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In New Book, Chilean Ambassador to the UN Details Bush Admin’s Pre-War Efforts to Coerce Allies into Supporting Iraq Invasion

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Heraldo Munoz, the Chilean Ambassador to the United Nations, has revealed new details of how the United States bullied and threatened other countries to support the Iraq war. Munoz has written an account of the period, A Solitary War: A Diplomat’s Chronicle of the Iraq War and Its Lessons. [includes rush transcript]

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

JUAN GONZALEZ: Iran today demanded an apology from Security Council members for imposing a third set of sanctions over the country’s nuclear program. While the Security Council discusses Iran’s nuclear activities, we go back five years to an earlier discussion about the nuclear capabilities of another country: Iraq.

In 2002 and 2003, the Bush administration made the case for waging war on Iraq by claiming Saddam Hussein was developing nuclear weapons and other “weapons of mass destruction.” President Bush first approached the United Nations General Assembly about Iraq on September 12, 2002. He urged member states to support action against Iraq but also hinted that the United States could act alone, even without the support of the United Nations.

    PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Delegates to the General Assembly, we have been more than patient. We’ve tried sanctions. We’ve tried the carrot of Oil for Food and the stick of coalition military strikes. But Saddam Hussein has defied all these efforts and continues to develop weapons of mass destruction. We will work with the UN Security Council for the necessary resolutions, but the purposes of the United States should not be doubted. The Security Council resolutions will be enforced, the just demands of peace and security will be met, or action will be unavoidable.

AMY GOODMAN: Although the Bush administration never got the Security Council resolutions they needed, they did try their best to pressure undecided Security Council members to support the Iraq invasion. Chile, along with Mexico, Pakistan, Cameroon, Angola and Guinea, were the six undecided members of the Security Council during the lead-up to the war.

Heraldo Muñoz, the Chilean Ambassador to the United Nations, has written an insider’s account of that period, revealing new details of how the United States bullied its allies and threatened reprisals against those withholding support. His book is called A Solitary War: A Diplomat’s Chronicle of the Iraq War and Its Lessons. Ambassador Heraldo Muñoz joins us in our firehouse studio here in New York, just down the road from the United Nations.

Welcome to Democracy Now!


AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you join us.


AMY GOODMAN: At the time of the invasion, you actually were still in Chile.

AMBASSADOR HERALDO MUÑOZ: Yes, I was minister in the cabinet of President Ricardo Lagos at the time, but I was very much in touch with the debate, because, among other things, I got phone calls from Washington, lobbying the position to use force against Saddam Hussein. In fact, I say in the book that Condoleezza Rice called me, and we had a half-an-hour phone call where she tried to argue in favor of a resolution that would have authorized the use of force in Iraq, invade Iraq with the support of the Security Council. And I argued against, thinking that this was going to have tremendous consequences on the global level, on neighbors of Iraq, internally in terms of the contradictions that we knew that existed already, and in the world economy.

And she answered that in the end, bottom line, the United States was going to go in Iraq with or without the United Nations. And that was very clear to me, that there was a decision to invade Iraq, even though some of the countries, friendly countries, allies of the United States, had honest differences and opposed the use of force outside the Security Council and without meeting certain conditions, benchmarks, to find out if there was indeed a cache of weapons of mass destruction, as was the argument of the United States. We didn’t know. We had to give time to the UN inspectors to find out whether that was the case or not, so we insisted, coinciding with the United States, that any weapons of mass destruction in the hands of an unreliable regime is a danger, but you have to make sure that is the case.

JUAN GONZALEZ: To get back to this call from Condi Rice — you mention it in your book — it came when exactly? And why would she call you? As you mentioned, you were in the ministry — in the government then, but were not actually at the UN.

AMBASSADOR HERALDO MUÑOZ: Well, I was one of the political ministers, one of the relatively important ministers in the cabinet of the President. I was Minister Secretary General of the government. So I had access to the President, ready access to the President. In addition to that, Condi and I had been classmates, so — during our Ph.D. at graduate school, International Studies in the University of Denver. So we knew each other, and we had had contact before.

AMY GOODMAN: And you’re both protégés of Madeleine Albright’s father?

AMBASSADOR HERALDO MUÑOZ: That’s right. We both studied under Joe Korbel, Madeleine Albright’s father, so we have an additional linkage, even though she was the favorite student of Korbel’s, because she decided to study Soviet affairs and foreign policies of the former Eastern European countries, while I dedicated myself to international political economy. Nevertheless, we both had a very strong relationship with Korbel.

But so, she called me, I think, trying to convey a message in an official capacity, but also using the friendly channels that we had established. And I conveyed this to the President. And what we tried to do with other countries was to say, fine, we recognize that Saddam may be a threat, but in order to authorize the use of force, we have to make sure that there is evidence of weapons of mass destruction, and for that, we want a series of benchmarks, of tasks that Saddam Hussein will have to comply within a limited period of time, and if that doesn’t work, then we may decide the use of force. But the United States did not want to wait, basically.

JUAN GONZALEZ: What about the pressure that those undecided members of the Security Council were under in those months, those early months of 2003? What kind of efforts did the United States make, other than obviously these phone calls, to try to get the votes of those members?

AMBASSADOR HERALDO MUÑOZ: Well, there were abundant phone calls, of course. My president, President Lagos, was called by President Bush on several occasions. He talked to Prime Minister Blair, looking for an intermediary solution that was at a moment, between the British and Chile and the other undecided, the possibility of an outcome that never was. And in addition to that, by the way, there were pressures from those that were fully opposed, without a doubt, to the invasion, meaning France. President Jacques Chirac talked to Lagos and to other world leaders in the Security Council.

But the pressure, I think, is, as I say it in the book, expressed itself in nuanced warnings, like, for example, a memorandum has emerged in the Spanish ministry showing that President Bush mentioned that the free trade agreement between Chile and the United States hadn’t been finished, and that could be endangered if Chile did not go along the way that the United States thought we should in Iraq. And a warning was made as regards Angola, that perhaps the Millennium Account that benefited development goals of Angola could be also in danger if there was not — if Angola didn’t follow the US or the US-British posture. So there were veiled, I would say, warnings.

But nevertheless, here was a fundamental principle at stake for countries like Chile, and that was a respect for multilateralism, respect for the Security Council and the Charter of the United Nations, that you use force as a last resort once all diplomatic efforts have been exhausted, and then you make sure that there are weapons of mass destruction. Evidence and history has shown that we were right. And the costs, in terms of lives, in terms of treasure, have been tremendous. And that, I think, leaves us quite satisfied about what we did: even though relatively small countries, we stood up our ground on questions of principle.

AMY GOODMAN: Ambassador Muñoz, I wanted to turn to a clip from an interview that we did with a British whistleblower named Katharine Gun. The former British Intelligence employee was charged with violating the Official Secrets Act, because she had leaked details of a secret US spy operation on UN Security Council members in the run-up to the Iraq invasion.

    KATHARINE GUN: I was working for Government Communication Headquarters in the UK, which is the equivalent to NSA here in the US. And I was a Chinese linguist at the time, and this email crossed my desk in my inbox in January of 2003. At that time, as we all know, it was a crucial time for the UN in its decision-making process as to whether or not a resolution was needed with regard to Iraq and its alleged weapons of mass destruction. So, when I saw this email asking GCHQ’s help to bug the six swing nations to get a vote for war with Iraq, I was very angry at first and very saddened that it had come to this and that despite all the talk from both Tony Blair and George Bush about how important it was to get the UN on board and to legitimize any kind of aggression, that they were actually going around it in such a low-handed manner. So I decided that the risk to my career was minute compared to the upcoming war in Iraq, and the best thing to do, for me, was to leak this information to the press, so that everybody else could have the information and hopefully it could avert this disastrous course of events that have occurred.

AMY GOODMAN: That was the British whistleblower, Katharine Gun. Your response, Ambassador Muñoz of Chile?

AMBASSADOR HERALDO MUÑOZ: Well, in situations as delicate as this was, these negotiations that were going on dealing with war and peace, one should not be surprised that one’s offices could be bugged, and this has happened all the time. This is not something out of the ordinary. We in the world of diplomacy are more or less ready to assume that at some moment private conversations may be listened to by others. And at that time, evidently, the case was proven. But we managed that through the appropriate channels without giving it much publicity. And I do know that the office of the Secretary-General was also the object of the same situation.

AMY GOODMAN: Kofi Annan was bugged.

AMBASSADOR HERALDO MUÑOZ: Well, what happens is that he told me the following one day, that there were rumors that both his residence and his office had been bugged. And a high diplomat — I won’t say of what country — came to him and told him, “Look, your residence is not being bugged, period.”

But this is not new. Let me just give you a little anecdote. In 1945, when the United Nations was being negotiated and the issue of the veto was being discussed, the foreign minister of Chile was bugged. His office was bugged to find out what was our position on the veto. They could have asked us. Our position was negative. We didn’t want the veto to exist. But nevertheless, that happened in 1945; why couldn’t it happen in 2003 when the stakes were higher? But that is something that is in the past.

Let me just say that even though we had strong differences with the United States at the moment of the invasion and immediately after, I think the United States, once it saw that the war was going wrong on the ground, it revalued the United Nations and the legitimacy and the credibility of the Security Council, and it came back to us for help, because at the moment, Mr. Bremer was not even received by any of the main players in Iraq. Only of the UN was — had the credibility to engage in dialogue with the various political actors. And that’s how Sergio Vieira de Mello was sent there, and he died, along with twenty-two other staff members of the United Nations; and how Lakhdar Brahimi went later on to set up the Governing Council; how the United Nations organized the first democratic elections in Iraq in January of 2005; how we supported the drafting of a constitution; and how we are still there cooperating for a political outcome. So there was a change in the US position.

Besides, there were other matters beyond Iraq. Iraq wasn’t all of the foreign policy of the United States as regards its allies, and we coincided with the US on the Syrian troops in Lebanon, for example, and on other matters.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yeah, but to get back to Iraq, there are those, obviously, in the Arab world, as well as critics of the — in this country of the US invasion, who would say that the United Nations in essence helped to legitimize the occupation by participating that way and responding to the United States request for help afterwards. What would you say about that?

AMBASSADOR HERALDO MUÑOZ: Well, the problem was, here was a fact. The fact is they were occupying forces, and we clearly said that they were occupying forces in a resolution. Occupying forces have responsibilities, according to international treaties. But once that is a reality, what happens to the humanitarian situation? Is the United Nations is simply going to say, well, since they invaded illegally outside the legality of the UN Charter, we’re not going to do anything for all those people that are suffering, for the civilians that are being displaced, for those that have no fault in this war? So our role was to try to go there and make the best out of a very difficult situation, try to hand power back to the sovereign, which is the Iraqi people, and put on the ground humanitarian programs that could help. That is our role, and it’s been a very specific limited role of the United Nations, including now efforts towards reconciliation in the last resolution passed at the end of last year.

AMY GOODMAN: Ambassador Muñoz, talking about occupying forces, people held prisoner, from Abu Ghraib to Bagram in Afghanistan to Guantanamo, you yourself were held prisoner under the Pinochet years.


AMY GOODMAN: You have a broken finger as a result of that. You were held. You went underground. You were a Socialist organizer, activist. What are your thoughts about Guantanamo and these secret prisons?

AMBASSADOR HERALDO MUÑOZ: Well, I fully oppose it. I think that the war against terror is extremely important, and against terrorism of all sorts, but that has to be done within the context of democracy and rule of law. And so that I find that Guantanamo is not something that I could support or my government could support, and the international community in general is very critical of this.

So, combat terrorism? Yes, absolutely, without a doubt. I was president, I was chairman of the al-Qaeda and Taliban Sanctions Committee of the Security Council. I went to Afghanistan, and I went to Pakistan. I went to a lot of countries. We reinforced the sanctions regime, so I can say that I put a grain of salt in terms of — of sand in terms of helping the fight against terrorism, but it has to be done within the rule of law. Otherwise, it becomes an argument for terrorists. So it becomes counterproductive in the end.

And I know so many people that have been in jail. I have been, myself. And others have been — had it a lot worse than I did under the Pinochet regime. And oftentimes those confessions that are taken out under torture or duress are truly not real. So I don’t know how much all of this is worth, in addition to being, in my view, unethical.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to break, but we’re going to come back to this discussion. Our guest is Ambassador Heraldo Muñoz. His book is A Solitary War: A Diplomat’s Chronicle of the Iraq War and Its Lessons.

This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, the War and Peace Report. I leave the rest of this interview to Juan Gonzalez. Barack Obama is in New York; he’s speaking at Cooper Union this morning. I’ll be headed off to report on what he has to say. Ambassador, it’s been good to be with you. I leave you in good hands. Juan Gonzalez will take over from here. We’ll be back in a minute.


JUAN GONZALEZ: We’re talking with Ambassador Heraldo Muñoz, Chilean ambassador to the United Nations. Formerly, he was the president of the UN Security Council. And we’re talking about his new book A Solitary War: A Diplomat’s Chronicle of the Iraq War and Its Lessons. I’d like to ask you to switch channels a little bit: the situation in Latin America today. Obviously there have been — while the United States has been involved in this war in Iraq, there have been enormous changes occurring on the continent. Your sense of the direction that the continent is going to in terms of more popular governments throughout the region?

AMBASSADOR HERALDO MUÑOZ: Well, there is the impression in the United States — in some press, at least — that Latin America is going red, that it’s going towards leftist regimes. And I think that Latin America is going into all the colors of the rainbow. Variety is what you observe. You have, for example, the last elected president, Calderon, of Mexico is a man, a conservative man. You have social democrats like Lula in Brazil, Or my own president, Bachelet, in Chile leads a varied coalition, including Christian democrats, etc. And you have President Chavez with a more left or populist, as some want to say, along with Nicaragua — a different Ortega, nevertheless — and perhaps also Bolivian and Ecuador. But you have a Colombian government, which is evidently of a liberal side, or a moderate left in Uruguay. So my perception is that this is a quite a varied hemisphere that we find, that you cannot simply put into one box and define it as being homogeneous. It’s not.

The good thing is that there is democracy, as hasn’t been the case for decades. So far, even though there has been instability, there have been elections and no military governments since the 1980s. And that is, I think, one important thing.

Second, hyperinflation has been left in the past, and governments are increasingly worried about income distribution, about social and economic justice, and not merely about economic growth, which is fundamental evidently in order to be able to a advance and to distribute to all of the levels of the population, particularly the poor and the downtrodden that are always left behind. So, my feeling is that there are different roads to do that. It is very — one particular situation with Venezuela, that has abundant resources — let us remember that when President Chavez arrived in office, the barrel of oil was $20. Today it is $110. So he’s got possibilities that other governments don’t have in the region, that don’t have oil. So that we’re all trying to do our best to tackle the challenges of strengthening democracy, deepening it, and advancing social justice, because there’s a danger that people become frustrated, because they say, OK, democracy is fine, but we see growth, but the growth doesn’t enter my home. And this is a challenge that we have in the region.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And the fissures that have developed over some issues — we were talking before the show about your trip to Antarctica with the Secretary-General of the UN, the issue of climate change and how the different governments in Latin America have been taking positions on climate change. For instance, Lula has been obviously in the forefront of the move toward biofuels, while others are very critical of that as the way to begin to — the impact that it will have on the food situation. Your sense of how the conflicts over climate change are working themselves out among Latin American nations?

AMBASSADOR HERALDO MUÑOZ: Well, the first thing is to say that climate change is not an academic matter. It’s a real danger. And I have seen it, being in the Antarctic in January with the Secretary-General. We went to the Antarctic Peninsula, to the Chilean base there, and we saw the evidence. One of the huge blocks of ice called Larsen A, that was more than 300 square kilometers, disappeared in 1995. Larsen B, much larger, disappeared in 2001. These are pieces, glaciers, that are larger than the size of Rhode Island. And that means that there’s a tremendous danger for all of us.

The Antarctic Peninsula, the western side — and you showed it today with what is happening with one part of it — if all that were to melt, scientists estimate that the oceans would rise about six meters. That would mean that some islands would disappear, and the effects would be catastrophic, so that this is not academic, this is a reality that affects Latin American countries, to begin with, because in our Patagonia we see ice fields receding. And that’s — this is changing the climate, and that has economic effects and social effects. So we in Latin America are very committed, because it’s hitting us.

Let me just say in addition that when there was the depletion of the ozone layer, the ozone layer depletion was around the poles, so that in the south of Chile, at times of the year, children were not allowed to play outside because of the harmful rays, and eye diseases increased dramatically. So we were paying the consequences of others that were emitting gases that were depleting the ozone layer. And the same thing is happening with global warming.

What are the answers? Well, I think biofuels is part of the answer. There are some, as you say, that feel that it’s not, that it creates other complications, but I think that it’s a mix of alternative fuels, of nonrenewable resources, where we need to put a lot more finances so that developing countries have access to that and make it cheaper, electric cars, wind energy, solar energy, etc. And in addition to that, we have to have mitigation, we have to have savings, we have to change our consumption patterns. So there’s a combination of measures that are being negotiated within the United Nations. It shouldn’t be done outside the United Nations, and we hope that it will conclude by 2009 in a post-Kyoto regime. Otherwise, then we have to prepare for the worst. So we hope that world leaders will take up this challenge in the next couple of years.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And briefly, you helped to negotiate the free trade agreement between Chile and Europe.


JUAN GONZALEZ: Your sense of the battles over the free trade agreements, in the sense that they’re not fair trade agreements when they come to — when they deal with many countries of the South?

AMBASSADOR HERALDO MUÑOZ: Well, my feeling is that free trade is positive, in the sense that developing countries, through free trade, have access to markets that creates better jobs, better quality jobs, and stimulates growth. But evidently, that has to be done with adequate safeguards, safeguards for labor and the environment, so that this is not at the expense of ruining the environment or going over the rights of workers. If those two aspects are included, I’m all for taking advantage of a globalized economy. Not to do it would be to try to cover the sun with a finger. I don’t think that that’s possible. So the question is not whether you are for free trade or not; it is what type of free trade agreements are you for. And with the case of Europe, it’s not only a free trade agreement that includes these aspects, but also that includes scientific cooperation, where we benefit by scientific cooperation from Europeans, and there’s a political dialogue also included.

JUAN GONZALEZ: OK. Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us, Heraldo Muñoz, ambassador, Chilean ambassador to the United Nations. Formerly, he was the president of the UN Security Council. And his new book, A Solitary War: A Diplomat’s Chronicle of the Iraq War and Its Lessons.

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