This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," Oct. 15, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.
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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHARLES DUELFER, U.S. CHIEF WEAPONS INSPECTOR: Our investigation makes it quite clear how Baghdad exploited the mechanism for executing the Oil for Food program (search) to give individuals and country's an economic stake in ending sanctions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN GIBSON, HOST: That is U.S. chief weapons inspector Charles Duelfer (search). His report on Iraq's pre-war weapons program shows Saddam Hussein (search) wanted to end U.N. sanctions so that he could rebuild his arsenal. And the butcher of Baghdad had devised a plan to exploit business ties to get help ending the sanctions from other nations, including, Duelfer said, France.
Quoting from the report now, "Tariq Aziz (search) says he personally awarded several French individuals substantial oil allotments. According to Aziz, both parties understood that the resale of the oil was to be reciprocated through efforts to lift U.N. sanctions, or through opposition to American initiatives within the U.N. Security Council."
Joining me in Washington now, the Ambassador to the U.S. from France, Jean-David Levitte (search). Ambassador Levitte, today's big question: was French foreign policy bought and sold by Saddam Hussein?
JEAN-DAVID LEVITTE, FRENCH AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: No, John. I'm delighted to have the opportunity to give you my answer.
The French government is not for sale. There are allegations that are not verified. We opposed the war for good reasons. The first one is that we didn't see any stocks of arms of mass destruction, threatening the United States or Europe. And we said it very candidly, and now the report from Mr. Duelfer confirms.
Second, we said that in our view, there were no connections between Saddam Hussein and 9/11. And when 9/11 Commission confirmed that there were no connections. And these are the reasons why France opposed the war in Iraq. In our view, this war was not necessary, and it would have been better to continue with the U.N. inspections. And by the way, a number of inspectors were great specialists from the United States.
GIBSON: OK. But Mr. Levitte, you have quoted Mr. Duelfer, saying that there was no WMD. He also said that it was quite clear that France was the target of Saddam Hussein's efforts to use Oil-for-Food and to use illegal vouchers, to essentially bribe people. Now here's another quote from the report.
"A French politician assured an Iraqi minister that France would use its veto in the U.N. Security Council against any American decision to attack Iraq," according to the Iraqi Intelligence Service memo.
Now, Mr. Duelfer got this information out of the files of the Iraqi Intelligence Service and with interviews with Tariq Aziz and even Saddam Hussein himself. Would you concede that Mr. Duelfer's report is correct on this point: that France was targeted by Saddam Hussein for bribery?
LEVITTE: It is simply not true.
First, we opposed the war, but we were not the only ones. There were a majority of 11 out of 15 members in the Security Council (search) opposing the war. So, we didn't need to use any veto. Second, we were not for sale. We had contacts with the Oil-for-Food Program. We had contracts, as American companies had contracts. I saw that a number of American names are also mentioned in the Duelfer report, as well as Italian names or Polish names or South Korean names and so on and so forth.
Forty countries are listed on the Duelfer report. This is an old list. And what I think is quite unfair in the Duelfer report is that: first, the American names were not given to the media because you have a privacy law which protects the American names, but not the other names.
And second, and even more important in my view, you have to know that the French individuals or companies which were mentioned, most of them denied flatly all of the facts. But this was not reported accurately in the Duelfer report. It was not mentioned at all.
GIBSON: But do you think, Ambassador Levitte, that we should not believe written records from the Iraqi Intelligence Service and interviews in which Tariq Aziz and Saddam Hussein and others say these things were true?
LEVITTE: Well, we have a strong judicial system, as you have. If some individuals in France violated laws, they will be confronted with our judiciary system, as it will be the situation for the American citizens or American companies which are mentioned in the same report.
So this is very important. It is an important story. We have nothing to hide. We are cooperating fully with the Volcker Commission — you know that commission has been appointed — this commission is chaired by Paul Volcker, the former chairman of the Fed and we are cooperating fully.
Paul Volcker was in Paris a few days ago.
GIBSON: Mr. Ambassador, I know you're going to stay with us. Please, a little patience.
Still ahead on THE BIG STORY: do the French really hate us? Ambassador Levitte's going to stay and he will explain the reasons behind French hostility to the U.S. when we come back…
GIBSON: We're back with the Ambassador from France to the United States, Jean-David Levitte
Mr. Ambassador, you know, the President of France, Jacques Chirac, has been on a tour of Asia, Vietnam and China. And these are some of the things the French press has said about his trip.
One from Le Figaro, "Hoping to convince his audience of the need to defend their cultural uniqueness, Jacques Chirac gave in to his little weakness: lambasting U.S. omnipotence."
And then, the paper "Liberation" quoted Chirac saying, "Chirac delivered a diatribe against the U.S., which he accused outright of wanting to impose an overall subculture throughout the world," that the U.S. wanted to do that.
And then this latest poll, which appeared in Le Figaro today: If the French could vote, 72 percent would vote for John Kerry. Why is it the French are so angry with the United States?
LEVITTE: You know, John, I'm glad you asked this question because the French are not angry with the Americans.
On the contrary, we are in love with America and the Americans. The French were angry with the decision to launch this war in Iraq. But today, there was another poll, which shows that 90 percent of the French people are in favor of good relations between the United States and France: 90 percent.
We help you a little in your war for independence. In turn, you saved us twice last century. We commemorated the 60th anniversary of D-Day and it was a very moving moment, during which 60 million French told the American people we will never forget.
GIBSON: Ambassador Levitte, what is the French attitude going to be, considering by 72 to 16, they would like to see President Bush kicked out. What is the French attitude going to be if he is re-elected?
LEVITTE: We will work with the President that the American people will choose. And let me tell you, John, that we have a wonderful cooperation right now in the war against terror. We have a wonderful cooperation in Afghanistan, where French troops, together with American troops, are fighting against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
We have Special Forces. We have a French general in charge of the NATO operation deployed in Kabul. We are working together to fight AIDS, to solve the problems in Africa, in Haiti and so on. The only problem we have today is Iraq. For the future, we will have to work together to make together Iraq a success story.
GIBSON: Ambassador Jean-David Levitte, appreciate you coming on.
LEVITTE: Thank you, John.
GIBSON: We need much more time with you but I'm glad you came in today. Thanks a lot.
LEVITTE: Thank you, John.
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