERING: Let me just say that, first and foremost, we sympathize with you, particularly those who have families, who are trapped in what is a horrible situation inside Iraq. Secondly, let me say that we have since the very beginning exercised all pressure, all capacity to do everything we could for the people inside Iraq and we will continue to do so. Thirdly, if you believe that there are other alternatives, let's examine them. One such alternative would be to take all sanctions off, open up trade, permit Saddam to reconstruct his weapons of mass destruction. Saddam has shown time after time that his only priorities for the use of money are nuclear bombs and palaces. He has not done anything and does not do anything for the people under his control except for those favored few whom he pays to maintain his rigid security system and his Draconian control over his own people. One could try to invade Iraq, I suppose, and send millions of troops and try to drive Saddam out. Each of these alternatives has huge consequences and great difficulties, and each of them has been carefully examined, not only by the United States, but also by the world community, and been discouraged.

We would like to see Saddam gone. As I said in the opening of my remarks, we will work with Iraqis because we believe it is only Iraqis who can accomplish that particular objective. That in my view, would be the best outcome, but I can't tell you that there is a magic formula to see this done.

Our magic formula, in reality, is patience. Patience, as you say, doesn't help the people who are suffering in Iraq to endure with any more capacity than they have now. In the interim, we'll do everything we can, including programs of this sort, talking with you who are deeply concerned about this issue, to bring the maximum pressure on Saddam to care more for his own people.

I'd like to see more monitoring take place, so that the food that he now stores in warehouses gets distributed to his people and does not go just to the Tikriti crowd. He had $250 million in medicine stored in warehouses, and it was through public discussion of this issue that we were able to get at least some of that loose.

It is still not enough, I understand. I share your frustration, and I wish I could come up with a better series of immediate instant answers to a difficult problem. Unfortunately, in this case, we don't have them.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Pickering.

MR. PICKERING: Thank you.

QUESTION: My name is (inaudible) from Azzaman Arabic daily. Is there any opportunity for the Security Council to adjust the Resolution 1284, so that Iraq accepts to comply with it?

MR. PICKERING: We have looked at this all very carefully. I have spent a good part of my time, for a whole year and some months, negotiating 1284. We carefully negotiated 1284 to answer the questions that were before us. First, to gain the objectives which the United Nations clearly sought, and which I've just laid out. Second, to try to do this in a clear and predetermined way. Third, to bring the most objective kind of reasoning to bear on precisely how and when the various steps should be made. This includes confiding in Dr. Blix, although he wasn't chosen then, we had him in our minds, with the deep responsibility of determining which disarmament tasks needed to be fulfilled.

I believe that a negotiation with Iraq over a resolution which deals with problems which Saddam has now shown not one scintilla of evidence of ever resolving could only result in a selling down the river of the essential objectives of the world community in return for some kind of face saving, minuscule, ineffective presence inside Iraq. Certainly, you and I would agree that's a horrible deal.

The members of the Security Council, including some who professed to be extremely sympathetic with Iraq, or at least act as if they're extremely sympathetic, worked very hard to craft a resolution that we thought had the best possible chance of carrying out the objectives, including addressing what Iraq constantly complained about, was that it didn't know what it had to do to get rid of sanctions. If it did not know that, and I think that that was a profession of ignorance to achieve short-term political objectives, it certainly does now. Now Iraq knows what it needs to do to get rid of sanctions. If Iraq's goal is really to deal with suspension of sanctions and move ahead, 1284 opens the path in that direction. 1284 is a fair resolution. The countries that abstained on its passage have insisted publicly and vociferously, that it must be complied with.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Pickering. My name is Khaled Shami with the Al-Quds daily in London. I will refer briefly to three areas that you mentioned, which is the inspectors and their occupation and the Security Council. You couldn't bring the inspectors back to Iraq after the Desert Fox operation which, was triggered by the alleged refusal of Iraq to cooperate. You also couldn't get the Iraq position groups together so that they could qualify to receive aid according to the Iraq Liberation Act. Also, three permanent members in the Security Council have abstained and didn't support the 1284 Resolution. My question is, why should the American policy in Iraq should be thought anything but the failure after ten years. And do you seriously think that you would be able to bring the inspectors back to Iraq?

MR. PICKERING: Let me address those because they're serious questions, and I think they're important.

It would be easy for me to quibble with various parts of your conclusions, including the fact that the Iraqi opposition can't be gotten together. They are coming together. Nobody said the Iraqi opposition was perfect, either inside or outside of Iraq. We have distributed the equivalent of $3 million already under the Iraq Liberation Act and we expect to do more.

Three permanent representatives - Russia, China, and France - abstained on 1284, but later all made statements at the higher level, that it was a resolution of the Security Council, it was mandatory, and they expected it to be carried out. It is not a signal of the bankruptcy of the policy. It is a signal that this is a tough area.

There is controversy, but the fact that United Nations resolutions put through in August through November ten years ago remain in force and are fully supported by the Security Council, and to the best of our knowledge, are being carried out with the exception of some violators and smuggling, is a remarkable achievement, in light of obvious difficulties that this has caused many members of the world community as the process has proceeded.

Saddam is isolated. He has not, at least in so far as we can tell, reconstituted his weapons of mass destruction to the point where our need to use military force to prevent this, where, in the absence of UN inspection and UN destruction teams, such is triggered. He has not moved against his neighbors, or threatened them, although he knows very well that if he does, the United States will take appropriate action in dealing with that. That would be crossing one of our red lines.

Of course, one could say Saddam is still there after ten years. It is not a perfect policy, and we've discussed that earlier with a number of your colleagues and I share the frustration about that. But I don't believe that this means we should turn around and roll out the red carpet and take a policy of bolstering and supporting Saddam Hussein in charge of Iraq, in a situation in which he could rebuild his weapons of mass destruction, reconstitute his conventional forces, and launch again into military aggression, as he has done twice in the past.

This is a policy, which in my view has succeeded very, very well in isolating and containing Saddam, in keeping the regime from moving in directions that are deeply threatening to the region and to the world community, and continuing to keep the world community together despite differences over some critical questions around the basic corpus of United Nations resolutions. This is something that has been unique in the experience of the United Nations Security Council. When it began with the Iraqi effort, with the aggression, and meeting the aggression, it created a whole new body of Security Council law and practice in dealing with this particular area. So there have been, in my view, tremendous areas of success in the policy as well.

QUESTION: How about returning the inspectors back to Baghdad?

MR. PICKERING: You are right to ask that question. The answer to that question, unfortunately, isn't in my gift of prophecy, but lies in Baghdad. We all hope that pressure of the world community can achieve that objective. That is why we crafted 1284. But we are patient. As you remember, the Oil-for-Food Resolution was incorporated originally in ideas from in Resolution 687 in the Spring of 1991. It took Saddam almost five years to accept the idea and principle, and then he did a slow roll negotiation for a year and a half before he accepted it in practice.

Taking six and a half years to accept Oil-for-Food was a tragedy for the people of Iraq, but in the end, he did accept. I don't' know whether he will accept the inspectors back. Its the wisest course. Its the right thing to do. It has the most importance for the future of Iraq, and it has the most importance for the world community, and it is important, I think, that Saddam listen to the world community on this question.

QUESTION: I'm Roula Khalaf from the Financial Times. It seems that the Iraqis have been putting out feelers that they're ready to discuss the terms of 1284. Some Security Council members are urging Blix to organize a meeting with the Iraqis in a third country. The Iraqis have also asked for Kofi Annan to go to Baghdad to talk about 1284. What is the US position?

MR. PICKERING: I think the US position is that the Security Council is the body that is responsible for its resolutions. It has neither deputed nor anointed nor appointed either the Secretary General or the head of UNMOVIC to be responsible for changing its resolutions. It is the members of the Security Council who have that unique role, duty, and obligation under the charter. It is my belief that negotiations of resolutions with a country that has refused to comply with and continues to violate the resolutions, is an enterprise in the destruction of the Security Council as the primary instrument for the world community to maintain peace and security.

If the members of the Security Council collectively decide to change, they of course can do this, but I see no interest in doing this on their part, including even those who abstained on 1284. They continue to say that 1284 must be implemented and must be complied with by Iraq.

I'm not surprised that Iraq has used every device over the last ten years, in every conceivable way, to try to find its way out of the box in which it has put itself as a result of its aggression against Kuwait, and its continuing refusal to be a responsible member of the international community.

QUESTION: Does that mean you would oppose a meeting between Mr. Blix and the Iraqis?

MR. PICKERING: If you were to conclude that, you would be entirely safe.

QUESTION: Good afternoon Mr. Blix (sic). My name is Hosni Imam. I'm the bureau chief for the Kuwait News Agency.

QUESTION: (laughter) You're speaking to Tom Pickering. Not Mr. Blix.

QUESTION: I'm sorry. We were led to believe that August is a crunch month regarding the inspections and regarding the issues that are contained in 1284. Do you envisage that following that month, there will other options on the table regarding inspections again, and regarding the Kuwaiti POWs, in order to make progress on these issues? Secondly, do you think that Saddam proceeds to present a threat Kuwait and to the Gulf region, in the light of reports that he is moving troops now to the north and who knows what will happen next?

MR. PICKERING: I think that, again, these are important questions. I had signaled earlier that Dr. Blix has let it be known that he believes he will be ready at the end of the month of August to take his inspection organization back into Iraq. So, that in itself, is a new development. He has followed step by step and very carefully, a program of preparation and international consultation to do that. So this issue will, in effect, come to a head.

When he announces, "I'm ready to go back." I hope the world community will turn its attention to Iraqi reluctance and unwillingness to accept the resolution. There can be an increased focus of attention since it happens to coincide with the same month as the original Iraqi aggression, and I believe these are important political factors that must be kept in mind and taken into account.

I think that the issue of Iraq's threat is real. In the beginning of the aggression in 1990, it had the world's fourth largest army. This has been considerably reduced and he has had trouble because of the sanctions in replenishing and re-supply. It nevertheless remains a formidable force, of concern to all of us, and we watch it carefully. That is why we continue to say that reconstitution of weapons of mass destruction, the movement of those forces, as they did in 1996, to threaten neighbors, and the use of those forces against the Kurdish areas in northern Iraq, contrary to resolutions, would engender reactions that we would certainly take at times and places of our own choosing.

We will try to deal with those steps, which we believe would represent a threat to the region, despite the considerably reduced, but still very large, size of the Iraqi military.

QUESTION: On the POWs issue, Mr. Pickering?

MR. PICKERING: Well, I would hope very much that continued attention, including 1284's new focus on the prisoners of war and the Iraqi sequestration and theft of Kuwaiti property, will do that. Ambassador Vorontsov has been widely received in the region, but I don't believe he has been well received in Baghdad, or even had a chance to go. I think this is bad. I think that the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, whose activities are in support of this, should be allowed to visit Iraqi prisons.

We will continue to keep this before the eyes of the world community, in and out of the Security Council, through discussions such as we are having today, in order to do all that we can to bring this to the attention of the Arab nations, the world community in general, and international organizations.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

MR. PICKERING: Thank you.

QUESTION: Good afternoon Ambassador. This is Al-Hayat newspaper. I have two questions if you don't mind. One is how long before your patience will last because, I think Arab patience, as far as the people are concerned, is running out in to seeing all those Iraqis suffer. Second, I was wondering what information do you really have on Saddam Hussein's building weapons of mass destruction inside Iraq.

MR. PICKERING: Thank you. First, I hope I am showing a deep sense of impatience now about Saddam, and we have been showing this up front for the last ten years. On the other hand, I have to tell you that for many years we have been deeply involved in a hugely important Middle East peace process, which has also tested patience from time to time, but in which we remain absolutely determined to continue. I can tell you that I believe that the scale of patience that we have shown in the Middle East peace process, will be no less than in Iraq. We are determined and we will keep at it.

We believe, over time, things change. We will do everything we can to make it more possible for things to change more rapidly, and I hope that you can, as you have, in the peace process in the region, continue to count on us with respect to Iraq.

The information we have on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs has come significantly from the predecessor of UNMOVIC, UNSCOM, and is broadly known and widely in public view. We have other information which we collect unilaterally through our own intelligence, which unfortunately, for reasons you well understand better than I, we are not permitted to talk about in public. We watch this very carefully.

We also have the awful problem, whether UNMOVIC is there or not, of what we don't know, but we have with UNMOVIC in Iraq a much greater possibility of reducing the range of the unknown. At the moment, clearly there are things that the Security Council does not know, that it ought to know, and that UNMOVIC could help us to know. That is important and that is why we believe 1284 is important and that UNMOVIC should get back. I believe, if we had information that we felt was clear, straightforward, and dangerous, we would find ways to let you and the world community know. We are pretty much left with that set of conclusions and that's where I have to leave it with you now.

QUESTION: Mr. Pickering, BBC World Service. Whatever the degree of blame attaching to the Iraqi government for the prevention of distribution of supplies and therefore the suffering of the Iraqi population, the shortage of drugs and the rest of it, do you think that it is, first of all, moral for western powers to keep these wide ranging sanctions in place? Secondly, is it absolutely essential, to have sanctions on virtually everything, in order to deny to Saddam Hussein, the things that he would need to rebuild weapons?

MR. PICKERING: I think that if you look at this quite carefully, your question makes a case, which I don't believe exists. I believe if you look now, beginning with food and medicine, at the expanded regime under Oil-for-Food for help for human safety and education, with $64 million that has gone into educational programs alone over recent years, and at efforts to try to improve and increase transportation inside Iraq to do what is necessary to distribute food, even in areas of communications improvements, you will see a very broad regime of humanitarian commitment under Oil-for-Food, which in many ways, belies the notion under your question - that is that only penicillin and Wheaties are allowed to go in and nothing else, and as a result of that, the international community bears a heavy share for the burden for the disastrous consequences for the Iraqi people that you all keep writing about. This is wrong.

I think it is important to note that caloric intake has increased, despite malevolent Iraqi efforts to prevent that from happening on their own ground. Its combination of diversion of food to favored people in the regime, the use of food storage to support the military and military efforts and desuetude, and a studied lack of interest in really taking care of the people of Iraq.

Despite the fact that the graph for oil income has gone up like Mt. Everest, the line that represents food purchases by Iraq has imperceptibly changed from a total flat plane, at about a billion dollars or so a quarter, maybe even less than that. I can make available to my friends in London a graph by fax, so you have it. So that, in particular, must be kept in mind.

Secondly, I think its important that we focus in on the "whys." I've been through this a couple of times - diversion, failure to order. The UN recommends orders be increased, and Iraq fails to do this. There is failure to permit the UN and reputable international non-governmental organizations like the Red Cross and others to monitor the distribution of food and medicine inside Iraq and there is diversion of food and medicine to favorites and to the military.

All of these have really represented a serious reason why the United Nations' reports for health and child malnutrition for central and southern Iraq, the areas that the Iraqi government has responsibility for carrying out this program, and northern Iraq, where the United Nations has the direct distribution responsibilities, have varied so much.

This is why we believe that based on this essential statistical base, it is right to assert that it is the Iraqi government in the main that bears the lion's share of responsibility for this.

I'd like to see more observers and more humane administration of the program. We believe in general the UN has done a good job, and I know Benon Sevan, the UN administrator of this program, has been in Iraq. He has worked very hard for change and so has the Secretary General.

This is not, in our view, a UN problem or a world community problem. This is an Iraqi government problem. To get to your original question, the bulk of the things that the people of Iraq need are not on the sanctions list and some never were.

QUESTION: Slmani from "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat." It says here, that the Americans are saying that Saddam Hussain is the problem in Iraq. Do you find it difficult to remove him, or you are not sure that this is the right option?

MR. PICKERING: For the United States, it is the right option. He is still there and obviously it is difficult to remove him.

We believe that it will be the Iraqi people who will have to remove him. That can't be done by some sort of magic formula from outside, and so we are working with Iraqi people, both inside and outside Iraq. We are helping to unite them in a common cause. That has been difficult, as has been alluded to by earlier questions, but gradually we are making progress. We have been trying to provide them with training, with funds and equipment to set up their own organization and to build their own headquarters, and with efforts to bring them together in meetings, as we did in New York last year and as they have elsewhere in Europe and beyond, in order to discuss their future, plan their programs, and find ways to coordinate their efforts. We think, as in all things, unity is strength. We believe that this is an important endeavor.

It is true that many Iraqis see things from different perspectives and getting together has been hard, as you all know, but we are patient. We will continue to work at this particular issue and we believe that it is this kind of approach that over the long term could make a difference.

QUESTION: Mr. Pickering, the U.S. has repeatedly accused the Iraqis of diverting the goods that they receive and of blocking distribution, but when we ask UN officials, who actually deal with the program, they say that there has never been any evidence. They don't find any evidence that Iraq have ever diverted medicine. They don't have but one or two cases where they've kept medicines from being distributed, but they seem to have perfectly reasonably reasons for that. This is the information that we receive from the United Nations, which, after all does administer this program. So, are we getting the wrong information from the UN?

MR. PICKERING: I think that $250 million worth of medicine sequestered in warehouses is not an isolated, minuscule, de minimus kind of problem. The good news is, that having identified that at the UN, I believe international pressure has helped to rectify it.

Second, one of the deep concerns that we have, and one of the deep concerns expressed by the Secretary General and Mr. Sevan, is the limitations, in both numbers and ability, to monitor the program by the United Nations. We also believe, from our own information, that there has been diversion, and this has to be counted among the many ways in which the Iraqi government has in fact made this program ineffective in helping its own people. If I had to point to one or two things that are important, it is the straight line graph on the purchases of food that has been significant. There have not been increases despite the very large increases in the amount of money in the United Nations escrow fund as a result of two things; oil price increases, on the one hand, and increasing capacity on the part of the Iraqi petroleum production system to move larger quantities of oil on the other. The graph stays level and even. This isn't, in my view, responding to the needs of the Iraqi people.

QUESTION: Daily Telegraph. How do you cope with the argument that says that the reason that we have these sequesterings and delays in the system is precisely because we, the West, set it up that way? We set up a system whereby UN deals with the Iraqi government. That is what the nature of all this is, and if you did not have a sanctions regime, you could deal directly with ordinary Iraqis who wouldn't have any of these problems?

MR. PICKERING: I think that, unfortunately, the reality is that in dealing with Iraq, one has to deal with the Iraqi regime unless one has the capacity to replace that regime.

We've discussed that at some length. We'd like to see it happen. It would solve lots of other problems, and would result in a significant sea change in circumstances in the region. It is hard to see at this point how it could be implemented, other than the continuous and patient efforts we are trying. I do not believe the alternative is to open the floodgates for the reconstruction of weapons of mass destruction, and the rebuilding of the Iraqi military forces, which we believe would inevitably result if sanctions were lifted now without any further action on the part of the Iraqi government.

We also believe that the failure of the Iraqi government to take a serious interest in its own people, is not in my view, going to be solved by a lifting of sanctions if the Iraqi government will still be there. What makes you believe in fact that the people of Iraq have any capacity to act independently of the draconian measures of that government, with or without sanctions?

These are all important questions in the policy that you advocate, and I think they need to be looked at carefully, but I don't think they provide us the answer, as much as I'd like to find an answer.

QUESTION: But why do you believe that ending sanctions would inevitably lead to the rebuilding of weapons of mass destruction? You would be able to keep export and import control. You're not talking about a free trade zone between Iraq and the rest of the world.

MR. PICKERING: I guess you would have to tell us what you mean by ending sanctions. Once you begin to qualify it, and the United States believes that it is important, there needs to be clear statement, as contained in 1284, that there are continued financial controls on Iraqi income for precisely the reasons that you raised.

I also think that removal of sanctions means that trade in dual use and other items gets a free ride and is opened up. There would no longer be any prohibition on that and no longer any effort and no basis for the maritime interception force in the Gulf to inspect cargos and so on.

A lot of the important aspects of controlling the trade in dual use and military and weapons of mass destruction items would be threatened, if not removed, by the kind of change that many who advocate the lifting of sanctions seem to believe is necessary to achieve their goals.

QUESTION: Mr. Pickering, I just wonder how long you think you can sustain these sanctions against Iraq, given the rising unpopularity of the American policy in the region. A second question, how legitimate is it to support opposition to topple another country's regime?

MR. PICKERING: I believe that there are two points here. One is that we are patient. We believe that we must do a better job in explaining the basis, the reasons, the logic, and the purpose of our policy. That is one of the tasks that I hope I can accomplish with you, and with others today who are willing to listen. There is, I hope a free debate among us, and a free flow of ideas, and free exchange of information.

We believe that we have a good policy, and that we have the right and indeed we have the duty to explain it, and talk about it, and to give you a full sense of exactly why we believe that this is the right sort of policy.

I believe that it is fully legitimate, in the open way in which we are supporting the Iraqi opposition. There has been no discussion of, or provision of lethal equipment. There is clearly a law in the United States which provides for the framework under which we provide that assistance.

We have been allowed to use the Defense Department's resources in non-lethal ways for $100 million and have appropriated small sums under the same restrictions to work with the Iraqi opposition. We believe that there are already too many weapons in Iraq. The issue is one of political activity, political organization and popular support . That has a longer-term payoff, but, in my view, a more certain and sure path, and one that we believe meets high standards of international legitimacy with an aggressive dictator who has oppressed his own people. I believe the largest number of people in Iraq who are in the opposition have a capacity, in their own way, to demonstrate their opposition.

QUESTION: A couple of days ago, the Egyptian Foreign Minister asked for the policy on Iraq to be changed. Some GCC members like the U.A.E., are asking for the lifting of sanctions. Don't you see this as you are losing your place in the Arab World?

MR. PICKERING: I believe that these questions that have been raised about the policy both of the Security Council of the United States and the United Nations are realistic, but I believe that they are based on misimpressions of what the hard realities of Iraq are. The US does not set out to create a monolithic block of friends where no one can ask any questions and where states are not able to think through and understand the current situation and dilemmas for the future. We think that is one of the strengths of our friendships and alliances in the Gulf and the Middle East

I believe that the questions asked have been questions that we have been engaged in responding to in diplomatic channels, and we will continue to do so, as well as in open discussions like the one we have here.

I believe that we, with the greatest respect and with the greatest sense of responsibility, feel that those particular initiatives and ideas are incorrect.

We believe that through discussion and examination in great detail of the realities of the situation, that we can find ways to convince others that these are incorrect ways to move, to assess the situation, and to understand the outcome. Indeed, we have put in place arrangements to attempt to deal with this problem. The big difficulty, which we have consistently and constantly have focused on here in our own discussions, is that we do not have control over Saddam Hussein or his regime. It would be best if he were gone, but in the mean time we have to do all it can through the United Nations, through the Oil-for-Food program, through the tremendous efforts we are making to try to get help, support, and sustenance to the people of Iraq.

QUESTION: Mr. Pickering, there are some concerns in the region that during the period of the transition with the American presidential elections that Saddam might try to manipulate the situation. Also, I wonder if you could share with us, some information about your assessments of the domestic situation in Iraq regarding the fact all these reports I've been hearing. Have you got anything to say about that?

MR. PICKERING: As far as the transition is going, I believe that everybody who has followed American politics over the years knows that anybody who would attempt to become threatening would be making a very serious mistake. In political transitions in the United States and on this particular issue, I sense that whoever wins the American election will have a very strong commitment to the policies that we have outlined in the United Nations resolutions and in the history of the effort.

This effort began under Republican administration, it has been continued firmly under Democratic administration, and I believe whoever wins the elections in the autumn will be firmly committed. I would hope that this message gets clearly and directly understood.

The domestic situation in Iraq is, as we understand it from United Nations reports and from visitors, is not good. The question of Saddam's health is of course, an elusive mystery. One doesn't know and one hears rumors. The bazaar works overtime on these particular questions.

We tend to base our understanding on facts as we know them. Saddam has erected a huge number of walls and circles of protection around himself precisely to maintain the maximum amount of uncertainty and ambiguity about this particular problem.

This does not mean that we wish him good health, but in this particular set of issues, one could not base policies on rumor or speculation, but on hard facts. We will continue to look at the hard facts and not the rumors and speculation, however optimistic or pessimistic those may become.

QUESTION: Mr. Pickering, thank you again, and I think that the Iraqi needs are not just for food and medicine. They need communication with the rest of the world. They need a good chance for education and full standards of living. Do you think that lifting sanctions against the regime will do that for the people?

MR. PICKERING: I believe that nothing will meet the standard that you set, and which I fully support, until Saddam is gone. I say that with deep respect, because I know from the way you explained it, Mr. Diwani, the deep sense of personal involvement you have in this very difficult problem.

I would hope for his early removal, but I think we must be realistic, and understand that patience and determination and hard work will be required. There are people who perhaps know more about this situation than I and can give you a better answer. I cannot give you a firm answer on when this will happen.

Second, you point to a number of areas where indeed United Nations and we and others have been supportive in expansion of United Nations efforts to use this tremendous stream of income in ways that are more creative. Unfortunately, as we have said now and several times in the program, that depends on getting further cooperation on Saddam. As I said in response to one question asked, $64 million has now been put into education. Issues of water and sewage supplies for Iraq have been placed on the pre-approved list, so that there is automatic approval on contract signed by Iraq in those areas. These go through without hindrance. Food and medicine are on the pre-approved list, so there is now a system in place, which is beginning to cover all those kinds of things.

External communications of course are not inhibited by sanctions. People can broadcast in or out. They are controlled obviously by Saddam Hussein. Iraqis can travel in our out, they have to do so clearly under the United Nations regime. One example that is extremely important is the Hajj. Over the past years, the United Nations Security Council has continued to offer free opening for all Hajjaj to go on the pilgrimage to fulfill their Islamic religious duties. Guess who has held this back and restricted and restrained it? Once again, it has been Saddam.

We are conscious of the questions you have raised. We have worked seriously in the Security Council to try to open things up and we will continue to do so.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

MR. PICKERING: Thank you.

Moderator: We'll take one more.

QUESTION: Mr. Pickering, you mentioned the effort the government is putting into the peace process. May I wish you better luck in your efforts in Iraq because it doesn't seem to be doing very well.

MR. PICKERING: Let me make, if you would permit me, a small comment in return, because while I welcome what you have to say, I differ with your conclusions.

Having spent a number of years in the Middle East, I can recall just a few years ago back in the 1980s, the problem was how to get to the table. We had only the Egyptian agreement. In the last ten years, very considerable progress has been m. It is not perfect, but we are not ones to say that this is over and finished, or that we have the perfect answer.

Many steps have been made; with Jordan, in progress made at Wye Plantation with the beginning of serious engagement with Syria, and including the most recent round of talks at Camp David, which, while we all regret did not come to complete conclusion on a final settlement, did make very serious progress on a number of areas. I'm happy to report that I understand the parties are meeting again and the parties remain committed to the process of continuing in this difficult effort.

I think that people who look at this question increasingly are under the belief that the differences are bridgeable. If you had told me this ten years ago, I would have said that you were certifiably loony. We have made very significant progress against the backdrop of the depth of feelings and all the historical problems that you are as deeply familiar with as any of us.

I remain an optimist. I used to say when I served in the Middle East that there are only two kinds of American diplomats: optimists and lunatics. I consider myself an optimist and I remain optimistic despite the considerable barriers that we all know about. The parties are engaged, they're continuing to focus on the issues. Real progress was made at Camp David and I believe we must build on that work, and I know the President remains fully committed to that effort.

Moderator: Mr. Pickering, thank you very much for your time.

MR. PICKERING: Thank you all.

More Information on Sanctions Against Iraq


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.