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2006-10-16

Scott Ritter on "Target Iran: The Truth About the White House’s Plans for Regime Change"

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Former UN Weapons Inspector Scott Ritter: "The path that the United States is currently embarked on regarding Iran is a path that will inevitably lead to war. Such a course of action will make even the historical mistake we made in Iraq pale by comparison." [includes rush transcript]

Twenty-five ministers from the European Union are expected to meet tomorrow to ask the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions on Iran. They say sanctions are necessary because of Iran’s refusal to halt uranium enrichment. Though Iran contends its nuclear program is for generating electricity, the U.S. and some of its allies allege it is trying to develop atomic weapons.

On Saturday, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mohammad Ali Hosseini, said that Western threats to impose sanctions were part of a "psychological war" and that the Islamic Republic was more determined than ever to pursue peaceful nuclear technology.

A new book by former weapons inspector–Scott Ritter–claims that the Bush Administration is determined to wage war against Iran. In "Target Iran: The Truth About the White House’s Plans for Regime Change," Ritter examines the administration’s regime-change policy and the potential of Iran to threaten US national security interests.

  • Scott Ritter, Ritter served from 1991 to 1998 as a United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq in the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM). His new book is, "Target Iran: The Truth About the White House’s Plans for Regime Change." His previous book is "Iraq Confidential."

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: A new book by former weapons inspector, Scott Ritter, claims the Bush administration is determined to wage war against Iran. In Target Iran: The Truth About the White House’s Plans for Regime Change, Scott Ritter examines the administration’s regime change policy and the potential of Iran to threaten U.S. national security interests. He writes, "The path the United States has currently embarked on regarding Iran is a path that will inevitably lead to war. Such a course of action will make even the historical mistake we made in Iraq pale by comparison," he writes. Scott Ritter joins us in the studio now. Welcome to Democracy Now!

SCOTT RITTER: Well, thanks.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think is the key to understand about Iran right now, about the U.S., well, about your title targeting — Target Iran?

SCOTT RITTER: Well, the most important thing is to understand the reality that Iran is squarely in the crosshairs as a target of the Bush administration, in particular, as a target of the Bush administration as it deals — as it relates to the National Security Strategy of the United States. You see, this isn’t a hypothetical debate among political analysts, foreign policy specialists. Read the 2006 version of the National Security Strategy, where Iran is named sixteen times as the number one threat to the national security of the United States of America, because in the same document, it embraces the notion of pre-emptive wars of aggression as a legitimate means of dealing with such threats. It also recertifies the Bush administration doctrine of regional transformation globally, but in this case particularly in the Middle East. So, we’re not talking about hypotheticals here, regardless of all the discussion the Bush administration would like you to believe there is about diplomacy. There is no diplomacy, as was the case with Iraq. Diplomacy is but a smokescreen to disguise the ultimate objective of regime change.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the difference in approach the U.S. takes to North Korea, which has, according to their own reports, set off a nuclear bomb, and Iran?

SCOTT RITTER: Well, the only thing that the Bush administration’s approach towards North Korea and the Bush administration’s approach towards Iran have in common is that the endgame is regime change. Other than that, what you see — I guess the other thing they have in common is the total incoherence of their approach. Look, North Korea and Iran, you can’t compare; it’s apples and oranges.

North Korea is a declared nuclear power. They even declared their intent to have nuclear weapons. They haven’t hidden this from anybody. They withdrew from the Non-Proliferation Treaty in total conformity with the rule of law. They put the world on notice. They said, we will not participate. They gave them the appropriate timeline. They invited the inspectors out. And then, surprise, surprise, despite the fact that the Bush administration said, "Well, they’re just bluffing," well, they’re not bluffing. They just popped one off. And guess what. If we continue to push North Korea irresponsibly — because again, what are we talking about here?

What do we want to achieve in North Korea? Do we really care about the North Korean people, want human rights to — no, regime change. This is all about regime change. This is about the United States being able to dictate the terms of coexistence with everybody else in the world. Do people understand that our policy towards China is regime change? Do they understand what the ramifications of that is? That’s what’s going on with North Korea. And we shouldn’t be surprised that they did exactly what they said they were going to do.

Now, we take Iran. Iran is a nation that says, "We don’t have a nuclear weapons program. We have no intention." In fact, when North Korea exploded their device, the Iranians condemned it. They said nuclear weapons cannot be part of a global equation. And yet, we continue to try and lump them together as if North Korea and Iran are part and parcel of the same policy. Well, maybe they are part and parcel of the same incoherent approach that the Bush administration has taken to dealing with nuclear proliferation.

AMY GOODMAN: Scott Ritter, you just returned from Iran?

SCOTT RITTER: I came — I was in Iran in early September, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: And what did you do there?

SCOTT RITTER: I went there as a journalist for Nation magazine. I was there to research an article that hopefully will come out some time in November. You know, it was funny, the Iranian government, like many governments, says one thing, does another. I had a whole agenda that had been agreed upon in advance, that I was going to go and interview X, interview Y, visit sites, see etc. And I got there to find out that the Iranian government, regardless of what we had coordinated here in the United States, had no clue (a) that I was coming and (b) that I had an agenda. So, I show up in Iran, and I’m on my own.

What an eye-opening experience to be on your own in a nation that has been called an Islamic fascist state. I have been to dictatorships in the Middle East. I have been to nations that have a high security profile. Iran is not one of these nations. I’m a former intelligence officer who has stated some pretty strong positions on Iran, and yet I had full freedom of movement in Iran with no interference whatsoever. And as a result, although I didn’t have the approved agenda, I had my own agenda, which allowed me to interview senior government officials, senior military officials, senior intelligence officials, and to visit sites that were deemed sensitive. The conclusion is that the American media has gotten it wrong on Iran. It’s a very modern, westernized, pro-Western, and surprisingly pro-American country that does not constitute a threat to the United States whatsoever.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re a former weapons inspector in Iraq.

SCOTT RITTER: Correct.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about similarities or differences you see between the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq and what’s happening now with Iran?

SCOTT RITTER: The biggest similarity that we need to point out is that in both cases no evidence was put forward to sustain the allegations that are being made. Iraq was accused of having weapons of mass destruction programs, reconstituting chemical, biological, nuclear, long-range ballistic missile programs. There was an inspection process in place that had access, full access to the facilities in question, and no data was derived from these inspections that backed up the Bush administration’s allegations. And yet, Iraq was told, it’s not up to the inspectors to find the weapons. It’s up to Iraq to prove they don’t exist. Iraq had to prove a negative. And they couldn’t. We now know that in 1991, Saddam Hussein had destroyed the totality of his weapons programs. There weren’t any left to find, discover. There was no threat.

We now have Iran. It’s alleged to have a nuclear weapons program. And yet the International Atomic Energy Agency, the inspectors who have had full access to the sites in Iran, have come out and said, "Well, we can’t say that there isn’t a secret program that we don’t know about. What we can say, as a direct result of our investigations, there is no data whatsoever to sustain the Bush administration’s claims that there is a nuclear weapons program." And yet, the Bush administration once again is putting the onus on Iran, saying, "It’s not up to the inspectors to find the nuclear weapons program. It’s up to the Iranians to prove that one doesn’t exist." Why do we go down this path? Because you can’t prove a negative. There’s nothing Iran can do that will satisfy the Bush administration, because the policy at the end of the day is not about nonproliferation, it’s not about disarmament. It’s about regime change. And all the Bush administration wants to do is to create the conditions that support their ultimate objective of military intervention.

AMY GOODMAN: Scott Ritter, one of the things you talk about in your book is that no attention has been paid to the Supreme Leader’s pronouncement in the form of a fatwa, that Iran rejects outright the acquisition of nuclear weapons.

SCOTT RITTER: Well, when we say "Supreme Leader," first of all, most Americans are going to scratch their head and say, "Who?" because, you see, we have a poster boy for demonization out there. His name is Ahmadinejad. He’s the idiot that comes out and says really stupid vile things, such as, "It is the goal of Iran to wipe Israel off the face of the world," and he makes ridiculous statements about the United States and etc. And, of course, man, he — it’s a field day for the American media, for the Western media, because you get all the little sound bites out there, Ahmadinejad, Ahmadinejad, president of Iran. But what people don’t understand is, while he can vocalize, his finger is not on any button of power. If you read the Iranian constitution, you’ll see that the president of Iran is almost a figurehead.

The true power in Iran rests with the Supreme Leader. The Supreme Leader is the Ayatollah Khamenei. He is supported by an organization called the Guardian Council. Then there’s another group called the Expediency Council. These are the people that control the military, the police, the nuclear program, all the instruments of power. And not only has the Supreme Leader issued a fatwa that says that nuclear weapons are not compatible with Islamic law, with the Shia belief system that he is responsible, in 2003 he actually reached out to the Bush administration via the Swiss embassy and said, "Look, we would like to normalize relations with the United States. We’d like to initiate a process that leads to a peace treaty between Israel and Iran." Get this, Israel and Iran. He’s not saying, "We want to wipe Israel off the face of the earth." He is saying, "We want peace with Israel." And they were willing to put their nuclear program on the table.

Why didn’t the Bush administration embrace this? Because that leads to a process of normalization, where the United States recognizes the legitimacy of the theocracy and is willing to peacefully coexist with the theocracy. That’s not the Bush administration’s position. They want the theocracy gone. They will do nothing that legitimizes that, nothing that sustains peace. They rejected peace. So, it’s not Ahmadinejad that represents the threat to international peace and security when it comes to American-Iranian relations. It’s the Bush administration, because the Bush administration refuses to put peace on the table. Bush talks about diplomacy. There will not be diplomacy, true diplomacy, until he puts Condoleezza Rice on an airplane, sends her to Tehran to talk to the Supreme Leader.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Scott Ritter. He has written a new book. It’s called: Target Iran: The Truth About the White House’s Plans for Regime Change. And the picture on the cover has an image of a U.S. gun, of a gun with an American flag. Talk about the image you have here and the backdrop of it.

SCOTT RITTER: You know, I wish I could take credit for that image. But unfortunately, that is the work of — not unfortunately, fortunately that’s the work of a really good graphic designer with Nation Books who came up with, I think, a cover that is not only attractive but symbolic. But I think the point is here that Iran is the target. You know, we talk about America and the symbols of America. And yet, we have an American flag transformed into a symbol that the world recognizes when you say the United States: a weapon. And it’s very sad to think of the United States, the nation that’s supposed to espouse human rights, individual civil liberties, that when you talk about the United States around the world today, they think about us only in terms of violence, violence brought on by guns, because that’s what we’ve become, a nation of violence.

AMY GOODMAN: The scenario you envision around the U.S. and Iran?

SCOTT RITTER: War. The bottom line is that the Bush administration has two more years left to govern here in the United States. They have a policy of regional transformation in the Middle East: regime change. We see that policy in play today in Iraq with all of its horrible manifestations. You’d think that they would have learned something, but they haven’t. They continue to articulate that Iran needs to be transformed into a viable democracy, although, according to your news broadcast today and then other news coming out, it looks like we’re going to give up on democracy in Iraq.

Look, Bush has already said that he doesn’t want to leave Iran to the next president, that this is a problem he needs to solve now. And the other factor that we haven’t woven in here that we need to is the role played by Israel in pressuring the United States for a very aggressive stance against Iran. Israel has drawn a red line that says, not only will they not tolerate a nuclear weapons program in Iran, they will not tolerate anything dealing with nuclear energy, especially enrichment, that could be used in a nuclear program. So, even if Iran is telling the truth — Iran says, "We have no nuclear weapons program. We just want peaceful nuclear energy" — Israel says, "So long as Iran has any enrichment capability, this constitutes a threat to Israel," and they are pressuring the United States to take forceful action.

AMY GOODMAN: In what way?

SCOTT RITTER: Oh, it’s diplomatic pressure. We see — starting in 2002, you saw the Israeli prime minister and the defense minister come running to the United States in the lead-up to the war with Iraq, saying, "Hey, let’s not worry too much about Iraq. That’s not really a big problem. I know we’ve got a lot of rhetoric going on about weapons of mass destruction, but the big problem’s Iran." And the Bush administration said, "We don’t want to talk about Iran right now. We’re dealing with Iraq." In the immediate aftermath of the war, Israel came and said, "Alright, thank you for getting rid of Saddam. We now want you to focus on Iran." And the United States continued to put Iran on the back burner. And it wasn’t until the Israeli government leaked some intelligence to an Iranian opposition group, the Mojahedin-e-Khalq, who came out and said, "Hey, look, there’s this site in Natanz. They’re doing enrichment there." And suddenly the United States was forced to say, "Oh, we’ve got to put Iran back on the front burner." And it’s been Israel that’s been dictating the pace of media operations, let’s say, on Iran.

AMY GOODMAN: Something the media says is that Iran doesn’t need nuclear power — it has plenty of oil — that nuclear power is just its way of getting nuclear weapons.

SCOTT RITTER: Well, there can be no doubt that Iran has plenty of oil, but that oil is the only thing Iran has going for it, in terms of a viable world-class economy. In 1976, the Shah of Iran came to the United States, sent his representatives to intercede and say, "Look, we’ve done an analysis, and we’ve got a finite amount of oil. And right now we need to export it. And if we don’t export it, we don’t make money, etc. We don’t have enough oil to sustain this. We need to come up with an indigenous energy policy that frees up our oil for exportation. We want to use nuclear energy." And the U.S. government went, "Good idea, Shah. We’re all for it." That was Gerald Ford.

The chief of staff of the White House at the time was Dick Cheney. The Secretary of Defense was Donald Rumsfeld. So, this argument that both Cheney and Rumsfeld put out today that Iran is a nation awash in a sea of oil, there is no need for a nuclear energy program, they both supported Iran’s goals of achieving nuclear energy in 1976. Not only nuclear energy, but they also supported the Shah when he said, "We cannot allow a nuclear energy program’s fuel to be held hostage by the vagaries of sanctions and war. We need an indigenous fuel-manufacturing capability inclusive of the full uranium enrichment process." And guess what the U.S. government said in 1976. "No problem, Shah. Good deal." Of course, in 1979, the Islamists come in and suddenly we change our opinion. The bottom line is, Iran has every right legally to a nuclear energy program, and economically, we’ve already deemed it a responsible way to go.

AMY GOODMAN: Scott Ritter, both the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh and retired Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner have said covert actions have already begun in Iran, U.S. military. Do you think that is true?

SCOTT RITTER: I respect the reporting of Seymour Hersh. I respect the analysis of Sam Gardiner. And I respect the integrity of people who have talked to me who are in a position to know. Look, we’re already overflying Iran with unmanned aerial vehicles, pilotless drones. On the ground, the CIA is recruiting Mojahedin-e-Khalq, recruiting Kurds, recruiting Azeris, who are operating inside Iran on behalf of the United States of America. And there is reason to believe that we’ve actually put uniformed members of the United States Armed Forces and American citizens operating as CIA paramilitaries inside Iranian territory to gather intelligence.

Now, when you violate the borders and the airspace of a sovereign nation with paramilitary and military forces, that’s an act of war. That’s an act of war. So, when Americans say, "Ah, there’s not going to be a war in Iran," there’s already a war in Iran. We’re at war with Iran. We’re just not in the declared conventional stage of the war. The Bush administration has a policy of regime change. They’re going to use the military, and the military is being used.

AMY GOODMAN: We only have a minute, but the role of the media in all this. In the lead-up to the invasion, they slammed you, they smeared you, as you were a UN weapons inspector who was opposed to the invasion.

SCOTT RITTER: Well, you know, they can come at me again all they want. I could care less. It’s like water off a duck’s back. The problem’s not me. The issue is not me. The issue is truth and facts. I think it’s clear today that we weren’t given the truth and the facts about the reality of Iraq in the lead-up to the war, and it’s clear the media is not doing the same with Iran. We are being preprogrammed to accept, at face value, true anything negative about Iran. That’s one of the reasons why I wrote the book, to put it into a proper perspective.

AMY GOODMAN: Scott Ritter. His book is Target Iran: The Truth About the White House’s Plans for Regime Change. He is a former UN weapons inspector. And tonight, you will be at the Ethical Culture Society in New York City, along with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh.

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