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Tough Talks With Iraqi Scientists

This is a partial transcript of Special Report with Brit Hume, December 27, that has been edited for clarity. Click here to order the complete transcript.

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JIM ANGLE, GUEST HOST: The International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, interviewed another Iraqi scientist today, one with expertise in restoring aluminum tubes that many suspect are part of a nuclear weapons program, which this scientist denied.

But he, like the first scientist who was interviewed, asked that an Iraqi government official accompany him to the interview, a practice that is likely to discourage any scientist from spilling the beans on any of Saddam's weapons programs.

Joining us to talk about that and other aspects of the weapons inspections and North Korea is David Albright, a former inspector himself and now head of the Institute of Science and International Security.

Thanks for joining us.

DAVID ALBRIGHT, FORMER WEAPONS INSPECTOR: Good to be here.

ANGLE: First, let me ask you, if the Iraqi government makes clear, which it seems to have done, that Iraqi scientists should invite a government official to go with them, it seems to me that they would interpret that as a sign that they have to take an Iraqi government official with them or else be branded as a traitor.

ALBRIGHT: Yes.

It's very important that the inspectors make it clear that they have the right to interview Iraqis without minders. That was the whole purpose of strengthening the inspection process. And so it's very important that they start interviewing these Iraqis without minders. Now, it doesn't make sense to do it one by one.

You really need a procedure where you may call 25 to the U.N. headquarters in a day, interview them over 12 hours, all for equal amounts of time, the next day, call in 25 more, and just set up a procedure so that you can actually draw out information from these Iraqis and they don't have to fear that whatever information is revealed will be pinned to them.

ANGLE: Right. And so you have a whole group and it obscures who might have disclosed some sort of information.

ALBRIGHT: That's right.

ANGLE: Now, one U.N. official suggested to me that many of these Iraqi scientists may want a government official with them for fear that some information to why they are privy might then be acted upon by the inspectors, and they would be fingered by the source of it. And they want to able to say; No, no, no. So-and-so was there with me. He can tell you I didn't tell them anything.

ALBRIGHT: No, that's right. And if only one or two are interviewed at a time, that is a deep concern of the Iraqis.

And so, I think they would be wise to do that. And that why it's very important for the inspectors to create a procedure where they're able to interview these Iraqis alone and, at the same time, not just terrify the Iraqis to walk in the room.

ANGLE: So, you think by doing it in large groups...

ALBRIGHT: In a routine manner.

ANGLE: In a routine manner. There's more safety. There's more comfort. People will have the feeling they might be able to say something without it being immediately known by the Iraqi government.

ALBRIGHT: That's right.

If you took five or, let's say, 20 people from a certain part of the Iraqi nuclear program, interviewed them all for one hour, they can't kill them all if you act on the information.

ANGLE: Without eradicating the nuclear program.

ALBRIGHT: That's right.

And the other thing is, is that, if someone does tell you something, you may want to implement that other part of resolution, which is to take the person and their family out of Iraq. And you would have time to do that.

ANGLE: Now, the inspectors, Hans Blix in particular, has raised all sorts of logistical concerns. Do we take family to protect them? How many of the family do we take? How do we get these people out? What if we take them out and they don't have any information; they just wanted to get political asylum in the U.S. or something?

Can those things be worked out?

ALBRIGHT: I think they can. Again, you would have to think it through. It's really the responsibility of the U.S. government to work through that, because they have the resources to game all this and figure out the procedures. So, I think all those problems can be overcome.

For example, in terms of the family, it may just be the immediate family that comes out. That may be enough. And the inspectors would be visiting other members of the family that stayed behind. And so, Iraq would have a clearer message that, if it interfered or hurt any of those other family members that were behind, that there would be serious consequences. It would be a violation and there would be a material breach.

ANGLE: Uh-huh.

Let's switch to North Korea, where the IAEA, which you worked for, is also involved. The Iraqis are restarting a nuclear plant that produces plutonium, which is used for nuclear weapons. They have now ordered the inspectors out. What do you make of the situation there?

ALBRIGHT: I'm very worried about it.

Until today, I could have believed that maybe this was just about North Korea trying to force the United States to negotiate, make a deal.  I'm getting worried that North Korea really does want to have a nuclear weapons arsenal and, in a sense, become a state like Pakistan, where we'd have to deal with a nuclear arsenal and that would have severe consequences in the region, plus escalate the chance of war.

ANGLE: Now the South Korean president, the outgoing president said yesterday: We cannot have a nuclear North Korea.

Obviously, the U.S. view is the same and so is that of China and Japan and Russia. But how do they get the North Koreans to back down?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I think it's going to be extremely important for the United States to seize the leadership. No one else can do it. It would be nice if China would step in, but they don't appear to be.

And then I think it is very incumbent on the United States to start a very active campaign to deal with the situation. And they have their constraints. They don't want to be viewed as being blackmailed and so on.  But there's many ways to proceed.

ANGLE: One of problems here is that the North Korean leader, I think, to put it kindly, is somewhat unpredictable. And the situation is very volatile. They are 35 miles from the capital of South Korea. There are a lot of worries about what would happen.

We have got about 30 seconds left. What can be done here to diffuse this situation without pushing it toward a military confrontation?

ALBRIGHT: I think the United States is going to have to talk to North Korea in some way. Don't call it negotiations, but start this process.

It is very important to try to rein in North Korea. It's clearly at fault here. It's escalating. It's getting close to being able to make nuclear weapons again. But the United States can't just sit back and say:  We've got nothing.

ANGLE: OK, got to go.

David Albright, former inspector, thank you very much.

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