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Context of 'September 19, 2002: Iraq Denies Having WMD, Says US Working with Israeli ‘Zionists’ to Control Middle East Oil'

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Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri meets with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Arab League Secretary-General Amir Moussa and gives them a letter expressing Baghdad’s willingness to readmit the UN weapons inspectors without conditions. The offer is made after Saddam Hussein convened an emergency meeting in Baghdad with his cabinet and the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC). [Associated Press, 9/16/2002; Associated Press, 9/16/2002; Independent, 9/17/2002; New York Times, 9/17/2002] Iraq’s letter is effectively an agreement to the December 1999 UN Security Council Resolution 1284. [New York Times, 9/18/2002] Kofi Annan tells reporters after the meeting, “I can confirm to you that I have received a letter from the Iraqi authorities conveying its decision to allow the return of the inspectors without conditions to continue their work and has also agreed that they are ready to start immediate discussions on the practical arrangements for the return of the inspectors to resume their work.” Annan credits the Arab League, which he says “played a key role” in influencing Saddam Hussein’s decision to accept the inspectors, and suggests that a recent speech by Bush also played a critical part in influencing Baghdad’s decision. [UN News Center, 9/16/2002] UNMOVIC Chief Weapons Inspector Hans Blix also meets with Iraqi officials and it is reportedly agreed that weapons inspectors will return to Iraq on October 19. UNMOVIC spokesman Ewen Buchanan tells the BBC, “We are ready to discuss practical measures, such as helicopters, hotels, the installation of monitoring equipment and so on, which need to be put in place.” [BBC, 9/17/2002] The Bush administration immediately rejects the offer, calling it “a tactical step by Iraq in hopes of avoiding strong UN Security Council action,” in a statement released by the deputy press secretary. [Agence France-Presse, 9/16/2002; White House, 9/16/2002] And Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director, tells reporters: “We’ve made it very clear that we are not in the business of negotiating with Saddam Hussein. We are working with the UN Security Council to determine the most effective way to reach our goal.” He then claims Iraq’s offer is a tactic to give “false hope to the international community that [President Saddam] means business this time,” adding, “Unfortunately, his more than decade of experience shows you can put very little into his words or deeds.” Two days later Bush will tell reporters that Saddam’s offer is “his latest ploy, his latest attempt not to be held accountable for defying the United Nations,” adding: “He’s not going to fool anybody. We’ve seen him before…. We’ll remind the world that, by defying resolutions, he’s become more and more of a threat to world peace. [The world] must rise up and deal with this threat, and that’s what we expect the Security Council to do.” [Independent, 9/17/2002; Agence France-Presse, 9/19/2002] Later that night, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice reportedly hold a conference call with Kofi Annan and accuse him of taking matters into his own hands. [Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 285] Britain supports the US position and calls for a UN resolution backed with the threat of force. [BBC, 9/17/2002] Other nations react differently to the offer. For example, Russia’s Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, says: “It’s important that, through our joint efforts, we have managed to put aside the threat of a war scenario around Iraq and return the process to a political channel… It is essential in the coming days to resolve the issue of the inspectors’ return. For this, no new [Security Council] resolutions are needed.” [Independent, 9/17/2002; BBC, 9/17/2002]

Entity Tags: Hans Blix, Naji Sabri Hadithi, Kofi Annan, Dan Bartlett, Condoleezza Rice, Scott McClellan, Amir Moussa, Colin Powell, United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, Saddam Hussein

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

The French arrange a backchannel meeting between a friend of Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri Hadithi and the CIA’s station chief in Paris, Bill Murray. Sabri’s friend, a Lebanese journalist, tells Murray that Sabri would be willing to provide the CIA with accurate information on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program in exchange for $1 million. The CIA agrees to advance the journalist $200,000. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 45; MSNBC, 3/21/2006] When CIA Director George Tenet announces the deal during a high-level meeting at the White House—attended by President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice—the news is greeted with enthusiasm. “They were enthusiastic because they said, they were excited that we had a high-level penetration of Iraqis,” Tyler Drumheller, the agency’s head of spying in Europe, later tells 60 Minutes. [CBS News, 4/23/2006] But Sabri does not tell the CIA what the White House is expecting to hear. In a New York hotel room, the Lebanese journalist says that according to Sabri Iraq does not have a significant, active biological weapons program. He does however acknowledge that Iraq has some “poison gas” left over from the first Gulf War. Regarding the country’s alleged nuclear weapons program, Sabri’s friend says the Iraqis do not have an active program because they lack the fissile material needed to develop a nuclear bomb. But he does concede that Hussein desperately wants one. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 62-63; MSNBC, 3/21/2006] “He told us that they had no active weapons of mass destruction programs,” Drumheller, will recall. [Unger, 2007, pp. 246-247] The White House immediately loses interest in Sabri as a source after the New York meeting. Sabri, Bush says, is merely telling the US “the same old thing.” The CIA continues to corroborate material provided to the agency by Sabri. Wiretaps on Sabri’s phone conversations by French intelligence back up Sabri’s claims, but Bush could not care less. “Bush didn’t give a f_ck about the intelligence,” a CIA officer will later say. “He had his mind made up.” CIA agent Luis (whose full name has never been disclosed) and John Maguire, the chief and deputy chief of the Iraq Operations Group, also lose interest in the lead. In one confrontation between Maguire and Murray, Maguire allegedly says: “One of these days you’re going to get it. This is not about intelligence. This is about regime change.” Drumheller will agree, saying the White House is “no longer interested.… They said, ‘Well, this isn’t about intel anymore. This is about regime change.’” [MSNBC, 3/21/2006; CBS News, 4/23/2006; Unger, 2007, pp. 246-247]

Entity Tags: Naji Sabri Hadithi, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Luis, Condoleezza Rice, George W. Bush, Bill Murray, Central Intelligence Agency, John Maguire

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri reads the full text of a statement by Saddam Hussein before the UN secretariat-general. The statement condemns the Bush administration’s attempts to provoke a war with Iraq and accuses the administration of working hand in hand with the hardline Zionists in the Israeli government [Arabic News, 9/21/2002] “I hereby declare before you that Iraq is totally clear of all nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons,” the letter says. “Our country is ready to receive any scientific experts, accompanied by politicians you choose to represent any one of your countries, to tell us which places and scientific and industrial installations they would wish to see.” [New York Times, 9/20/2002] Hussein also states that in pursuing its aggressive policy towards Iraq, the US is “acting on behalf of Zionism which has been killing the heroic people of Palestine, destroying their property, murdering their children,” adding that Washington intends to “control Middle East oil.” The passage draws the applause of several UN diplomats. [Independent, 9/20/2002]

Entity Tags: United Nations, Naji Sabri Hadithi, Saddam Hussein

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

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