Is the Secretary of State Changing His Mind on Iraq?

Published January 28, 2003

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

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: Where is the missing anthrax? Where is the VX? Where are the chemical and biological munitions? Where are the mobile biological laboratories? If the Iraqi regime was truly committed to disarmament, we wouldn't be looking for these mobile labs. They drive them up and park them in front of UNMOVIC headquarters for inspection.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIT HUME, HOST: That, of course, Secretary of State Colin Powell speaking today in Washington. The secretary was quick to add to that litany that he still hopes the diplomatic solution to the Iraqi crisis is possible.

But there has been little doubt in recent days that Colin Powell these days has, if not a new position, at least a new emphasis on Iraq. So, how far has Powell come and what does the shift in his viewpoint or at least in his emphasis mean? For more on that, we're joined by a man who served two presidents as a key adviser in the Middle East, Dennis Ross, now FOX News analyst. Dennis, welcome, nice to have you.

DENNIS ROSS, FMR. MIDEAST ENVOY: Thank you. Nice to be here.

HUME: What do you make of Colin Powell's shift, at least in emphasis, what does it tell you about what happened last week and where he is in the administration policy and the whole lot of it.

ROSS: Well, I think it tells me two things. First, I think he was genuinely angry in the sense that he was set up by the French.

HUME: In the sense that they asked him to come to New York to do what exactly?

ROSS: Well, he was supposed to go to New York to take part in a ministerial level discussion on terrorism have a meeting on terrorism.

HUME: That is with his fellow secretary of states, so called?

ROSS: That's right. And instead, he gets there and he is sand bagged because the French have a separate independent position suddenly on the whole question of Iraq letting time play out. There is no reason to shorten what the inspectors are doing. And in a sense, he is set up. Here is a guy who basically has been more sympathetic to the European position on going slow, on creating a consensus, on working through the inspection process, helped to author that process, and he gets set up by them.

So, number one, I think he was genuinely angry. Number two, I think he also understand that within the context of the administration, he was becoming increasingly vulnerable to those who all along had been skeptical about the inspection process because they feared it really wasn't about disarmament. They feared it was about an enhanced containment regime.

So I think that he needed to come out and spell very clearly where he was. I think he has been consistent himself in terms of saying he was for disarmament and this was the best way to get it. Now he is sending a signal not only to people in the administration, but more importantly to those in Europe that the game is up. There is a limit as to how far we'll go. Even he, who has always been their hope in this regard, has a limit on his patience.

HUME: Now, when you say that there are those who said this process would lead to an enhanced containment regime, of course, U.N. Resolution 1441, which Powell helped write with allies such as France got passed, doesn't really call for an enhanced containment regime at all. It calls for Iraq to come clean quickly and for the U.N. inspectors to be there to verify they've done so, which is a somewhat different matter.

But you hear it in ElBaradei today saying you know, this is containing him and deterring him and all that. It is clear that there are those in the middle of this process would like to use it for something that U.N. Resolution 1441 doesn't appear to contemplate. So, what is this -- if you're the French foreign minister who was involved in the sand baggery, what kind of position does Colin Powell shift on this put you in.

ROSS: Well, I think it sends a signal that, in fact, the U.S. meant what it said. If disarmament could be achieved through peaceful purposes, this was the pathway, but it was supposed to be the last chance for that pathway. The French and others decided, Look, we've got a shift in the emphasis.

Look, one thing that the administration could have done more of that it's now doing is keep the focus on the issue of full disclosure. That is what 1441 was. It was all about here is his last chance, in your words, to come clean.

And instead what he's done is play the same old game, have a strategy to separate us from the other members of the Security Council, go along at the last minute, but always, in effect, never come clean.

HUME: Now, Blix's report, I think there was fear in the administration it was going to be too soft, was it or not?

ROSS: I think it was typical of Blix that he -- to maintain a certain degree of intellectual honesty he had to come clean in some ways, and he did. At the same time, he also is offering, much like ElBaradei day, a desire to keep working. I don't think that's any surprise. From the inspectors standpoint, their role is to inspect, not to declare a material breach. That is up to the Security Council. Their attitude is let's keep inspecting.

But he revealed something very interest. One of the little tidbit that it was in there, that needs to be drawn attention to is he noted that in 1998, an UNSCOM inspector had a document from the Iraqis, which was then taken away from that inspectors which said that 19,500 tons of chemical weapons had been consumed.

Now, originally the 12,000-page come turned in, no mention of that. When the inspectors pressed on that, they finally got a document that said 13,000 tons of chemical weapons had been consumed, which leaves a gap of 6,500.

HUME: Tons.

ROSS: Tons of chemical weapons, which are somewhere. So, what he did is reveal not just in the list of questions that we already knew about with regard to the mustard gas or V.X. shells, but now we also know that there's 6,500 tons of chemical weapons, which they themselves have admitted they consumed, but now say there are 6,500 tons that are unaccounted for. So, I think that what you have...

HUME: Even in the secondary disclosure, made under some pressure, they still have not...

ROSS: They've not come clean and now they've telling us they've probably hidden away 6,500 tons of chemical weapons. So, what you have Blix doing at one level does tend to suggest that inspectors who may be believe in the inspection process themselves may still reveal things. In terms of where we are, we have an increasingly strong case to demonstrate he is certainly not coming clean. He is not, even in Blix's words, he is not adopting a posture that says he is ready for disarmament.

HUME: Now, February 14 is supposed to be yet a further report. Would it be your guess, I mean you've dealt with the Iraqis, that what would happen is Iraq would do something in the interim to say, well, here is proof. We might have denied this, but we're coming clean with this to give the French and another chance to say, now we're really cooking. Now we're going.

ROSS: I think there's been a consistent pattern. This is what I've expected all along, that every time we would identify a particular problem, belatedly at the last minute, they would come in with something. It would not be satisfactory, but it would be another step. And the more they see division on the Security Council, the more they think that they can sustain that division and it will constrain us, the more they'll keep this up.

HUME: Does this remind you of anybody, Yasser Arafat for example?

ROSS: I have a little bit of experience with that.

HUME: Dennis Ross, good to have you. Thanks for coming.

ROSS: Pleasure.

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