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U.N. Breaks Into Unprecedented Applause for French Foreign Minister’s Antiwar Address: We Hear Dominique de Villepin and Chief U.N. Weapons Inspector Hans Blix

StoryFebruary 17, 2003
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On the day before the worldwide protests, chief U.N. weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei went before the United Nations Security Council to announce no weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq. Blix cast doubt on evidence provided to the U.N. by Secretary of State Colin Powell. And ElBaradei called for increased inspections. Their report was followed by an impassioned antiwar address by French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin. When Villepin finished his remarks before the Security Council, the gallery burst into spontaneous applause — an unprecedented event at the U.N.

Tape:

  • Hans Blix, chief U.N. inspector for biological and chemical weapons, recorded at the United Nations on Feb. 14, 2003.
  • Dominique de Villepin, French foreign minister, recorded at the United Nations on Feb. 14, 2003.
  • Phyllis Bennis, senior analyst at the Institute for Policy Studies, recorded at the New York antiwar rally on Feb. 15, 2003.

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

AMY GOODMAN: You are listening to Democracy Now!, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

On the day before the worldwide protests, chief U.N. weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei Bharati went before the United Nations Security Council to announce no weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq. Blix cast doubt on evidence provided to the U.N. by Secretary of State Colin Powell, and ElBaradei called for increased inspections. Their report was followed by an impassioned antiwar address by French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin. When he finished his remarks before the Security Council, the gallery burst into spontaneous applause — an unprecedented event at the United Nations. We’ll hear his remarks in a moment, but first we’ll start with an excerpt of U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix.

HANS BLIX: More than 200 chemical and more than 100 biological samples have been collected at different sites. Three-quarters of these have been screened using our own analytical laboratory capabilities at the Baghdad center. The results to date have been consistent with Iraqi declarations.

We have now commenced the process of destroying approximately 50 liters of mustard gas declared by Iraq that was being kept under UNMOVIC seal at the Muthanna site. One-third of the quantity has already been destroyed. The laboratory quantity of thiodiglycol, a mustard gas precursor, which we found at another site, has also been destroyed.

The total number of staff in Iraq now exceeds 250 from 60 countries. This includes about 100 UNMOVIC inspectors, 15 IAEA inspectors, 50 aircrew and 65 support staff.

Mr. President, in my 27th of January update to the council, I said that it seemed from our experience that Iraq had decided in principle to provide cooperation on process, most importantly prompt access to all sites and assistance to UNMOVIC in the establishment of the necessary infrastructure. This impression remains, and we note that access to sites has so far been without problems, including those that had never been declared or inspected, as well as to presidential sites and private residences.

In my last updating, I also said that a decision to cooperate on substance was indispensable in order to bring, through inspection, the disarmament task to completion and to set the monitoring system on a firm course. Such cooperation, as I have noted, requires more than the opening of doors. In the words of Resolution 1441, it requires immediate, unconditional and active efforts by Iraq to resolve existing questions of disarmament, either by presenting remaining proscribed items and programs for elimination or by presenting convincing evidence that they have been eliminated.

In the current situation, one would expect Iraq to be eager to comply. While we were in Baghdad, we met a delegation from the government of South Africa. It was there to explain how South Africa gained the confidence of the world in its dismantling of the nuclear weapons program by a wholehearted cooperation over two years with IAEA inspectors. I have just learned that Iraq has accepted an offer by South Africa to send a group of experts for further talks.

How much, if any, is left of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and related proscribed items and programs? So far, UNMOVIC has not found any such weapons, only a small number of empty chemical munitions, which should have been declared and destroyed.

AMY GOODMAN: Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix addressing the United Nations Security Council on Friday, the first permanent member of the U.N. Security Council to respond was French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin. He spoke through a translator.

DOMINIQUE DE VILLEPIN: [translated] There are those who think that inspections, in their very essence, cannot be effective at all. But let me recall that that was the very foundation of Resolution 1441, and that inspections are producing results. One may judge them inadequate, but the results are there. Then there are those who believe that continuing the inspection process is a kind of delaying tactic to prevent or avert military intervention. That naturally raises a question of how much time is allowed Iraq.

And this brings us to the heart of the matter. What is at stake is our credibility and our sense of responsibility. Let us have the courage to see things as they are. There are two options. The option of war might seem a priori to be the swiftest, but let us not forget that having won the war, peace has to be built. Let us not delude ourselves. This will be long and difficult, because it will be necessary to preserve Iraq’s unity and to restore stability in a lasting way in a country and a region harshly affected by the intrusion of force.

Faced with that prospective, there is an alternative — inspections — which allow us to move forward day by day with the effective and peaceful disarmament of Iraq. In the end, is that choice not the most sure and most rapid? No one today can claim that the path of war will be shorter than the path of inspections. No one can claim that it would lead to a safer, more just, more stable world, for war is always the sanction of failure. Would this be our sole recourse in the face of the many challenges at this time?

So let us give the United Nations inspectors the time they need for their mission to succeed, but also let us all be vigilant and ask Mr. Blix and Mr. ElBaradei to report regularly to the council. France, for its part, would propose another meeting on 14 March at the ministerial level to assess the situation. We would then be able to judge the progress made and what remains to be done.

Given this context, the use of force is not justified at this time. There is an alternative to war: disarming Iraq via inspections. Moreover, premature recourse to the military option would be fraught with risks. The authority of our action is based today on the unity of the international community.

AMY GOODMAN: You are listening to Dominique de Villepin, the French foreign minister, at the United Nations Security Council on Friday. The protests on Saturday were preceded by the protests at the Security Council on Friday. We’re back to Dominique de Villepin through a translator.

DOMINIQUE DE VILLEPIN: [translated] Such intervention could have incalculable consequences for the stability of this scarred and fragile region. It would compound the sense of injustice, increase tension and risk paving the way to other conflicts.

We all share the same priority: fighting terrorism mercilessly. This fight requires total determination. Since the tragedy of September 11, this has been one of the highest priorities facing our peoples. France has been struck hard by this terrible scourge several times, and it is wholly mobilized in this fight which involves all of us, which we must pursue together. That was the sense of the Security Council meeting held on 20 January on France’s initiative.

Ten days ago, the U.S. secretary of state, Mr. Powell, reported alleged links between al-Qaeda and the Baghdad regime. Given the present state of our research and intelligence in liaison with our allies, nothing allows us to establish such links. But we must assess the impact that disputed military action would have on this level. Would such intervention today not be liable to exacerbate divisions between societies, cultures, peoples — divisions that nurture terrorism?

All along, France has been saying we do not exclude the possibility that force may have to be used one day. If the inspectors’ reports concluded it was impossible to continue inspections, the council would then have to take a decision, and its members would have to meet all of their responsibilities.

In such an eventuality, I just want to recall now the questions I stressed at our last debate on 4 February, which we must answer. To what extent do the nature and extent of the threat justify immediate recourse to force? How do we ensure that the considerable risks of such intervention can actually be kept under control?

In any case, in such an eventuality, it is the unity of the international community that would ensure and guarantee its effectiveness. It is the United Nations that, whatever happens, will still tomorrow be at the center of the peace to be built.

To those who are anguished, wondering when and how we are going to cede to war, I would like to say that nothing at any time in this council will be done in haste, in misunderstanding, out of suspicion or out of fear.

In this temple of the United Nations, we are the guardians of an ideal, the guardians of a conscience. The onerous responsibility and immense honor we have must lead us to give priority to disarmament through peace.

This message comes to you today from an old country, France, from a continent like mine, Europe, that has known war, occupation, barbarity. It is an old country that does not forget and is very aware of all it owes to freedom fighters who came from America and elsewhere.

And yet France has always stood upright in the face of history before mankind. Faithful to its values, it wants resolutely to act together with all members of the international community. France believes in our ability to build together a better world.

Thank you, Mr. President.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Dominica de Villepin, the French foreign minister. When he finished his remarks in the Security Council, the gallery burst into spontaneous applause — an unprecedented event at the United Nations. As we end today’s program with the words of Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies as she spoke at the antiwar rally in New York on Saturday.

PHYLLIS BENNIS: What happened in the Security Council yesterday, when the French foreign minister said that the U.N. must be a tool of peace and not a tool of war, and the chamber burst into applause, it had never happened in the history of the United Nations. It’s George Bush that is isolated in the world. It’s not us. We are the American people. We are part of a global movement. We are building a new internationalism, with the United Nations as a part, saying no to war. The people of the world are saying no to war. Thank you very much.

AMY GOODMAN: Phyllis Bennis, speaking at The World Says No to War rally on Saturday in New York, joining tens of millions of other people around the world saying no to war.

And that does it for today’s program. If you’d like to get a video copy, you can call 1-800-881-2359, 1-800-881-2359. Our website, www.democracynow.org. Democracy Now! is produced by Kris Abrams, Mike Burke, Angie Karran, Ana Nogueira, Alex Wolfe. Mike Di Filippo is our engineer. We also want to thank Uri Gal-Ed and Angela Alston, Emily Kunstler and Johnny Sender and Karen Ranucci and Denis Moynihan and Fatima Mojaddidy. Also special thanks to Brian Drolet and Noel Rabinowitz and Robert Knight and Avery Brown and Laura Flanders and many others who helped with this unprecedented media collaboration with Free Speech TV, Downtown Community Television, the INN Report, WBAI on Pacifica Radio, the Independent Media Centers, WBIX.org, Manhattan Neighborhood Network, Peace TV, Multimedia Group and WorldLink TV. You can also email us at mail@democracynow.org. That’s mail@democracynow.org. And we will end where we began, with Richie Havens singing “Freedom.” I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for listening.

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