Transcript: Sen. Carl Levin on Fox News Sunday

Following is a transcribed excerpt from Fox News Sunday, Feb. 9, 2003.

TONY SNOW, FOX NEWS: Has the president persuaded doubting Democrats? We'll ask Democratic national security expert, Senator Carl Levin. Also here, Brit Hume, Washington managing editor of Fox News.

Senator Levin, first, I am going to get your response to a reported effort on the part of the French and the Germans to try to forestall war by putting new inspectors and U.N. troops on the ground in Iraq. Secretary of State Colin Powell says it's not the problem, the problem is Saddam Hussein isn't cooperating.

What's your view?

U.S. SENATOR CARL LEVIN, D-Mich.: On the British and French proposal, of course, it hasn't been written yet. But...

BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS: You mean, German and French.

LEVIN: German and French, I'm sorry, the German and French proposal.

But it seems to me we ought to be welcoming efforts to forestall war, even if we disagree with those efforts after we read them. We should not treat the U.N. Security Council as some kind of a stumbling block.

We ought to look at the Security Council as an asset, a way of either helping us to avert war -- and the world community gathering together is the best way to put pressure on Saddam to avert war -- or, if war is necessary, to avert the risks of war by having the world community authorizing an attack through the U.N.

SNOW: Senator, the president and the secretary of state both have argued that Saddam Hussein has received repeated benefits from the -- the benefit of the doubt from the international community.

I want to read a quote from you in December of 1998 when President Clinton had said it was time to use force against Saddam Hussein. You said, "I support the use of military force either to compel compliance or to destroy Iraq's capability to build weapons of mass destruction and threaten its neighbors."

At that time you weren't talking about U.N. resolutions. What's the difference now?

LEVIN: I think I was talking about U.N. resolutions. I think working through the world community is the best way to go.

It's obviously going to depend upon circumstances at the time. But it's very clear to me that the best way to avoid war, or, if necessary, if war becomes in fact in the cards, to reduce the risks of war, is if the world community endorses that kind of effort.

HUME: Senator, in what sense has the administration failed to act through the U.N.?

LEVIN: I'd say two or three ways. We've not supported the inspection regime. Right at the beginning when the inspectors were proposed by the U.N., the administration said they were useless, at least some of the high-level administrators said it was useless.

HUME: Well, in the end though, the U.S. helped write and voted for and strongly backed Resolution 1441, did it not?

LEVIN: Right, it backed 1441. And just as recently as last week at the White House, Condi Rice said inspections are doomed to failure. That's number one. We have not given full support to inspectors.

Secondly, the inspectors have asked us for the U-2 surveillance planes. We have not taken steps at the U.N. to say we are flying those surveillance planes whether Saddam likes it or not.

And third, we have not given the inspectors all the information that we have, that we're going to be giving to them over time.

HUME: Senator, are you under the impression that U.N. Resolution 1441 was principally about inspections? Or are you under the impression that Resolution 1441 was about Iraq's compliance and their job to supervise its compliance?

LEVIN: Both. They're both included in 1441. They're supposed to be...

HUME: Which comes first, sir?

LEVIN: Well, both are important. We want compliance, that's obviously the whole point. But the second point...

HUME: Do you believe the -- let me follow up with this question.

LEVIN: The second point, though, is, inspections are a critical part. This is the U.N. operation. You can't just say inspections are irrelevant.

HUME: Excuse me. Do you believe that inspections can succeed, absent a cooperative government?

LEVIN: There's a chance they'll succeed, and we ought to give them every possible chance...

HUME: (inaudible)

LEVIN: Well, you asked me the question, let me just finish it. We ought to give them every possible chance of success.

HUME: Not even Hans Blix believes that they can succeed, absent a cooperative government.

LEVIN: I disagree with you. I talked to Hans Blix for an hour last week. Hans Blix wants a cooperative government. Obviously, we want them to cooperate. But inspections are relevant. They're highly relevant. We ought to be supporting them.

And it's amazing to me that we have not given the inspectors the information that we have. And I want to be very precise on this. We've only given the inspectors a small percentage of the suspect sites.

SNOW: Senator, I asked Colin Powell about this, because we have heard through the State Department that, of the information we've given, the U.N.'s only acted on about 10 percent of it. He was more diplomatic; I'll be undiplomatic and repeat what our reporters are telling us.

SNOW: So, in other words, the United States has cooperated, but the U.N. has said, "Well, we'll deal with it when we can."

LEVIN: Try to get a statement from the State Department or the White House as to what percentage of the information that we think we have on suspect sites that we've shared with the U.N.

Now, if they can only handle it at the current speed, then that's a good argument to increase the number of inspections so that we can complete the inspection of the information that we have.

It's unbelievable to me that we would go to war without giving the U.N. inspectors all of the information that we have.

SNOW: Let me ask you, do you believe Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction?

LEVIN: I do. I think it's very likely that he does have weapons of mass destruction.

I know North Korea has weapons of mass destruction. I know North Korea's kicked out the inspectors. And yet we have not decided to attack North Korea.

So to say that we believe he has weapons of mass destruction, which I do, doesn't answer the question, how do you deal with that.

HUME: Do you believe he has failed to comply with U.N. Resolution 1441?

LEVINE: I think he has failed to comply with 1441 fully, and I think that...

HUME: That failure, then, under that resolution, which you say you support, calls for, quote, "serious consequences."

LEVIN: It does.

HUME: What serious consequences do you propose?

LEVIN: It depends on what the second resolution, if there is one, provides for. But even, Brit...

HUME: The first -- excuse me, sir. The first resolution calls for serious consequences for his failure.

LEVIN: It does not define -- it does not define...

HUME: Well, how would you define them?

LEVIN: I would define them depending on the circumstances.

HUME: Well, the circumstances (inaudible) present.

LEVIN: The first step I would take is to support U.N. inspections, because I believe the best chance of trying to disarm him without war or, if war is necessary, to then reduce the risks of war is if we have the world community with us. That is what I believe.

We ought to quit treating the U.N. as though they are an impediment. They are an asset which would allow us to rally the world community.

HUME: Well, wait a minute. Hasn't the administration gone to the U.N., obtained a resolution by a 15-to-nothing vote? And wasn't it before the U.N. that Colin Powell made his speech last week?

LEVIN: And our best ally, Britain, wants us to go to the U.N. to specify what those serious consequences are. They're not specified what the consequences are. Britain, our best ally, says we should go back to the U.N. in order to get a second resolution.

SNOW: Is it your view that France and Germany represent a mainstream opinion or, in fact, that they're the ones who are operating right now in isolation?

LEVIN: Well, I think the majority of members of the Security Council, at this point, do not want to authorize military force at this time. The majority of them, from what we can tell from the press reports, want a much strengthened inspection regime, using surveillance planes, giving all the information that we have to the U.N. inspectors and allowing those inspections to be completed.

We should not cut short the U.N. inspections, or we're not going to have any credibility if we go to the U.N. for an authorization to use force.

SNOW: Well, a lot of people are going to make the -- well, let me just put it this way. You said there are weapons of mass destruction in...

LEVIN: I believe there are.

SNOW: He's hiding them, obviously.

LEVIN: I believe that.

SNOW: He's succeeded in hiding them from inspectors, and it's probably likely that he'll be able to hide them even if you have more inspectors.

Does Saddam Hussein -- do you believe, as the French have said, that he's just not an urgent threat and he's something that we can deal with later?

LEVIN: I don't think he's an imminent threat to us. I think he is a threat, a collective security threat to the world, and it should be dealt with through the world organization which we have put in place and that we say we support for that purpose.

HUME: Senator, do you believe that there would have been a U.N. Resolution 1441, or indeed any kind of U.N. resolution, had it not been for the tough approach taken by this administration on this issue?

LEVIN: Probably not. I think that the threat...

HUME: But you've been critical of that approach.

LEVIN: Let me just, let me just -- I've been critical of being unilateral in saying that we are going without U.N. authority. I am not critical...

HUME: But if we were not ready -- but wasn't our preparedness, wasn't the announced preparedness to go a critical factor in getting the U.N. to move?

LEVIN: I think it is. I think it's a very essential thing to help the U.N. inspectors. And they're the first ones to say, sort of, "You've got to have the threat of force."

My argument, however, is that you want the ultimate use of that force to be blessed by the world community, or else the risks are huge, short-term to our troops, long-term in terms of attacks on the United States.

SNOW: At this point, the charge of unilateralism seems interesting, because we now have 18 European nations on the record saying they support the United States, three on record saying they have qualms. It appears that we've got the majority of Europe on our side. A number of our allies now in the region, including Jordan and Turkey, seem to be on our side as well.

So it certainly no longer is fair to say the administration is acting unilaterally, is it?

LEVIN: The way the word "unilateral" is used means without the authority specifically of the U.N. to use military force. That's the way the term "unilateral" is used, because that U.N. authority makes a big difference.

SNOW: Does that not give France and Germany a veto over our foreign policy?

LEVIN: No, I don't think anyone can have a veto over our foreign policy. If there is an imminent risk to the United States, we are going to act.

But where there is no imminent risk, it seems to me that the advantages of acting through the world community, through the U.N., are so huge, that we should not just simply treat the U.N. as some kind of a roadblock.

SNOW: But you...

LEVIN: We've got to look at the U.N. as something which gives us an opportunity to keep the pressure on, increase the pressure, accelerate the inspections, get those U-2 flights up, and basically tighten the noose around Saddam.

SNOW: You recently advocated bombing the facility in northern Iraq where Al Qaida may in fact have been producing weapons. And now we're told that today, this morning, Ansar al-Islam has assassinated three leaders of one of the key Kurdish independence movements.

You would do that without a U.N. resolution, you would bomb that facility?

LEVIN: I would go after Al Qaida wherever we find them. They have attacked us, and we have a right to attack them, and we've said we're going to attack them wherever we find them. And that should be our policy.

We have attacked Al Qaida. We attacked them in Yemen and Afghanistan. We did it without the authority, in Yemen, at least, of the U.N. And it is proper that we do so.

SNOW: And if the Al Qaida link to Iraq is established more definitively, would it then be appropriate, with or without U.N. resolutions, to go ahead and take action?

LEVIN: If you can show that Iraq is associated with Al Qaida, which has not been shown -- and even the White House acknowledged this week that there's no association between Iraq and Al Qaida...

HUME: Association or alliance?

LEVIN: They used the word, they're not associated with Al Qaida.

HUME: Well, what do you think?

LEVIN: I don't think the evidence is very strong that they're associated with it at all. As a matter of fact, I think the evidence is very sketchy that there's a connection between Al Qaida and Iraq, other than the fact that an Al Qaida operative got hospitalization in Iraq, and that he then apparently was able to stay in Baghdad for some period of time. But that is not an alliance between Al Qaida and Iraq.

SNOW: A quick diplomatic question. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld pointed out on the Hill this week that three nations, to his knowledge, had said they were going to forswear the use of force. He mentioned Germany, Cuba, and Libya.

Was that a cheap shot, or was that accurate?

LEVIN: Well, it's only partly accurate. You've got to add other countries, such as Canada, Mexico and a few other countries that we have great respect for.

I did not think it was a nice thing to do, an appropriate thing to do. We've got to be rallying the world around and not throwing barbs at everybody.

HUME: Senator, you've said that the tough stance the administration has taken has been necessary and helpful to getting the U.N. to move. You voted, if I'm not mistaken, against the original Gulf War resolution.

LEVIN: I voted for the -- I'm sorry, go on.

HUME: Against the -- first time around. Do you believe to this day that that was the right vote?

LEVIN: No, looking back on it, I think it was wrong, but we were following Colin Powell's advice at the time in saying that sanctions could work a little longer. As a matter of fact, I think...

HUME: Colin Powell supported that resolution, sir, if I'm not mistaken.

LEVIN: No, no, Colin Powell was advising us that we should give sanctions a little longer time to work. And so were a number...


HUME: At the time that the president of the United States was -- he was telling you that publicly, was he?

LEVIN: No, he was telling us privately, and I don't think there's too much doubt of that, if you read the literature on this subject. Colin Powell and a number of other people were saying, give sanctions a longer time.

HUME: He's not saying that now.

LEVIN: No, he's not saying that now. He's not...


HUME: We've had all that experience with sanctions and weapons inspections and so forth. And with all of that, what do you take away from that failure of the inspection process over all of those years to uncover all these weapons?

LEVIN: Well, first of all, the inspections process were not a failure. They actually brought up some very significant conclusions on biological weapons in the early '90s.

Secondly, are the inspections relevant, or aren't they? Now, the White House says they've given the inspectors a great deal of information now. Why are they giving the inspectors information now if inspections aren't relevant?

All I'm saying is, we should complete the inspection process by giving them all the information that we have about suspect sites. Try and get a percentage out of the White House or the State Department as to what percentage of suspect sites have we given the inspectors information on. You can't get it. All I can tell you is that it's a small...


HUME: Isn't Iraq supposed to supply all this information?


LEVIN: Of course. They're not doing what they're supposed to do.


HUME: Well, then...

LEVIN: The question is, how do we react to it?

North Korea's not doing what they're supposed to do.


LEVIN: How are we reacting to it? That's the issue.

The issue isn't whether they're a threat or whether they're likely to have weapons of mass destruction. The Soviet Union was a threat, had weapons of mass destruction, and we didn't attack it. We used a different way of approaching it.

All we're saying here is, those of us that believe that you should work through the world community, is, it's much more effective to possibly achieve disarmament without war. And if there's going to be a war, you reduce the risks if you get U.N. authority for that kind of action, military action. That's what we're saying.

SNOW: Senator Carl Levin, thanks for joining us today.

LEVIN: Always good being with you.