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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Writers Round Table briefing, Waterfront Hotel
Vancouver, Canada, November 21, 1997
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State

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STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN RUBIN: This is on the record, unless otherwise stated.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think there are a couple of different themes here, if I might. First of all I’m here, obviously, to answer your questions about whatever you want. But I think in terms of Iraq, as I said to you earlier and at various other phases, the reversal by Saddam Hussein of course is an important first step, but it is just a step. We continue to remain very vigilant. As you know, there are discussions going on by the New York Commissioners. I’ve been getting reports on them throughout the day. They’re basically very technical discussions. The UNSCOM inspectors are back, and we’re waiting to see where they’re going and what their access is going to be and how they find their equipment and how they constitute themselves. That is going on. But basically I think it’s just important for you all to know that we are continuing to be very vigilant about this whole process and the whole issues on that.

But I also think it’s important to underline the fact that -- as you know because you were with me -- even as this was going on, it was important to keep up other phases of our diplomacy in India and Pakistan. And now here where we are focusing very much on the Asian Pacific economic community, talking about how the whole economic structure here works, what we can do to deal with the financial crisis, President Clinton’s desire to use the Pacific community as a model of economic integration for the future during the time of a climate change, talking about de-mining, various aspects of global issues that are important to us.

So I think there’s an interesting contrast of how one deals with a crisis situation but, at the same time, continues with the bread and butter of diplomacy and dealing very much, I think, here at APEC with what we see as the new direction of diplomacy in terms of economic block building.

DOUG WALLER: It seems that what you negotiated out of this week is a joint statement where the Perm. five agrees on what they expect of Iraq; then you have statements from Iraq indicating they’re going to comply with this. But we don’t have any direct, I guess, agreement with them on this.

How nervous are you that what we may have here is kind of an understanding of separate understandings that the Iraqis may well re-interpret or, you know, fudge, or even go back on?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that what you’re saying is possible is that there are a series of kind of parallel understandings. But in the end they have to come together, because the way that this is being judged is whether UNSCOM is able to ultimately give Iraq a clean bill of health. And whatever understandings they have which might be different than the understandings that we have won’t matter because in the end the proof will be in the pudding, in terms of what the actions really are.

So at this stage what we have is the following: We have the UNSCOM inspectors back, and they, as I said, are in the process of reconstituting themselves. I think I told you all that, on the basis of my conversations with them in Bahrain, there was concern about the fact that they had been out of country for whatever it was, twenty days, and the question is to what extent they will be able to recapture the database that they had, all of which is important as they then come and report through Butler to the Security Council about progress made, which is then important in terms of whether they are living up to their obligations under Resolution 687.

STEVEN ERLANGER: Madam Secretary -- sorry, just to sort of follow that up, if I could. The Iranian -- I mean, the Iraqis -- sorry. It’s module contained.

--- (Laughter)

STEVEN ERLANGER: I can’t tell the difference, so I isolate them -- said that, yes, the inspectors are back, but the work rules will be changing. I mean, there was a comment today implying that perhaps, though they’re coming back, they perhaps are listening to the Russians more carefully, or thought they were getting more from the Russians than perhaps they got. Is this a concern of yours? I mean, it’s obviously part of what you’re watching. We still have troops there, and so on and so on. But if they’re back and they’re not able to work as they want, as this sort of conversation seems to indicate, do you then go to the Security Council, or do you wait and see? I mean, is this a concern of yours already, is the first question.

And second, does this make this whole deal seem more like a Band-Aid?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I know you always think this is a trick, but let me put it into context.

RON PEMSTEIN: I think you learned this from Dennis.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: No, Dennis says, "Having said that..." No.

First of all, I really do find it valuable where I am now to have been a part of this for four years at the UN. And what you are basically seeing now, on a much larger stage, is what we’ve been through in the Security Council for four years, which is Ekeus coming in, and now Butler, describing on a regular basis what the work of the UNSCOM inspectors are. And generally it was kind of, "We got in there, but we couldn’t get in there. We were denied certain boxes of documents." I mean, it was -- you know, he would come in and say -- this was Ekeus saying that, "I went in to try to get documents on ‘X’ program. The Iraqis said to me, ‘I don’t have that box of documents.’" And then Ekeus would say, "But I have copies of them." And then they’d say, "Oh, yes, I forgot I had that box of documents."

So basically this kind of business of trying to block and sabotage and redirect the places where the inspectors could go has been a long ongoing game that has gone on. And what has happened always would be, in Security Council meetings, informals, you know, the Russians would say, "Well, I don’t think the -- are you sure this is the way that -- are you recording this correctly? Do you think that you’ve been misunderstood?" So they have kind of taken up the Iraqi case before. So in many ways this is not that different. I mean, what’s different about it is that it’s now being done by Foreign Ministers in front of all of you instead of the way that it was being done internally in the informal meetings of the Security Council. And obviously it came after a rather dramatic expulsion, first of Americans and then, because they stuck together as a group, of the UNSCOM inspectors.

I think we’re going to see a lot of discussion about work methods and will they be able to get into the Republican Guard installations and modalities of work. So I don’t want to kind of make you all think that you haven’t just lived through a crisis. But the truth is that there are various parts of this that I personally have worked on before and are kind of now on a larger scale, on a larger scene, what we have -- I mean larger scale, not on a larger scene -- what I’ve seen before.

CAROL GIACOMO: Do you see any way in which this pattern can be -- in which the United States can forestall this pattern from continuing to repeat itself? You yourself now have said year after year after year Iraq has seemed to create some sort of crisis and, for whatever reason, draw attention to themselves, to hope they find a weak spot. I mean, is it your feeling that this is just -- we’ll just have to continue to deal with this ad infinitum?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that it clearly requires constant tending in terms of making it clear to Saddam Hussein that he is not going to get out of his box. I do think that it is going to require a long-term view of this and indeed does have some staying power. He does seem to have a desire to continue to have these weapons of mass destruction, or try to, or obstruct our finding out what he has. And I think that there is not a quick solution to this problem and it requires the kind of careful diplomacy and work that we’re all doing and a willingness to keep the Security Council together.

MELINDA LIU: Madam Secretary, is it your contention that Saddam must now allow UNSCOM access to some of these sites that in the past, even before the Americans with UNSCOM became an issue, had been -- you know, they had been barred entry to these places or required to give notice before going in. I mean, that was a long-standing problem. Now we’re saying that they’ve really got to comply. Now, if they’re going to fully comply, that means they also have to open those sites.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, what I believe is that Saddam Hussein has to do what the UNSCOM inspectors believe needs to be done. I mean, these are technical questions. They are the ones who determine where they need to go and what they need to see because the bottom line here is -- what the international community has asked for is an accounting of what he had, how much of it has been destroyed, and to establish a baseline of some kind so that after there is a verification procedure, there can be a monitoring procedure. I mean, this is a man who broke all the rules by invading another country and having possession of these weapons, and he is now -- you know, he’s under parole. I mean, basically one has to watch what he’s doing.

And so I think that it is not up to any nation to decide what it is that needs to be seen, it is up to the professional UNSCOM experts to determine what sites they have to see. And the reason, frankly -- at least the explanations that I heard go through -- I mean, I was there during Ekeus. Butler came on after I left. But in reading Butler’s reports, they’re the same thing, which is that they maintain that the reason they need to get into the Republican Guard facilities is because that is where Saddam Hussein is hiding the last, most important things and then claiming that it is an invasion of his national security apparatus that they are going there, when the reason he’s hiding them there is so that he can claim that it is inaccessible because it’s part of his national security apparatus. So I think that we need to have confidence and faith in the experts of UNSCOM to determine where they need to go and why they need to go in order to compile this record.

I think that the thing that Saddam Hussein needs to see is that in order to get a clean bill of health, there has to be a doctor; the doctor is UNSCOM.

KEVIN WHITELAW: I wanted to ask you: is there something now that the US can do in the next months coming up to be sure that coming next November we don’t do this all over again?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I mean, I think that it’s to keep making very clear that our desire is to get them to come clean. Also, I think to -- let me backtrack on this.

One of the reasons that we came up with the Oil For Food Program was so that Saddam Hussein could not use his people as a pawn or as a way of tugging at the heartstrings of the international community while he’d shed crocodile tears over them. Therefore, it was a way that we could make sure that the people of Iraq weren’t punished. So I think we’re going to be looking at ways that the Oil For Food Program can be more effective to take that humanitarian card away.

And I also think that what we have to do a better job of -- and I think you can already see that -- is to make clearer to the international community the dangers of biological or chemical warfare. I think people have been very much aware of nuclear warfare dangers and it’s also, I think, easier to keep track of the nuclear materials. It’s harder to acquire enriched uranium and it’s easier to keep track of the missile programs, but difficult in terms of the chemical and biological, and, as I have also spoken about very often, those kinds of weapons don‘t discriminate about borders. And so I think that there needs to be a better understanding by neighbors, as well as in Europe, that we are all at danger from chemical and biological warfare.

GEORGE GEDDA: Doesn’t it discourage you that you seem to be talking much more about these weapons than others, and there are others -- all they seem to think about is lifting the sanctions against Iraq? There seems to be a disconnect there and a big gap between you and many other countries, including the Russians.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I find it very peculiar that they don’t understand this. I do. And I think we just need to make those points clearer and clearer. That’s why I say that, you know, the truth is that if it’s biological or chemical warfare, the chances of the US being affected are much less than of all those countries that you’re talking about. I think they need to understand more the dangers of it and that we’re not making it up. And that’s the part that I find so surprising, given the fact that the reports that are coming out of this group of professionals points out the danger.

ROBIN WRIGHT: What’s next? You talk about humanitarian aid and dealing with that issue. Are you going on some kind of campaign, or is there a strategy being developed for our dealing with getting public attention to weapons of mass destruction, dealing with humanitarian things? What are we going to do?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think -- you know, this -- keeping it on the radar screen. I think there is -- people forget about the sins of Saddam. So I think that we have to just keep vigilant.

The subject comes up on a regular basis in the UN, and I think that we will constantly keep working this issue, trying to make sure that the other countries in the Security Council understand the dangers as we do, make sure that UNSCOM is properly supported as a professional and independent group of people who are there really as the eyes and ears of the international community to make sure that Saddam is not allowed to break out in terms of these kinds of weapons, and, at the same time, try to get him to live up to the other Security Council resolutions; that is, returning Kuwaiti property, accounting to the Kuwaiti POWs, stop repressing those people and exporting terrorism. We are very concerned about -- I mean, the issue of Iraq is not a closed issue and we are going to have to keep watching it very carefully.

ANDRE VIOLLAZ: Concerning UNSCOM’s method, the French are approaching a series of proposals, and we would like you to react to them. One is to expand a number of inspectors by adding some new non-American inspectors so as to dilute the American influence in UNSCOM. And the second one, which seems technical but is quite political, is to have interim assessments of Saddam Hussein’s compliance according to the category of weapons: biological, nuclear, ballistic missiles. Would that be acceptable to you?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think we have to see -- first of all, the most important thing is for UNSCOM to be effective. UNSCOM has to have the best possible experts on it and they should be chosen by their expertise. I think we know that it's a proven fact that Americans have a great deal of expertise in the subject, and they will continue to be a significant portion of the UNSCOM team. And obviously as other nations have expertise, they should be part of the UNSCOM team. But I don't think there should be countries on it just for the sake of national distribution. They should be on it because they are experts. And it's my understanding that what is going on today, in terms of the Commissioners that advise Richard Butler, they're talking about the kinds of experts that they need. I think we have to remember this is not a political body, this is a body of scientists, experts, who are very dedicated.

I must say, as I mentioned to some of you previously, I was very impressed with the dedication of these people, under very difficult circumstances, trying to do the job of experts assessing, you know, what the -- what weapons -- what components of parts of weapons, et cetera, are there.

So in terms of what is acceptable or not, I think we'll have to see. What is our bottom line is that UNSCOM has to be a professional, effective body that acts as expert eyes and ears, and that the people should be selected on the basis of their qualifications and expertise, that Americans have that qualification and expertise, and Americans must continue to be a significant portion of the UNSCOM teams.

DAVID CLOUD: Well --

CAROL GIACOMO: There was a second part of the question.

ANDRE VIOLLAZ: On the categories of weapon, can you answer that particular part for me?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, what there are, there are four different sets of files -- there's the nuclear, chemical, biological, and missile -- and they are at different levels. And I think, again, a determination has to be made what category and at what level they're in. Generally, it is now being said that the nuclear file is further along. It is done not by UNSCOM but by the IAEA. I think that one would have to determine the extent to which they are ready "to close the file", although closing is a misnomer. It is switching from verification to monitoring. So I think that, again -- but I think these are very technical issues in terms of how those files are handled.

There are four separate categories, however, and there always have been. And, as a matter of fact, they are reviewed at different periods, or they were when we were there.

SPOKESMAN: In fact, actually the reports --

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Are divided.

SPOKESMAN: -- are divided exactly that way. When you look at one of Butler's or Ekeus's reports, they say: "On nuclear we refer to the IAEA, and then on chemical here's what we think, missiles here's what we think, biological here's what we think." So they already make those kind of distinctions when they're reporting.

ANDRE VIOLLAZ: Can you have closure on one category and after this closure have a softening of sanctions against Iraq or --

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: We don't believe it, no. We believe --

ANDRE VIOLLAZ: You can't split them?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: No. We believe that the weapons of mass destruction have to be handled as a whole.

DAVID CLOUD: Madam Secretary, it seems from the outside the past week that the deadlocked Middle East peace process sort of complicated your job as you went around the region trying to round up support, to say the least. Did that surprise you? Does it increase the urgency that you see for the need for progress in those talks? Can you talk a little bit about the reaction in the Arab world to this idea that the U.S. is willing to press Saddam but not Netanyahu?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, I think there's no doubt about the fact that these are two highly important issues to the United States, both of them kind of on their own -- on their own merits, or demerits. We have to deal with them, but they are in the same region and they obviously have some effect upon each other.

I think you know that I had a sense of urgency about the Middle East peace process before, and had in fact, planned my meetings with Netanyahu and Arafat before the Iraqi situation that not only took up time, but diverted us to countries that had not been originally scheduled. And so the urgency of the peace process is there on its own.

I think there was an attempt, by a number of the countries where I was, to create more of an intersection of the two than I think really does exist, and kind of a seeking for rationalization by saying, "Israel doesn't live up to its Security Council Resolutions, so why should Iraq?" The truth is that it's quite a different issue when you're dealing with chemical or biological warfare, and a country that's invaded another, and is under the strictest possible sanctions regime in the history of sanctions.

So I think for some it was a useful rationalization, but I don't see any equivalence in them. But it's hard to deny that, when you have these kinds of huge issues in the same region, they don't have some influence on each other.

SPOKESMAN: We'll take two more; Ron and we'll take one more.

RON PEMSTEIN: The one person who wasn't there in Geneva was Qian Qichen, and you're probably going to see him this week. Do you feel that China has anything to contribute on Iraq, or are they going to be a problem for you?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, they were represented there by one of their ambassadors, and they are President of the Security Council this month. They have obviously also always been a part of all of the discussions and they generally are not in favor of sanctions. I mean, those are discussions, no matter what the subject. They always say that they take a consistent and principled position on not being in favor of sanctions or interfering in anybody's internal affairs.

But for the most part, having made those statements, they then usually - I mean, they voted for 1137. And they agreed with the changes that we made in the statement in Geneva -- for instance, where I added "unconditional" to the inspections -- and also that there had to be unimpeded access of the work as stated in Resolution 1137, and that the work of the Special Commission had to be approved by the Security Council. So they agreed with the changes that I suggested in that meeting.

SPOKESMAN: Last question. Steve, go ahead.

STEVEN ERLANGER: Just because it hasn't come up, could you give your assessment, a professional assessment, of your colleague and I think sometimes friend, Mr. Primakov? How did he handle himself as a professional diplomat in this case? What did he say on the reservation? Was he doing the work of the Security Council, or was he also doing Russia's work? I mean, how would you evaluate him in the role that he played, and has he put Washington in some debt to Russia on this, or has he paid back some debts?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: That's an interesting question. I talked to Primakov I don't know how many times -- it could be a dozen times -- in the last week. I think that he was -- it's hard to put words into his mouth, and I don't really want to do this. But my own sense is that there was a level of frustration with the Iraqis for quite a long time for not responding to various messages about letting UNSCOM back in. And the sense that I got from him was that he felt that, because of his long-standing relationship with Saddam Hussein, he would be in a position to deliver stronger messages. On the surface, he has succeeded in getting a reversal. As it says in the statement that was issued, he, in return for that, said that he would vigorously take up the Iraqi case. Now, since it was my impression that the Russians had, for some time, been taking up the Iraqi case, I think that I guess the vigor is what we will measure.

But I think we have to accept the fact that Mr. Primakov was there as somebody who was using his long-time relationship to a good end. But it is just one step and now we have to see how it all is carried out, and whatever agreements he made are agreements that he made on behalf of Russia. And I have made very clear in Geneva, as well as on the phone, that there were no agreements made on behalf of the United States.

STEVEN ERLANGER: Do you know what agreements he made with Iraq?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think from what he has stated is this vigor of advocacy, I guess, is the way to put it. And I think again I have made very clear that transparency -- that if you are to be a player in the new international community, then transparency is absolutely essential.

You had a question, Melinda?

MELINDA LIU: Yes. I was just wondering if you suspect there might be more than some (inaudible) dickering if he was going to advocate their concerns?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Whatever I suspect or don't suspect doesn't matter, because whatever agreements made were only on behalf of Russia. The U.S. has agreed to nothing, and the U.S., in a context of the Security Council, has a veto.

So if he made agreements with Iraq, then they are U.S. -- I mean Russian-Iraqi agreements that he may or may not be able to carry out. But the bottom line for the United States is he committed nothing that the United States would have to do.

MELINDA LIU: Can I just ask one final question?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Yes.

MELINDA LIU: At what point do the UNSCOM Board's recommendations become instructions that UNSCOM must undertake which would then go to the Security Council? That clause that you inserted in Geneva was a very important one about the Security Council, but procedurally it's not clear.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, at the moment, what is going on is these meetings are happening as we speak. I was just talking to New York. I think they are going to have a meeting. I don't know whether they're going to conclude the Commission thing today, but ultimately they are going to the Security Council, and then it will be determined at that stage what the next phases are. But the bottom line is this is for this one meeting that the Commissioners' recommendations would go to the Security Council.

What has to be remembered is that UNSCOM itself, while created by the Security Council, is independent. It is a body composed of experts and scientists that has to operate independently and then come and report to the Security Council, and cannot be given orders by the Security Council -- which is why we were so careful in writing and inserting different words into that last paragraph in order to --

SPOKESMAN: To make that clear.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: In order to make that clear.

--- (Laughter)

[End of Document]

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