Thomas Pickering, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs
5:00 p.m. EST Tuesday, March 3, 1998
MS. RANSOM: Welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center. I'm Marjorie Ransom. I am the director of USIA's foreign press centers. And I am delighted to welcome back to the Foreign Press Center Ambassador Thomas Pickering, the undersecretary of state for political affairs. Ambassador Pickering will brief today on "Iraq and the Security Council Vote." His briefing will be on the record. I will remind you, as I always do, to please wait for the microphone before you ask your question, and give your name, media organization and country.
MR. PICKERING: Thanks, Marjorie, very much. And good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I particularly appreciate your coming at a somewhat late hour for foreign filing times, but it's an opportunity for me to talk to you about ongoing developments in Iraq, and I wanted to come down and do that.
Yesterday, in the early evening, the Security Council passed an extremely important resolution. We welcome that resolution, and we participated extensively in helping to shape it. The new resolution, Resolution 1154, welcomes, as you all know, the secretary-general's mission to Baghdad and it endorses the Memorandum of Understanding which he negotiated when he was there a week and a half ago. The Memorandum of Understanding clearly reiterates that Iraq must comply with all of the relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions.
The United States greatly appreciates the secretary-general's efforts to obtain Iraqi commitment to comply with its obligations. We are grateful to him, and to his colleagues, for his diligent efforts. Through his diplomacy -- backed, as he himself recognized when he was in Baghdad, by the willingness of the United States, if necessary, to use force -- he has achieved what could be, if it is implemented fully by Iraq, a serious and important breakthrough.
Resolution 1154 states clearly what Iraq must do; that Iraq must comply and cooperate fully and unconditionally with the United Nations Special Commission and the International Atomic Energy Agency. The resolution also states clearly what will happen if Iraq does not comply, that it will face severest consequences. Despite how some have attempted to characterize the resolution, this language could not be more direct and self-evident or clear. Does this mean that we can use force if Iraq does not comply? We certainly believe that it does. We have the authority under existing resolutions of the Security Council to use force if necessary. Nothing in the new resolution prohibits or inhibits in any way our ability to use force.
Are we looking forward to using force? No, of course not. We are pleased to have Iraq's commitments, we want this agreement to work. The proof will clearly be in the testing, which will begin shortly, and if Iraq does not live up to its commitments, we reserve our right to take whatever actions we believe may be necessary. And the resolution has been carefully drafted, as I said, not to interfere or stop that particular right.
There is one final element of the resolution; it also reaffirms the Council's intention to act on the duration of sanctions if Iraq complies with its obligations under relevant resolutions of the Security Council. The United States has always been willing to consider such actions, if Iraq complies with all of its obligations. The choice now is Iraq's. As Kofi Annan said so eloquently yesterday evening, "Whether the threat to international peace and security has been averted for all time is now in the hands of the leadership in Iraq. It is now for them to comply in practice with what they have signed to agree to do on paper."
The secretary-general added that diplomacy may not have a second chance. No promise of peace, and no policy of patience can be without limits. But thank you for coming today, and I look forward to answering your questions.
MS. RANSOM: Okay, our first question is here in the front, from Halad Mansour (sp).
Q I'm Halad Mansour with Middle East News Agency. Are you going to approach your Gulf allies to share the cost of your military buildup in the Gulf, which is like $230 million a month, and who is going to make that determination that t here is a violation, you, UNSCOM, or the Security Council?
MR. PICKERING: First let me answer the question with respect to shared expenses. A number of Gulf allies have offered to share some of the expenses of the buildup, and we welcome that. The remainder of the expenses, of course, will be as a charge on our own account, and we would clearly assume those.
On the question of a finding of a violation, we believe that first and foremost, the Security Council resolution sets a clear standard in order to determine a violation. As it said, it requires immediate unconditional access for the United Nations Special Commission. And so we believe it will be very easy to tell -- you will know it when you see it -- whether there is a violation or not.
As you all know, UNSCOM, under both Ambassador Rolf Ekeus and under Ambassador Richard Butler, has from time to time reported the results of its inspections, and reported basically when it has not been able to carry out its inspections to the Security Council. Those reports are always clear and self-evident. They provide the facts. And they clearly will let the world community know, through the reports to the Security Council, precisely what has happened, and particularly in those circumstances where, as Ambassador Richard Butler said several months ago when he was no longer able to continue to inspect all sites in Iraq, they represented a situation in which he could not carry out his mandate. His mandate from the Security Council is clear, to carry out the disarmament of Iraq, to conduct inspections necessary to do that, and to continue monitoring Iraq for weapons of mass destruction and for any re-creation of weapons of mass destruction.
So I think the issue of a violation will be such as we will all know it when we see it.
MS. RANSOM: Here's the mike.
Q Thank you. Laurent Zecchini from Le Monde.
Apparently, Ambassador, 10 out of 15 members of the Security Council do not read this resolution as a signal, a green signal for a use of force. How do you explain such a gap of interpretation between the United States and the other members of the Security Council?
MR. PICKERING: Well, I expect that on the one hand, obviously, as you all know, strenuous efforts were made to attempt to introduce into the resolution language which did not -- which would have derogated from the resolution's commitment to severest consequences if there is a violation. People attempted to introduce a need to refer such decisions back to the Security Council, to ask for further positive steps.
We were against that. We believed that such a step on the part of the Security Council would undermine the value of the resolution as a diplomatic signal to Saddam Hussein that he did face severest consequences, were he to violate the resolution. We were very happy that we were successful in persuading other members of the council not introduce such language. And we believe the non-introduction of such language speaks very clearly for itself.
I suspect that the 10 were in a position to express their hopes and their aspirations. And indeed, we have seen throughout this crisis -- and the United States itself has said that it prefers not to use force, it prefers the diplomatic solution arrived at by Kofi Annan. But we also believe, as Kofi Annan believes, that when you have the final-effort diplomacy, when it succeeds in obtaining the commitment, then the gentleman in question who gives the commitment must obey, and that the Security Council needs to send the strongest possible signal to him that he must obey or that he faces severest consequences. And so we think all of that is simple and straightforward.
We believe the resolution, as a result, sends a very strong message and that however other members of the Council would wish to interpret it, in light of what we know about their well-known positions, we believe you must look at the resolution, examine the text clearly, and understand precisely what it means. And it very clearly defines a violation, and it very clearly then says a violation means severest consequences. There can, in my view, be no successful exegesis on the resolution which undermines the clear sense of that message.
Q Did you --
MS. RANSOM: Wait for the microphone.
Q Do you recognize in a way you have failed to introduce the notion of automatic use of force?
MR. PICKERING: Not at all; because in fact, you must understand that use of force was authorized at the end of November in 1990, in Resolution 678, in which the council voted for and approved. That use of force was carried out and continued until April of 1991. At the end of April, a resolution putting into effect and recognizing the cease-fire, 687, the mother of all resolutions, adopted a whole series of conditions as a result of the cease-fire, which Iraq agreed to comply with. One of those most important conditions was a disarmament regime carried out under United Nations inspections. And UNSCOM, in a subsequent resolution, was developed in order actually to carry that out.
Now that in fact he is in material breach of that resolution by blocking UNSCOM's visits -- and happily the secretary-general has sought to rectify that material breach -- were he to continue to be in violation of that resolution, it would be clearly in material breach. And material breach would mean that the prohibition on the use of force, which arose as a result of the cease-fire, was no longer in effect.
And so we believe automaticity is clearly there. There is no other way, in our view, to read that particular question, except that automaticity is there. And that has been proven, in effect, because a number of times since the cease-fire resolution, when he has been in material breach, force has been used; most notably, happily in 1991, immediately after the cease-fire, when he continued to block the efforts to implement Resolution 687. And we believe that the blockage of steps to implement Resolution 687 constitutes clearly that kind of violation. But use of force has also been carried out in 1994.
MS. RANSOM: Your next questioner is in the back row.
Q My question was asked (rhetorically ?), but maybe to clarify the language of it a little bit. Yasemin Congar, Turkish newspaper Milliyet.
Mr. Ambassador, you are saying that there's nothing that prohibits a military action in this resolution, be it the case Iraq does violate again. Can you tell us what the specific resolution is once again? I am sorry because I keep getting confused as I listen to you. Is there any resolution that gives the United States a mandate to use the force?
MR. PICKERING: Yes, Resolution 678 of the end of November, 1990, which authorized the use of "all necessary means" to restore peace and security in the area.
MS. RANSOM: The next question is on the right, from India. No, I'm sorry, here.
Q Parasuram, Press Trust of India. Can you explain the role of the diplomats? Are they decorative, just to accompany them and show them the way, or will they have a role?
MR. PICKERING: I think that the role of diplomats, as has been explained both by the secretary-general to us and by Richard Butler, has been to provide in the connection with the inspection of the palace site areas the presence of individuals who will observe the inspections and who will provide, if that's required, their comments through the executive chairman, to the secretary-general and to the Security Council.
I believe that the observers of these inspections in the forms of diplomats can play a helpful role in observing Iraqi compliance. Obviously, I think this can add to world confidence that Iraq will actually carry out its commitments under the Memorandum of Understanding.
What they are not to do, obviously, is to substitute their expertise in diplomacy for the expertise in the inspection activities that comes from long experience in nuclear, chemical, biological weapons and the investigation of missiles, which is provided solely and exclusively by UNSCOM and which operates under the chairmanship of Richard Butler and the individuals that he will appoint to carry out the actual inspections on the ground.
We are happy, in fact, that, of course, Saddam Hussein has apparently committed himself to this effort. We hope that, in fact, when this is tested, that will actually work out in fact as the secretary-general has explained that it will.
MS. RANSOM: Your next question is -- let's go over to this side -- yeah -- and we'll come back to you.
MORE FPC-PICKERING-IRAQ PAGE 11 03/03/98
Q Ambassador, I am Mizuno from Asahi Shimbun, Japanese daily. You mentioned about the past record of the United States of using military force in '91 and '94. So how do you discern the difference this time and the past experience? Why do you need to employ such massive forces compared with the past experience?
MR. PICKERING: For seven years, Saddam has done everything possible, in our view, to evade his responsibilities, first under the cease-fire resolution, which he specifically accepted, and then under other mandatory resolutions of the Security Council to put it in effect. It has been a long-term game of cat and mouse with Saddam. He has delivered four different declarations on nuclear weapons as the process has gone on.
He originally was required to give a full, final and complete declaration of all of the activities he had undertaken and all of the material and equipment he had in each of the four areas -- nuclear, chemical, biological and missiles. He was to do that within 15 days of the passage of the original resolution. He's now done it four separate times, and in each time, obviously, there continued to be serious variations in what he has said he has done and what the inspectors have found out.
So, very clearly, there has not been the kind of compliance which the Security Council expected and which the international community has a right to see. This means, in fact that he appears to have been launched on a long-term program to evade his commitments, to avoid his responsibilities, but, more importantly, to seek to find ways, as a result, to develop, recreate or protect what he had already created in the area of weapons of mass destruction. And as a result, in our view, he poses a very serious threat to his neighbors and to the region.
Compliance in the past has been achieved, even if sporadically, by serious statements on the part of the Security Council and, on a number of occasions, by the use of force. And that is why we believe, and have believed all through the present crisis, that diplomacy accompanied by the threat of the use of force, the serious prospect of the use of force, has been the only way to try to attempt to resolve the crisis. He is now on notice that in fact diplomacy has made its final effort, as the secretary-general in effect said, as I read him, and that now in fact the Council has made it very clear that severest consequences -- that's a euphemism, but it's a euphemism for only one thing -- use of force now awaits him if in fact he violates his commitments.
MS. RANSOM: We have a question here on the right.
Q Otakar Korinek, Slovak News Agency. Ambassador, you said in your introductory words that the United States has the authority to use force if necessary. Could you be more specific regarding "if necessary"? I understand that generally it means that Saddam or Iraq violates their commitments. But I mean who or -- how will the United States decide what is necessary? If Saddam bans access once, two times, three times, or -- what intensity do you need -- the United States -- for using force?
MR. PICKERING: Obviously, I'm not going to sit here on the podium and give you a road map, which you would then publish, to tell Saddam exactly what is coming where and when and under what circumstances. I have an obligation to protect our own military, not to do that.
But what I can say is, first -- and I explained why; we believe there is existing authority to use force. Secondly, there is now a coalition of some 20 states who will engage in this activity. Thirdly, the United Nations resolution passed yesterday says that if there is a violation of access, if there is a violation of relevant resolutions, it will result in severest consequences for Iraq. I think that that is all spelled out. I don't think that leading you further through the paces would necessarily add to your understanding of the problem.
The United States will clearly have to face such a decision. Such decisions in my country are made by the president. He will make those decisions, obviously, when he understands the consequences of what Iraq has done with respect to meeting its obligations under the resolution.
Butler, as I said, will report the progress of his inspections. We all hope that he reports favorably that there are no problems and that the process can finally go ahead; that the agreement, which the secretary-general reached, which we have endorsed, will be an effective agreement.
Q (Off mike) -- follow up?
MR. PICKERING: By all means.
Q When do you expect to start again inspections?
MR. PICKERING: My feeling is that while it is up to Richard Butler to decide this, my sense is that there is a commitment to early testing of these resolutions.
Now I would tell you this; that all through this period, UNSCOM has continued to carry out inspections of a number of areas, particularly under what they call the Continuous Monitoring Regime, so that some inspections have continued.
The question, obviously, relates to inspections of a couple of different kinds of sites; so-called "sensitive sites," which is not a term recognized by the United Nations but is an Iraqi term applied to certain sites, by themselves unilaterally; and of course, after the special regime has been put into place, the so-called palace sites. And I would expect that in coming weeks, we would see those inspections take place. Our hope is that they will take place soon so we will know, in fact, whether this commitment can be tested adequately and whether he passes the test or not.
MS. RANSOM: Your next question's here, Mr. Pickering.
Q Ambassador, my name is Sridhar. I am from the Hindu Newspaper of India.
Given that this crisis has been unfolding since last November, and given what Mr. Kofi Annan has now achieved, do you have a feeling that this could have been somehow achieved earlier, this same thing, instead of this whole three-month drama? That's one.
Number two, if the track record of Saddam Hussein has been so bad, how can you do business with him now?
MR. PICKERING: Well first, of course, I would have hoped that we would not have had the crisis at all; that Saddam would have recognized that at the end of the day, he would come back and have to make a commitment to somebody to carry out the resolutions. That's been the lesson of the last seven years. Unfortunately, he hasn't learned it. And when you can find a way to tell me how to predict Mr. Saddam Hussein, you certainly will be a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. It is, in my view, one of the most difficult of the efforts of modern diplomacy, and so we have felt it's very necessary to combine diplomacy with the potential use of force, which in the past, at least, has produced compliance on the part of Saddam. I wish I could say permanent, long-standing compliance; that's what the secretary- general has sought to achieve, and that's what we hope the present combination of circumstances will achieve.
Remind me of your second question, because I thought it was an interesting one.
Q If Saddam Hussein is such -- has had such a bad track record, I mean, in terms of compliance, how do you feel that it is possible to do business with him now?
MR. PICKERING: We aren't, of course, doing business with him, on the part of the United States. The Security Council has just done business with him in a very direct, and I hope, very forceful manner, by saying he should comply, that violations will produce severest consequences. I don't know whether you call that business or not, but my sense is that it's very clear, it's very plain-spoken and very direct. And I think it puts him on notice as to what to expect if he continues to violate his commitments under the Security Council resolutions.
MS. RANSOM: Your next question is from the back row.
Q (?), I work for a Spanish newspaper, La Vanguardia. Your government has had many difficulties in making its case against Saddam Hussein this time. Do you think the disparity of criteria between the White House and Congress is the reason for that? And, is this disparity of criteria going to effect the incoming debate on the expansion of NATO?
MR. PICKERING: First, I -- with respect to the latter question, don't see any signs of that. I think that the debate with respect to the expansion of NATO goes ahead on its own terms. With respect to the difference in criteria, I think that there is no question that increasing numbers of people in the United States are taking the view that Saddam must go, after seven years. The difficulty with that, that I have seen, is that all of them have a proposal but none of them have a plan. The question of saying Saddam must go is relatively easy; the plans to make that happen are not so easy, and obviously that remains an impediment.
The question, of course, has been very carefully addressed by the secretary of state in her speech at Georgetown University last year, when she said we, of course, would look forward to dealing with a successor regime in Iraq. But that doesn't mean that there is a successor regime. It doesn't yet tell us how to produce a successor regime.
I think it accepts the reality that an outrageously obstreperous gentleman is still in charge in Iraq, still denying the Security Council, and that from time to time we get called upon, obviously, to mobilize force to try to bring him back within the Security Council resolutions. And this has produced an increased sense of frustration which, in my view, is not limited to the American Congress. People all around the world, including Security Council members, have made it very clear to us that they also are growing tired of this kind of game which I would call "cheat and retreat" -- or some have called "cheat and retreat" -- and that this is an endlessly difficult and frustrating experience.
On the other hand, we have now got a situation in which he has said that he will keep his commitments, finally, and has told the secretary-general of the United Nations to do that. We must test that. That's the obvious next step.
MS. RANSOM: Mr. Ambassador, I think we have two more questions with Thomas and --
Q Thomas Gorguissian, Al Wafd, Egypt. Ambassador Pickering, what the administration is planning to do -- I mean, kind of follow-up to my colleague's question -- a road map to -- a kind of memorandum of understanding, let's say, between Congress and the administration? It seems that you need a memorandum of understanding. Do you have a plan?
MR. PICKERING: (Laughs.) Off the record, maybe we need the secretary-general down here! (Laughs.)
We are, of course, working very closely with the Congress on where things should go and what should be done. And clearly, we take seriously the Congress's concerns, and so we, of course, continue to examine all of the various possibilities that are out there.
At the moment, however, our policy is as I have explained it to you. It is a policy, if you like, of containment. It is a policy of keeping our forces in the region to be available, if necessary, to, in effect, get him back into compliance with his commitments; a willingness, when the president decides -- which is a decision the president has to make -- to use force if he is in violation; and now a resolution, capping a whole series of Security Council resolutions, asking him to stop violating the resolutions, accepting the secretary- general's memorandum, and warning him against any breach of those commitments. That, I think, is the road map, if you like, to the future: that he must comply, we will know it when he doesn't comply; if he doesn't comply, he will suffer severest consequences.
Q May I follow up?
MR. PICKERING: Sure.
Q Do you have the same concern like the Congress regarding Kofi Annan's expressions like "cowboys," or "do business with Saddam"?
MR. PICKERING: We, I think, have a sense, if I could put it this way, that while he explained that his expression "cowboys" related to what he had heard from the Iraqis and not his judgment, we have our own concern that a man who has consistently violated his commitments over the last seven years is a man with whom it is terribly difficult to do business, whether he signs the agreement or not, whether he says he is prepared to do this, because the long historical record of this can only leave one in a position of grave doubt that he will comply. Nevertheless, we accept the need at this stage, because the agreement provides for full and unconditional, unrestricted compliance, to test that out. There's no other way.
We can argue about the terms of the agreement until we're blue in the face. That's not the useful way to proceed. The useful way to proceed is, once again, to do this. But as we have felt and as the resolution we believe made it clear, there is clearly a coming to the day of reckoning on this issue, if I could put it that way.
Q Thank you. I'm Yuko Fuse with Nippon TV, Japan. I'm a little curious to know how serious this administration is in dealing with the Iraqi opposition group, this group called the Iraqi National Congress. The gentlemen are here in town, and they are making appearances in many different places, including the Congress. Are you willing to support them in future? This is a group once received funds from the U.S. Is there a moral obligation to back them up once they are now again -- they are saying now they are capable of taking that regime.
MR. PICKERING: Well, you've raised a number of questions. One is, of course, that we do talk to these people, and when they come to town, we have an opportunity to hear what they have to say. In the past they have not proven themselves either united or very capable. Maybe they will in the future; that remains to be seen.
Our sense is that if there is a successor regime -- (laughing) -- and we hope there will be -- that they will be people of responsibility, people who could lead the country, people who will remain committed to its territorial integrity, to its sovereignty, to bringing together the very disparate groups that sometimes have emerged from Iraq with respect to both ethnic and religious background, as well as who have different ideas about the future of the country.
So far there doesn't seem to be a kind of united, vigorous, effective opposition in Iraq. And as a result, they're nice people to talk to, but beyond that, they don't represent very much, as we have seen over a period of years.
MS. RANSOM: Ambassador Pickering --
Q Can you hang on for one more question, please? I was raising my hand from the very beginning --
MS. RANSOM: Please, wait for the microphone.
MS. RANSOM: This has to be the last question.
Q Mr. Ambassador, my name is Adnel Kertu (sp) with the Jordan Radio. There was -- as you well know, Mr. Ambassador, there was an agreement happily reached between the Iraq and the United State(s) -- and the U.N. The agreement was enthusiastically sought and encouraged and freely and happily signed by the Iraqi government. Yet instead of giving the accord -- instead of giving the agreement a chance to work, your administration continues to talk about the use of force and in fact practically threatens the use of force. Is it your well considered opinion that Saddam Hussein will not comply with this resolution?
MR. PICKERING: Well, I'm disappointed, in fact, that my opening remarks were so poorly put together that you didn't understand that I both supported the diplomatic solution, supported what the secretary- general had done, expressed numerous times from this seat in the last half hour my deep hope that in fact the record of the last seven years, which is a little hard to ignore, would be overturned by the agreement of the secretary-general.
At the same time, I believe the Security Council has spoken clearly. Read the words. There's nothing hidden in the words. There's nothing mysterious in the words. There's nothing that's not straightforward in the words.
We believe, in fact, that this wonderful achievement, which you said Saddam embraced with enthusiasm, represented an achievement which, as the secretary-general said, could only have been achieved with the presence of the forces in the area and the real sense that they might be used if in fact he was not going to comply.
So you're right to express a sense that I'm skeptical about his ability to comply. But at the same time, I want to tell you, as I said in my opening remarks and subsequently, it is not our interest to use force. It is our interest to have compliance. We hope the agreement will work. We believe it has a good chance to work only if force is there backing it up.
Q So what have you done? What have you done to -- what steps have you taken to create the peaceful, friendly climate that would encourage Saddam Hussein to implement this agreement?
MR. PICKERING: Well, let me first say that I respect your point of view, and you always, obviously, have a right, particularly in this country, to a point of view. On the other hand, it is not in my view correct to treat Saddam as so grievously wronged by the United Nations in this process that he requires special favors in order to persuade him to comply with resolutions which he himself said he was going to comply with.
The second point, however, is that we have done, on numerous occasions, all that we believe that we can, blocked on many occasions by Saddam, to try to help the people of Iraq deal with their problems. First, the sanctions regime was put in with no limitations on food and medicine to the people of Iraq.
Secondly, almost immediately after that, the United Nations said it was prepared to set up an arrangement in which Iraqi oil could be sold for food and medicine. It took Saddam five years of huge disdain and creating major suffering with his own people actually to come to grips with that.
Then he said he wanted to renegotiate the conditions, which the United Nations did. The new conditions he delayed a year and a half in implementing. And at every occasion when the United Nations Security Council proposes more food, as they have within the last week, for the people of Iraq, Saddam introduces new roadblocks.
So in terms of his moral character, his being deserving of international sympathy and being given rewards for what he has been doing, I believe you and I will have to have a legitimate difference.
But in terms of in fact actually getting the job done that the international community has undertaken to do, we must be grateful for the secretary-general once again to have achieved Saddam's commitment to do that. And now we must give him, as I said, the opportunity to carry that out, and that's precisely what we're going to do.
MS. RANSOM: Ambassador Pickering, thank you very much. Thank you ladies and gentlemen.
MR. PICKERING: Thanks very much.