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Thursday, 6 February, 2003, 13:20 GMT
Six Forum: Iraq's weapons
Six Forum: Iraq's Weapons

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    US Secretary of State Colin Powell has started presenting the American case against Iraq to the UN Security Council.

    Mr Powell began by playing two recent tape recordings which, he said, were conversations between Iraqi military officials discussing how to block the work of UN weapons inspectors.

    Mr Powell went on to show satellite photographs which, he said, showed that evidence had been moved from military bunkers in mid-December as UN inspectors were about to visit them.

    Analysts say the reaction he receives at the Council is likely to determine whether or not the US seeks a new resolution on disarming Iraq or embarks on military action on the basis of existing resolutions.

    What threat do Iraq's weapons pose? Could biological weapons be used? Was Colin Powell's evidence convincing?

    Former UN weapons inspector Olivia Bosch answered your questions in a LIVE forum for the BBC Six O'clock News, presented by Manisha Tank.


    Manisha Tank:

    Hello, good to have you with us on the Six Forum, with me, Manisha Tank.

    US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, says Saddam Hussein is determined to get hold of a nuclear weapon and charges the Iraqi leader with deception. He also believes Iraq is hiding key parts of its chemical weapons programme inside its civilian petrochemical industry. These assertions were part of Colin Powell's presentation to the United Nations as evidence against the Iraqi president.

    Are you convinced? Is the American assessment of Iraqi's capability to produce weapons of mass destruction, weighty and reason enough for war? Joining me is Olivia Bosch, part of the UN inspections team in 1996, she's now at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London.

    Olivia, we're very pleased to have you here with us to go through what was some serious detail in this presentation at the UN from Colin Powell. Obviously we've had lots of comments and e-mails coming in.

    We'll start with two comments that we've had. The first comment is from Luke in Oxford: The evidence released by Colin Powell today is far from convincing. But if he has serious evidence, he should hand it over to the weapons inspectors and give them time to do their job properly.

    At the same time, we've had another from James: The fact that Colin Powell was unable to state where these alleged weapons had been moved to, shows how weak and feeble his evidence really is. If the satellites detected the weapons being picked up then surely it would not have been too difficult to detect where they had been dropped off.

    What's your assessment - given your experience of all of this?

    Olivia Bosch:

    The information that Colin Powell provided was actually quite strong, I think. He provided lots of new information and it was recent, which was quite interesting and would support some of his views.

    Now his topic was, Iraq failing to disarm. He wasn't addressing necessarily, what are the policy implications - which we'll hear more about in the next weeks to come.

    It's difficult when you're using intelligence information, often that is piecemeal and fragmentary - so the role then of the assessors will be to try to piece that together. So it can appear to be not convincing but over time you see a pattern emerging.

    A lot of what Colin Powell had provided was information that actually supported what Hans Blix had said on the 27th January to the UN Security Council. And Hans Blix's report was no spin, no rhetoric and quite forceful in terms of the systematic pattern that the inspectors will face in terms of the deception and consumer techniques that the Iraqis have been practising.

    So as a former inspector, a lot of the information that Colin Powell provided resonated with what inspectors had experienced in the past.

    Manisha Tank:

    So there's a great deal to be drawn by the relationship between people like Colin Powell and the people in the US administration and the weapons inspectors themselves and I'm quite interested in the exchange of information.

    So is Mark Webb in Dublin, who asks: If Mr Powell really had satellite images of illegal weapons being moved then why won't he tell Mr Blix where they've been moved to?

    Olivia Bosch:

    I think that would be very sensitive information and it may entail reviewing the sources that are too sensitive. It may very well be that the Americans in this case have actually provided the information and we understand that in fact intelligence has been passed to the inspectors. We have heard that they have gone to areas where there may have been mobile biological production facilities. They had conducted inspections at some of these locations already.

    So we have heard that intelligence has been passed on. But I don't think it would be appropriate, in an operational sense, to air this to the world in a time surely when the Iraqi regime is listening for such information.

    Manisha Tank:

    So effectively you can't say anything, given the state of our world and the speed at which information travels.

    Tim Roach in New York asks: The results of the inspections are, and will continue to be, inconclusive. Why has there been no clear statement to that effect by Dr Blix and his team?

    Olivia Bosch:

    Well actually Hans Blix did mention that in his 27th January report to the UN Security Council. He said that the evidence did not point one way or the other - the information he had obtained.

    In fact it is important when people talk about evidence - the inspectors are not a detective agency, they're not police forces looking for evidence in a sense to prove a case. The onus is on the Iraqis to comply with their obligations. And in fact on the 27th January, Hans Blix had mentioned that South Africa had disarmed itself in a very cooperative manner. It volunteered its documents, its processes and there was a successful disarmament programme.

    What we've not seen - and Blix had said this on the 27th January - that there's not been that kind of pro-active cooperation on the part of the Iraqis to account for many of the items that not only Blix mentioned in his speech but also that Colin Powell had mentioned.

    Manisha Tank:

    Suppose there are weapons of mass destruction - how are they used? To what extent and for what reason?

    Charles Turner wrote in from Argentina asking: Do you think Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction could be used successfully on coalition forces should there be an attack on Iraq?

    Olivia Bosch:

    It's often reported that the Iraqi regime feels it needs to have weapons of mass destruction as part of its survival mechanism. And in the past they have been used against Iran and some of the Kurdish population. So there's clear evidence that the Iraqis have used this in the past. They would have a much reduced capability now because the former inspectors did destroy a lot of their chemical weaponry in particular on account of their nuclear capabilities of the past. Very much unknown was the biological weapons capability and the offensive components of that actually had not discovered until 1995 which was quite late in the process.

    What Colin Powell today, had talked about was the continued attempts on the part of the Iraqis to try to make biological agents - the movement of documents, the movement of items of equipment. That this evidence was so new, would seem to indicate that this is still the intent of the Iraqi regime to continue with their weapons of mass destruction programme.

    Now it's quite possible that if there is to be a conflict - and that's not inevitable - that it could be used. But in hot weather, chemical precursors are not very persistent, so they may not be very effective. The threat of their use may mean that allied troops would have to put on protective gear which may slow down their capabilities. And in way that's all kind of tactical, operational issues.

    If the Iraqi regime were intent on complying with their obligations - and we go back again to the original UN Security Council Resolution 687 of 1991 - the ceasefire agreement - where the Iraqis were obliged to destroy the whole programme of weapons of mass destruction - that has not been evident. That's the task before the inspectors now.

    Manisha Tank:

    Matt Bettison in London asks: What is the shelf-life of chemical and biological weapons which has been talked about, such as, anthrax and sarin? This is very close to the heart of the British public, having had various scares fairly recently on their own territory. Presumably manufacturing mechanisms have been dismantled and they're difficult to hide, so I wonder how much of an on-going threat existing stockpiles can actually be?

    You have said yourself Olivia, that his capability is probably diminished since the last time round.

    Olivia Bosch:

    If you're talking about an intact weapon - those will have been destroyed. But the manufacturing capability is still there, that hasn't been destroyed and that's actually quite important.

    This is why when we hear the Iraqis talk about - we have no weapons of mass destruction - if you're talking about a weapon as a warhead attached to a rocket motor and say here is a smoking gun. If the inspectors then take those particular weapons and destroy them, you will have in place all the infrastructure, the manufacturing capabilities, the know-how of the scientists, the unaccounted for production mechanisms and, in the case of biological agents, the growth media, to be able to make new agents - the stuff that you put inside of the warheads - that is still there. This is what the inspectors are there to dismiss or to get a better handle on in terms of the whole programme. So it's not just the weapon itself that we're trying to render useless or to destroy but its the whole programme as the analogy was made to the South African experience.

    Manisha Tank:

    Gheri, Bangalore, India asks: Couldn't Saddam Hussein be disarmed by the UN over a period of time?

    Olivia Bosch:

    Well many would probably argue that the Iraqi regime has had more than 12 years to do that. Prior to the inspectors coming back in, there was a policy of containment which would have appeared to have been one that we sort of evolved into, because as long as the inspectors are in place, it would be more difficult for any items that are buried underground to come to the surface.

    So that containment policy was there arguably until 1996, 1997, 1998. But in the four intervening years when there have been no inspectors, what Colin Powell's material and information today indicates is that the Iraqis would appear to be trying to rearm or try to put into place the production facilities in order to at some point in the future "weaponise" them for potential use or to transfer knowledge to potential terrorists organisations.

    What was interesting was the links with those in reference to al-Qaeda there and it would be a case where, my enemy's enemy is my friend. Often you've heard in the past that the Baath party and the al-Qaeda group have quite different political, philosophical backgrounds and approaches so that in the past they've just haven't got along very well together.

    But it would appear from Colin Powell's presentation today, that in some cases, my enemy's enemy is my friend is what appears to be quite evident.

    Manisha Tank:

    We're getting the results of our vote. If you've been watching us online you've been able to have your say on Colin Powell's evidence in our online vote - and 60% of you saying that you're not convinced by the evidence he presented to the UN.

    That obviously makes quite interesting reading - it's not a scientific poll, Olivia. But we've had one comment in saying: I say no to war. Take the evidence back to the UN and let them decide what action to take.

    Here are more viewers who vent the alternative view. There's a great movement against any action in Iraq, although serious consequences is what was laid down and we really don't know what they be. What do you think will happen next?

    Olivia Bosch:

    This is what everyone is waiting for. I think there'll be meetings of the Security Council to debate these next steps. War is not inevitable and there's still time for the Iraqi regime to be more forthcoming in addressing some of those unanswered questions.

    So when Hans Blix and Mohamed El Baradei go back to Iraq this weekend, maybe more information will be forthcoming on that.

    Now over the past four months, what we've seen is, I guess, a triple-track process, where you've had the threat of use of military force to try to form a course of diplomacy - try to bring about a change in the behaviour of the Iraqi regime so that they are more forthcoming and more cooperative in their obligations in disarming. So the first is the threat of use of military force.

    Secondly, the diplomatic activity that we've seen over the last few months - in particular the last month or so - whereby states are saying to the Iraqis, please disarm, be more cooperative so that we don't have to go to war. There are many commercial interests from different countries and that's not very good atmosphere in which to do business when conflicts are pending.

    Then the third track in the triple-track process of course is the inspections regime whereby they go in and try to verify, for instance, the 7th December declaration and it's on the burden of the Iraqi regime to be forthcoming.

    Manisha Tank:

    Briefly and finally Olivia. Clive in Newscastle, UK asks: In your opinion, why is it so important for the US to focus only on Iraq?

    You're a non-proliferation expert. One sits here and thinks - this can't be the only country in the world looking to create weapons of some kind - I've got a list as long as my arm that Colin Powell recited as companies in different countries and their products may have ended up in Iraq. How do you know there aren't these projects going on in other places?

    Olivia Bosch:

    Well there's been a lot of research. There are only actually a very few countries that have what one would call a clandestine programme - North Korea, for instance is one.

    With North Korea there's a different approach to dealing with their programme - their alleged nuclear programme. Since 1994, there was an agreed framework and there has been a dialogue with the North Koreans, the Europeans, the Japanese, South Korea and the United States, in trying to address that particular issue. So different security concerns or different non-proliferation concerns have different measures - there's not one silver bullet to deal with non-proliferation concerns.

    In the case of Iraq - this is a point that Colin Powell was making here where my enemy's enemy is my friend - you have a country that in the past is known to have worked or in some way supported terrorists groups, linked with having weapons of mass destruction and that knowledge can be potentially transferred for future terrorist activity.

    Manisha Tank:

    Well we'll have to see what happens. Olivia Bosch, thank you so much for your insights.

    That's it - you've been watching the Six Forum with me Manisha Tank - good to have you with us - until next time, goodbye.

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    See also:

    05 Feb 03 | Middle East
    04 Feb 03 | Middle East
    05 Feb 03 | Business
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