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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 63, March - April 2002

News Review

Bush 'Axis of Evil' Speech Seeks to Define War Against Terrorism, Proliferation

Summary: General Reaction

In perhaps the most evocative phrase since Winston Churchill's depiction of an 'Iron Curtain' dividing Europe in the Cold War, President Bush referred in his annual State of the Union address to an "axis of evil" threatening world peace by its development of weapons of mass destruction. Three states were named as constituting this alliance of menace: Iran, Iraq and North Korea. The instantly famous passage from the address reads:

"Our...goal is to prevent regimes that sponsor terrorism from threatening America or our friends and allies with weapons of mass destruction. Some of these regimes have been pretty quiet since September 11. But we know their true nature. North Korea is a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens. Iran aggressively pursues these weapons and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people's hope for freedom. Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility and to support terror. The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax, and nerve gas, and nuclear weapons, for over a decade. This is a regime that has already used poison gas to murder thousands of its own citizens - leaving the bodies of mothers huddled over their dead children. This is a regime that agreed to international inspections - then kicked out the inspectors. This is a regime that has something to hide from the civilised world.

States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic. We will work closely with our coalition to deny terrorists and their state sponsors the materials, technology, and expertise to make and deliver weapons of mass destruction. We will develop and deploy effective missile defenses to protect America and our allies from sudden attack. And all nations should know: America will do what is necessary to ensure our nation's security. We'll be deliberate, yet time is not on our side. I will not wait on events while dangers gather. I will not stand by as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons."

The reception and impact of the speech in 'the world's most dangerous regimes' themselves is considered separately below. The general international reaction was one of concern that the 'axis' description was inappropriate and damaging to various ongoing efforts to persuade Tehran, Baghdad and Pyongyang to adopt adequate non-proliferation policies and practices. In addition, alarm was expressed in many quarters that the speech was designed to usher in a period of major military confrontation on a front far broader than justified either under international law or on the basis of a response to the terrorist attacks against New York and Washington.

There was also some domestic criticism of the speech. Democratic Representative James Moran (February 3) argued that it "was reckless to lump all three countries together". Republican Senator Chuck Hagel admitted (February 3) "I'd just as soon not have seen that in the speech... I think we are better off, as Teddy Roosevelt once said, to speak softly and carry a big stick. We carry a big stick, there's no question about that." The same day, Brent Scowcroft, National Security Adviser to President George Bush Sr., observed: "I really don't know what it was designed to do."

Administration officials strongly defended the use of the phrase. Speaking on Fox News Sunday on February 3, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice argued: "You don't get anywhere by pulling punches about the nature of regimes like the Iraqi regime, or the North Korean regime. It's not as if anybody really believes that these are good regimes that are just engaging in a little bad policy. We've seen, in this war on terrorism, that speaking plainly is the way to rally people, not the other way round." Rice added: "I would say to everyone, let's step back here, and instead of worrying so much about what the President said...let's put equal energy into working to make sure that these regimes don't get these weapons of mass destruction."

Interviewed on PBS Newshour on February 5, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld made clear the axis may contain more than three members: "I thought he was clear. He was specific. He talked about the nexus between terrorist countries - and each of those countries are on the [US] terrorist list, and there are others on the terrorist [list] - and their active weapons of mass destruction programmes, and the risk to the world if those countries make the terrible mistake of providing weapons of mass destruction to terrorist networks like Al Qaeda." Quizzed on the appropriateness of the 'axis' label, Rumsfeld commented: "Well, I am kind of old-fashioned. When a President says what he says, it seems to me we let those words stand. And if I were living in any one of those countries, or participating in the government of any of those countries, I don't think there would be any doubt at all as to what he meant." In an earlier interview (ABC Television, February 3), the Defense Secretary again justified the use of the term 'axis' in the sense of its reference to a 'nexus': "It's that nexus between weapons of mass destruction and terrorist networks that the President was citing."

On February 20, Vice President Dick Cheney, referring to the campaign against terrorism as "the defining struggle of the 21st Century", noted: "Each of these regimes has a choice to make. The international community should encourage all of them to make responsible choices and to do so with a sense of urgency." Reflecting on the furore caused by the 'axis of evil' remark, Cheney stared: "It's part of who George W. Bush is. He is a very straight-spoken individual. Some of our European friends find it a little disconcerting, but I think the American people like it." Two days before, Cheney dismissed the uneasiness engendered by the speech: "The President's remarks caused a certain amount of hand wringing in some quarters, but most Americans find it reassuring to have a Commander-in-Chief who tells the truth and who means exactly what he says".

Secretary of State Colin Powell referred to European discomfiture in a February 17 interview on CNN. Asked "how concerned are you about the angry European reaction?", Powell replied: "There has been some angry European reaction, as you call it, but there has also been...some clear-headed reality within Europe at the same time... All my European friends should be outraged that this regime [in Baghdad] is ignoring, for ten years now, the international community's direction to it [to disarm]. I think my European colleagues who are doing business with Iran should also be concerned over the fact that Iran is developing nuclear weapons and the means by which those weapons can be delivered. ... And so there is a bit of a stir in Europe, but it is a stir I think we will be able to manage with consultations, with contacts of the kind I have almost every day with my European colleagues. And we will find a way to move forward that will gather the support we need. What the President said is: I'm calling it the way it is. He did it in a very straightforward, direct, realistic way that tends to jangle people's nerves; but once they settle down...they realise that is what leadership is about and they begin to understand why it might make sense for them to join in whatever efforts we may be getting ready to undertake." Powell was then pressed on the extent and seriousness of the apparent US-EU rift:

"Interviewer: 'Joschka Fischer, the Foreign Minister of Germany, said this: "An alliance partnership among free democrats can't be reduced to submission. Alliance partners are not satellites. All European foreign ministers see it that way. That is why the phrase 'axis of evil' leads nowhere." And Chris Patten, the European Union's Commissioner for External Affairs, a friend of yours, said on Thursday: "My answer is not that the unilateralist urge is wicked, but that it is ultimately ineffective and self-defeating." Those are pretty strong words from allies of the United States.'

Powell: 'Strong words. Joschka and I have talked a couple of times this week, and I have the greatest respect for Chris Patten and the others who have spoken out, and my other colleague in Paris, Hubert Vedrine, the Foreign Minister of France. But I think we need to just slow down a little bit. What unilateral action have we taken that is causing them to get so upset? The President made a statement in his speech, a clear statement identifying nations that deserve to be labelled as evil because of the nature of their regimes, and now we are in discussion with our allies. So what unilateral action have we taken that has them all so shocked? We are in the process of examining all our options - within the UN, within the context of the conversations that the President has with heads of state and government on a regular basis, within the context of all the consultations that I have with Hubert Vedrine, with Joschka Fischer. ... So we are in touch with them; it is just that they get a little upset when the President speaks with such clarity and such direction. But that is what leadership is about. I am sure as we go forward, as we discuss these matters with them, I hope we will see some of this excitement calm down a bit. Our policy with respect to North Korea remains one of hoping they will engage. We haven't taken that off the table. ... Because we are waiting for the inspectors to get into Iraq, we should ignore the nature of that regime? My European colleagues should be pounding on Iraq as quickly as they pound on us when the President makes a strong, principled speech. With respect to Iran, some good things have been happening there, but some not so good things have been happening. And so I think the President's characterization was an accurate one, and perhaps some of the condemnatory language we have been hearing should be directed toward these nations, as opposed to the President's very powerful and clear and honest statement.'"

The widespread resentment in Congress at the unflattering reception of the State of the Union address was well expressed by Democratic Representative Tom Lantos on March 6: "I was appalled by the European criticism of that policy, calling it unilateral and simplistic. There is nothing simplistic in having moral clarity. And I think this battle against evil, whether it's an axis or not an axis, has moral clarity..."

The President himself was keen to emphasise that this speech was an invitation for change, not a door closing on peaceful resolution of differences. On February 1, asked at the White House if dialogue was being abandoned with the 'axis' countries, Bush stated: "No, of course not. As I said in my speech, I hope nations hear our call and make the right decisions. ... All three countries I mentioned are now on notice that we intend to take their development of weapons of mass destruction very seriously..." On February 2, however, the President sounded pugnacious and impatient: "People say, 'What are the consequences?' They will find out in due course if they can't get their house in order. The mighty United States will do whatever it takes to defend our security."

Selected Comment

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, interview with Le Figaro newspaper, February 15:

"Question: 'President Bush recently declared the existence of an axis of evil passing through Iran, Iraq and North Korea. Russia maintains close relations with these countries. Do you see the statement of the US President as a reproach addressed to Russia?'

Ivanov: 'It is hard to say what guided the US President when he declared the existence of that axis. We believe that sticking labels on countries is a survival of the Cold War. We are now interacting within a broad anti-terrorist coalition. ... The coalition will be durable if its actions are based on law. So, Russia comes out vigorously for strengthening the role of the UN in the international anti-terrorist effort. ... Unilateral actions, whichever side resorts to them, may deal a serious blow at international efforts.'

Question: 'Do you see an axis of evil in the world?'

Ivanov: 'We see the existence of an arc of instability.'"

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov, Munich Security Conference, February 3: 'Not many people in the West like the fact that we have some commercial ties with countries which you [in the US government] describe as 'rogue states'... Well, we don't like some of your allies, like Saudi Arabia or Gulf states who give finance to terrorism organisations... As far as non-proliferation issues are concerned there is a serious problem and threat, but that should not be limited to these three countries..."

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, visiting Washington, February 4: "We'd like to cooperate and identify all threats... Of course we should identify dangers, real dangers rather than imaginary... We should provide evidence to each other and to assure all others that those threats really exist..."

Chinese government commentary carried on the Xinhua news agency, February 3: "No small number of people suggest that by labelling Iran, Iraq and North Koreas an 'axis of evil', the United States seeks to prepare public opinion for strikes against those countries under the banner of anti-terrorism...Using the word 'axis' makes people think of the powerful military alliance formed by fascist Germany, Italy and Japan, which turned the world upside down with their atrocities."

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Kong Quan, January 30: "The Chinese side does not advocate using this kind of language in international relations..."

NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson, January 31: "I think if the Americans could produce convincing evidence that there was a link between other countries and the attack that took place, then I think the allies would be seriously interested in that information. But that hasn't been forthcoming up to this moment. ... I don't believe there's any country, however big the superpower, that can actually do things on its own..."

Lord Robertson, Munich Security Conference, February 3: "Even superpowers need allies and coalitions to provide bases, fuel, airspace and forces. And they need mechanisms and experience to integrate these forces into a single coherent military capability... For Washington, the choice could become: act alone or not at all, and that is no choice at all..."

Chris Patten, European Union External Affairs Commissioner, February 9: "Europe provides 55% of development assistance in the world and two thirds of grant aid. So when it comes to what the Americans call the 'soft end of security' - which I happen to think is the hard end of security - we have a huge amount to contribute. ... [The world has now seen] the dark side of globalisation. ... [We have to tackle] the root causes of terrorism and violence. ... [F]rankly, smart bombs have their place, but smart development assistance seems to me even more significant... I think it's very dangerous when you start taking up absolutist positions and simplistic positions. ... I find it hard to believe that's [i.e. the 'axis of evil' designation] a thought-through policy... I still hope that America will demonstrate that it has not gone onto unilateralist overdrive... Gulliver can't go it alone, and I don't think it's helpful if we regard ourselves as so Lilliputian that we can't speak up..." Note: in an interview with the Financial Times on February 13, Secretary of State Powell commented on Commissioner Patten's remarks: "Chris did manage to work himself up a bit last week and I shall have to have a word with him."

Unnamed senior EU official, February 9: "It is humiliating and demeaning if we feel we have to go and get our homework marked by Dick Cheney and Condi Rice. We've got to stop thinking that the only policy we can have is one that doesn't get vetoed by the United States."

Javier Solana, senior EU foreign policy official and former NATO Secretary General, February 19: "The relationship between the United States and EU is crucial and we should not play with that relationship, and the US should not play with it either... We have to do our utmost...to coordinate and to maintain a good tonality in public as much as possible... We should not get hung up on terminology. ... I don't think the United States is simplistic. They are sophisticated people."

French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine, February 6: "We are friends of the United States, we are friends of that people and we will remain so. But we are threatened today by a new 'simplism' which consists in reducing everything to the war on terrorism... That is their approach, but we cannot accept that idea... You have got to tackle the root causes...[such as] poverty, injustice." Note: in his February 13 Financial Times interview, Secretary of State Powell expressed exasperation at Minister Vedrine's remarks, asking: "What policies and plans have really changed so radically to be causing all of this distress, Mr. Vedrine getting the vapors and what not?"

Karl Lamers, foreign policy spokesperson for the opposition German Christian Democratic Party, February 3: "There is a danger that the Europeans and the Americans in pursuing terrorism may diverge in their points of view... We want to participate, which is why I would ask our American friends to bring us along in the formation of strategy, instead of you doing it and asking us to trot along behind."


Iran's inclusion in the villainous triumvirate caused particular astonishment in many quarters, in light of both the strong outpouring of sympathy in the country, at the official and popular levels, for the victims of the September 11 attacks, and the important role, acknowledged and applauded by the United Nations, played by Tehran in the Bonn post-Taliban settlement negotiations leading to the establishment of an interim administration in Afghanistan. Widespread concern has also been expressed at the speech's impact on the important but fragile forces of reform and democratisation in Iran - forces which have assiduously shied away from playing the 'anti-American' card long-associated with a strict theocratic interpretation of the 1979 Revolution.

From the US perspective, however, Iran's supportive words after the terrorist strikes have not been followed by deeds, except negative attempts to destabilise northern Afghanistan - and, according to Bush administration officials, even provide refuge for Taliban and Al Qaeda forces, traditionally bitter enemies of Tehran. Washington's fundamental concern, however, is the prospect of Iranian acquisition of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and ballistic missiles, particularly in the perceived context of Tehran's support for anti-Israeli and Islamicist terrorist organisations. As National Security Adviser Rice stated simply on January 31: "Iran's direct support of regional and global terrorism, and its aggressive efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction, belie any good intentions it displayed in the days after the world's worst terrorist attack in history."

The US has long maintained that Iran's push for WMD-capability has received significant support from three main sources: Russia, China, and North Korea. On January 30, the US National Intelligence Council released its latest, unclassified six-monthly survey of 'The Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions', covering developments between January 1-June 30, 2001. The report states bluntly: "Iran remains one of the most active countries seeking to acquire WMD and ACW [advanced conventional weapons] technology from abroad. In doing so, Tehran is attempting to develop a domestic capability to produce various types of weapons - chemical, biological, and nuclear - and their delivery systems. During the reporting period, the evidence indicates determined Iranian efforts to acquire WMD- and ACW-related equipment, materials and technology focused primarily on entities in Russia, China, North Korea, and Western Europe." With regard to Russian assistance, the report states: "Iran's earlier success in gaining technology and materials from Russian entities has helped to accelerate Iranian development of the Shahab-3 MRBM [medium-range ballistic missile], and continuing Russian assistance likely supports Iranian efforts to develop new missiles and increase Tehran's self-sufficiency in missile production. Russia also remained a key supplier for civilian nuclear programs in Iran, primarily focused on the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant project. With respect to Iran's nuclear infrastructure, Russian assistance enhances Iran's ability to support a nuclear weapons development effort, even though the ostensible purpose of most of this assistance is for civilian applications."

Russia was quick to dismiss any suggestion of improper dealings. On February 7, a Russian Foreign Ministry statement said the new report caused "not only extreme surprise but also serious concern" in Moscow. The statement complained: "This is the first time in recent years that an official American document makes an attempt to question the devotion, willingness and ability of the Russian government to prevent the leakage of sensitive products and technology abroad... Russia strictly meets its international obligations to control the export of sensitive trade and technology." On February 15, Alexei Krasnov, Deputy Chief of the Russian Aerospace Agency's International Department, told reporters that the government had investigated 13 cases of alleged proliferation transfers or diversions to Iran brought to its attention by the United States: "none of them," according to the official, "represented a violation" of any domestic or international obligation. The same day, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov insisted in an interview with Le Figaro:

"Russia comes out firmly for strengthening the regime of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and their means of delivery. This is our principled stand, and it applies to any state, including Iran. We do not merely say this, but we have in practice ratified the relevant documents... We have repeatedly told our American partners, if you have real facts, let us study them. If it is established that someone is breaking export control rules, these channels will be cut and the perpetrators will be punished with all the severity of the law. Six or seven bilateral Commissions were set up together with the previous US administration. They dealt with nuclear and rocket programmes as well as dual-purpose technologies. These Commissions were instrumental in addressing the concerns that arose. Their work is being renewed after a certain interval. We hope that statements of American officials will be made...which will make it possible to study the facts in a professional way. ... All [nuclear] facilities...in Iran...are put under IAEA control. The nuclear plant being built at Bushehr is also under IAEA control, and the experts of that organisation have not found any...violations..."

Export control issues were discussed between the two sides in late February. As politely conveyed in a Russian Foreign Ministry statement (February 22), the talks were intense:

"Meetings between Russian and US experts on export controls, representing various ministries and agencies of the two countries, took place in Moscow on February 21-22. In a keen exchange of views, the sides discussed practical aspects of cooperation in the area of export controls... Prospects of further constructive coordination were outlined. Both sides spoke in favour of creating a flexible, informal mechanism of further joint work in this direction. At the base of such coordination lies the Russian-American bilateral Memorandum on Cooperation in Export Controls of 1994."

Selected Comment

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, January 30: "We reject the US accusations and we think that the world will not tolerate the hegemony of the US. The US President should offer proof to support his allegations - repeating the usual accusations will not help him...[or divert] world public opinion from the Middle East issue..."

Kamal Kharrazi, letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, February 5: "The Islamic Republic of Iran does not seek weapons of mass destruction... [I]t must be underlined that, unlike the United States, weapons of mass destruction have no place in Iran's defence doctrine... At the same time, Iran insists and vigorously pursues its inalienable right to develop its nuclear, chemical and biological industries for peaceful purposes. ... What needs to be investigated is the background for the sudden change in tone and approach of the United States..."

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Adeli, February 3: "We have been shocked and disappointed that, contrary to what was developing and had been achieved [since September 11], we had something totally unexpected... We think this should not be the reward for cooperating after a long period of time."

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hamidreza Asefi, February 4: "The recent accusations against Iran are not acceptable at all and are based on hallucinations, not evidence... US officials should base their comments on evidence, otherwise they will lose the trust and respect of their public opinion..."

Former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani, January 30: "[President Bush] calls the people and holy resistance movements of Palestine and Lebanon as terrorists [while] he himself is a supporter of terrorism."

Undersecretary of State John Bolton, speaking in Moscow, February 19: "It's very important, as Russia and the United States and West generally talk about their mutual security interests, that we all treat the question of nuclear and missile proliferation in the same way... We have a disagreement about the degree of the [Russian] involvement in those Iranian programmes, and we're going to have to work that out... Ultimately, it's not a question [of] what we say, it's a question of Russian national interest. How could any Russian citizen see any benefit whatever in a nuclear-equipped, ballistic missile-capable Iran?"

State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher, February 11: "If Iran wants to set a clear course toward the modern world, we're happy to talk to them... Our concerns about proliferation, our concerns about weapons of mass destruction, about contacts with terrorism...are real concerns. ... [But we would prefer] to be able to sit down with them for a serious discussions, to talk about Iran and the course it might go on..."

Joseph Biden, Democratic Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, article in the Chicago Tribune, February 28: "[H]igh-level Russian officials say their government no longer sees strategic value in assisting Iran's long-range missile and nuclear weapons programs. A comprehensive US non-proliferation approach to Russia must insist Moscow live up to its word."

Israeli Transport Minister Ephraim Sneh, January 31: "The most important thing, and maybe the most urgent thing, is to urge the Russians to stop the technological assistance...especially for the Iranian nuclear project."


The storm over the State of the Union address broke amidst efforts led by the US itself to reconfigure the sanctions regime against Iraq (see last issue for details), and with many states already warning Washington against following its early success in Afghanistan with a major military offensive against Baghdad. While the US seems certainly to prefer the option of facilitated 'regime change', it is also carefully not ruling out the prospect of such an offensive.

A resumption and conclusion of effective disarmament inspections in Iraq has long been seen to lie at the heart of efforts to end the long nightmare of the country's suffering and isolation. The US effort, strongly supported and shaped by the UK, to introduce 'smart' sanctions - consolidating the military and WMD-related embargo while targeting the Iraqi leadership rather than general population - has been presented as the best option available in the absence of Iraqi willingness to let the weapons inspectors return. However, since September 11, and particularly since the President's 'axis of evil' speech, US officials have been expressing concern that Iraq might agree to inspections in the hope both of sabotaging the UN's work and postponing any military action.

This concern increased on February 4 with news that Iraq had requested a meeting with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. On February 5, Secretary of State Powell noted acidly: "It should be a very short discussion. The inspectors have to go back on our terms." Powell added that the diplomatic focus should remain on finalising arrangements for the new sanctions regime. "We will not stop in that effort," he assured the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, "and I am very confident that by the end of this six-month sanctions period [due to expire on May 30, 2002] we will be able to implement smart sanctions in a way that all members of the Security Council will be able to abide with".

Annan duly met with Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri in New York on March 7. According to the Secretary-General, the talks were "frank and useful"; according to the Foreign Minister, they were "positive and constructive". A further round of discussions were scheduled for mid-April. Annan stressed, however, that time may be short: "I wouldn't want to see a widening conflict in the [Middle East] region... I would want to see a situation where we are able to solve our differences diplomatically and that Iraq comes into compliance".

The US expressed disappointment at the outcome of the March 7 meeting, with State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher noting (March 8): "What happened yesterday is once again the Iraqis refused to step up to the plate and indicate that they would fully comply with the UN Security Council resolutions. ... As in the past, the Iraqi representatives raised a number of issues aimed at preventing and delaying focus on their core obligation, which include cooperating fully and cooperatively with weapons inspectors. So simply put, what happened was the Iraqis came, but they failed to indicate that they would comply." Britain's UN Ambassador, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, was fractionally less pessimistic, arguing on March 7 it was just too early to judge whether Iraq was "truly seeing what the route to full compliance will be, or whether they are just trying to start a process because having a process gives them more protection than not having a process... [T]here seems to be a willingness to come back in mid-April... That could be good news".

Bad news, however, apparently arrived on March 10 with scathing comments from Iraq's Vice President, Taha Yassin Ramadan: "Iraq's rejection of the teams of spies to return to Iraq is firm and won't change. Iraq is fully convinced that there is no need for them to return... They had carried out vicious spying activities in Iraq for more than eight years." On February 19, Ramadan had signalled this inflexibility when remarking: "There is no need for the spies of the inspection teams to return to Iraq since Iraq is free of weapons of mass destruction..." On March 9, Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz complained: "Singling out the question of inspectors is wrong... There are many items: the sanctions, the no-fly zones and the continuous aggression and violation of international law by the United States and United Kingdom. All these matters should be addressed..."

Prior to the talks, the UN had been keen to stress the need to concentrate on the inspection issue. On February 6, the Secretary-General's spokesperson, Fred Eckhard, observed: "The Secretary-General's preference would be for the talks to be more focused than they were during the previous year, so that they can focus on specific issues, notably the return of UN inspectors". On February 28, Annan commented: "They will come, I hope, in a constructive and open mood to discuss frankly with me how we get the inspectors back and how they cooperate with the UN... All their friends within the region and beyond the region are telling them to cooperate with the Security Council, and I hope they will..."

On March 3, Hans Blix, the official who would lead any resumed inspection effort as Chair of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), told reporters: "I do not see any other way out for suspension and lifting of sanctions but inspections... I would like to warn against the attitude that from the moment that Iraq sends a green light for inspections that we are, as it were, stepping on an escalator...and then after a while you are on the next floor - and that's suspension of sanctions. ... Cosmetic inspections are worse than none because they may lull states into a false confidence, and they make wake up in a horrible situation... There are many open issues [for inspections to resolve], like anthrax for example... They declared that they produced a volume of 8,500 litres but we do not have any evidence of that. Then they have declared they destroyed all of it in 1991 and there is no evidence of that..." Blix also dismissed a March 1 offer from Iraq for Britain to send an inspection team to the country: "I think it would be a good idea [for Iraq] to direct their invitation to us, because we are ready. We have had two years in which we have prepared ourselves to go to Iraq and carry out effective and correct inspections." Asked about the Iraqi demand that UNMOVIC contain no US inspectors, out of allegations of past espionage, Blix replied: "Americans can go along. Iraq cannot exclude anybody from our inspection. They are UN groups. ... If I were to find someone among the staff or inspectors who...wears two hats, I would suggest the person...walk away with the other hat..."

US scepticism about the value of inspections has been emanating predominantly from the Defense Department. In a CBS television interview on February 24, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld stated:

"If you think about it, go back to when we did have inspectors in there, which was years ago [until the US-UK air attacks of December 1998]. When they were there, they had an enormously difficult time finding anything. Under the rules and restrictions that were imposed on them by Iraq, the only real information they got was not by snooping around on the ground...because they [the Iraqis] were able to move them, hide them underground, lie about them, not allow them [the inspectors] to go in, wait long periods before they could go in. The only real information they found was from defectors. ... Now, what's happened in the intervening period? Well, technology has evolved. The Iraqis have had more time to go underground. they've had lots of dual-use technologies that have come in. They've had lots of illicit things that have come in. They have advanced their weapons of mass destruction programmes. They've developed greater degrees of mobility. They are very accomplished liars, as to what's going on. You could put inspectors all over that place, and it would be very difficult to find anything. ... Therefore, if you try to use the old regime, it wouldn't work. You would have to have a much more intrusive regime and many more inspectors, and the Iraqis not controlling when they could come in, where they could go, what they could do. And the Iraqis aren't going to agree to something like that."

Rumsfeld's statement stands in marked contrast, certainly in tone, with State Department comment, for instance by Secretary Powell on March 3: "I think they [the inspectors] would play a very useful role because, you know, you can have a covert programme and you can have an overt programme. And with the inspectors in, you certainly can't have a overt programme... And if the inspectors are good and if they are given the kind of access we would insist in before they go back in, they may have some success at finding the covert programme as well. I have no illusions about the ability of inspectors to find everything, but I think they can play a useful role. In my previous experience with respect to inspectors and arms control regimes - the INF [Intermediate Nuclear Forces] Treaty with the Russians comes to mind - inspectors are part of the system that you use to get at a problem like this."

Selected Comment

President Bush, referring to use of chemical weapons by Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war and against Iraqi Kurdish civilians, February 16: "People who have got something to hide make us nervous, particularly those who have gassed their own citizens..."

Secretary of State Powell, February 17: "The President has made it clear that he reserves all of his options... Until that regime is changed, then his neighbours have much to fear and we should be fearful, too, because the weapons that he is developing could well fall into the hands of terrorists."

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, February 4: "Absent the world, someone, pointing out the danger they pose to their own people and their neighbours, they would run free...They would invade Kuwait again, to be sure. They'd invade Saudi Arabia, maybe."

Vice President Dick Cheney, February 15: "I think if aggressive action is required [in Iraq], I would anticipate there would be the appropriate support for that, both from the American people and the international community."

Former Vice President Al Gore, February 12: "Even if we give first priority to the destruction of terrorist networks, and even if we succeed, there are still governments that could bring us great harm. And there is a clear case that one of these governments in particular represents a virulent threat in a class by itself: Iraq. As far as I am concerned, a final reckoning with that government should be on the table. To my way of thinking, the real question is not the principle of the thing, but of making sure that this time we will finish the matter on our terms. But finishing it on our terms means more than a change of regime in Iraq. It means thinking through the consequences of action there on our other vital interests, including the survival in office of Pakistan's leader; avoiding a huge escalation of violence in the Middle East; provision for the security and interests of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Gulf States; having a workable plan for preventing the disintegration of Iraq into chaos; and sustaining critically important support within the present coalition. In 1991, I crossed party lines and supported the use of force against Saddam Hussein, but he was allowed to survive his defeat as the result of a calculation we all had reason to deeply regret for the ensuing decade. And we still do. So this time, if we resort to force, we must absolutely get it right. It must be an action set up carefully and on the basis of the most realistic concepts. Failure cannot be an option, which means that we must be prepared to go the limit. And wishful thinking based on best-case scenarios or excessively literal transfers of recent experience to different conditions would be a recipe for disaster."

Samuel Berger, National Security Adviser under President Clinton, February 7: "Saddam Hussein was, is and continues to be a menace to his people, the region and to us. He cannot be accommodated. Our goal should be regime change. The question is not whether, but how and when..."

Democratic Senator Bob Graham, Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, February 10: "He [Saddam Hussein] should be taken out at some point. My question is, is this the time to do it? Shouldn't we be focusing on completing the war on terrorism?"

Republican Senator John McCain, Munich Security Conference, February 2: "Dictators that harbour terrorists and build these weapons are now on notice that such behaviour is, in itself, a causus belli [cause of war]. Nowhere is such an ultimatum more applicable than in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Almost everyone familiar with Saddam's record of biological weapons development over the past two decades agrees that he surely possesses such weapons. He also possesses vast stocks of chemical weapons and is known to have aggressively pursued, with some success, the development of nuclear weapons. He is the only dictator on Earth who has actually used weapons of mass destruction against his own people and his neighbours. His regime has been implicated in the 1993 attacks on the World Trade Center. Terrorist training camps exist on Iraqi soil, and Iraqi officials are known to have had a number of contacts with Al Qaeda. These were probably not courtesy calls. Americans have internalised the mantra that Afghanistan represents only the first front in our global war on terror. The next front is apparent, and we not shrink from acknowledging it. ... A day of reckoning is approaching. Not simply for Saddam Hussein, but for all members of the Atlantic community, whose governments face the choice of ending the threat we face every day from this rogue regime or carrying on as if such behaviour, in the wake of September 11, were somehow still tolerable."

Republican Senator Richard Shelby, February 10: "These are strong signals [from the White House] of things to come, if these people don't shape up... I think ultimately, we'll be confronted with these people, probably in some kind of war."

Republican Senator Fred Thompson, March 1: "[A return of the inspectors would be] the worst thing in the world that can happen. It just means another cat-and-mouse game, at which point he [Saddam Hussein] would run to the United Nations and get his friends there to protect him with regard to whatever he's doing. It puts off any chance for regime change, which is the ultimate resolution..."

Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, interview in Welt am Sonntag newspaper, March 10: "The American President has made clear that the case of Iraq is not about the fight against terrorism and not about arms control. In disregard of our sovereignty, he wants to eliminate the regime of President Saddam Hussein and create an armed opposition to fan a civil war."

Russian President Putin, February 14: "We are well aware of the countries whose citizens fought with the Taliban in Afghanistan and provided financing for them - and Iraq is not on that list. But this does not mean the international community does not have any problems with Iraq... With our partners in the United Nations and the UN Security Council we are actively discussing these issues and looking for ways to solve them."

Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov, March 1: "Russia advocates a political settlement of the situation around Iraq. ... As for the military scenarios of which there has been much talk, the overwhelming majority of states do not share this position. We saw more than once for ourselves that force-based actions have led only to an aggravation of the situation, both in the Persian Gulf region and in broader terms."

Chinese Vice Premier Qian Qichen, January 28: "China does not support the widening of anti-terror military action. At the same time, it hopes that Iraq will cooperate with the UN to avoid new and complicated situations which might emerge. ... [China] sympathised deeply with the Iraqi suffering caused by the long-standing sanctions..."

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, March 1: "Those who are engaged in spreading weapons of mass destruction are engaged in an evil trade, and it is important that we make sure that we take action in respect of it. The accumulation of weapons of mass destruction by Iraq poses a threat, not just to the wider region but to the world, and I think George Bush was absolutely right to raise it... When we're ready to take action, then we'll announce it. It is a real issue. It is a real threat."

UK Defence Minister Geoff Hoon, March 1: "[W]e are deeply suspicious about what is going on [in Iraq]. They are a concern that we have to address. That is what we have to learn from the appalling events of September 11 - that we cannot afford to ignore issues that can provoke a threat to our own security."

Canadian Prime Minister, speaking in Moscow, February 14: "At the moment we are not implicated in any plans for Iraq or other nations... [The problem of Iraq is] completely different than the problem of terrorism. ... [The campaign against terrorism has] to be dome multilaterally; if we try to do it unilaterally it will go absolutely nowhere."

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, interview with Handelsblatt newspaper, February 11: "Bush told me that he harbours no attack plans... I am relying on that."

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, interview with Der Spiegel magazine, February 16: "No one has shown me any evidence yet that the terror of Osama bin Laden has anything to do with the regime in Iraq... [The international coalition against terrorism represents] no carte blanche for an invasion of any country, especially not unilaterally..."

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, February 6: "The best thing is for Iraq and the United Nations to resume dialogue...It is very harmful to keep a country isolated. ... At the end of this dialogue - which should not be a long one - something positive should come. ... We hope that any policy, including the American policy, in the Middle East will not result in the use of force... We hope that we will not face this eventuality."

Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz, Saudi Arabian Interior Minister, February 16: "Saudi Arabia is against resolving disputes through violence... If this happens, God forbid, the Kingdom will not in any circumstance be for war against any Arab country..."

Richard Spertzel, chief UN biological weapons inspector in Iraq, 1994-1999, March 1: "It appears that most of the proposals for getting inspectors back into Iraq are based on the premise that 'any inspectors are better than none'... To be blunt, that's pure garbage."

North Korea

The President's 'axis' remarks appear to have confirmed in dramatic fashion the bleak prospect of a resumption of US-North Korea talks on nuclear, missile and related non-proliferation issues. Although the White House has been offering since June 2001 to hold discussions without preconditions, North Korea was already expressing chagrin that the detailed agenda set during the last years of the Clinton presidency - focusing on ballistic missile development and export policies, and leading to a North Korean moratorium on missile test flights - had been replaced by what it saw as a dictatorial list of demands, including significant conventional disarmament. On February 1, President Bush indeed made clear that his administration did expect the overall military posture of North Korea to be corrected:

"A wrong decision [by] Pyongyang will be to continue to export weapons of mass destruction and I hope that North Korea...listens to what we suggested, and that is they pull back some conventional weaponry to make a clear declaration of their peaceful intentions on the Peninsular... We would be more than happy to enter into a dialogue with them if that be the case."

Unfortunately, the effect of the State of the Union address was to raise to fever-pitch North Korean indignation and concerns, further denting hopes not only of a breakthrough on missile policy but also of progress in implementing the 1994 US-North Korea Framework Agreement under which Pyongyang's nuclear plants are to be replaced with non-proliferation friendly light-water reactors (LWRs) and the country compensated for loss of power generation. A glut of hostile government statements was issued following the 'axis of evil' remarks, continuing unabated through February. The following sample (February 22) is typical: "We are not willing to have contact with his [President Bush's] clan, which is trying to change by force of arms the system chosen by the Korean people...The remarks of Bush, prompted by the desire to conquer the government of another country by dint of strength and dollars, remind people of a puppy knowing no fear of the tiger... Useless is such 'dialogue' advocated by the US to find a pretext for invasion."

Leading figures of the Clinton administration have been voicing serious reservations about the President's hardline stance. On February 1, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright commented: "When we left office, we left the potential of a verifiable agreement to stop the export of missile technology on the table. I think it's a mistake to walk away from that. We know that North Korea is dangerous but lumping those three countries together is dangerous..." On February 14, Ambassador Robert Galucci, chief negotiator of the 1994 Framework Agreement, argued: "I think the Bush administration has a visceral as well as an intellectual problem with negotiating with countries that are reprehensible in their domestic and international policy. ... The administration says it is willing to meet anytime and anywhere with the North Koreans. But what they mean is that they are prepared to meet to accept North Korea's surrender on the points at issue." Earlier (February 3), Galucci had admitted: "I'm coming to believe that the administration is not open to negotiation, which raises the question, what does one do about these problems if you don't even explore the diplomatic option?"

In a CNN interview on March 3, Secretary Powell was asked: "But you can still negotiate with them?" Powell insisted the US offer was genuine: "We have negotiated with very bad people in the past and gotten a lot of progress. So we are not looking for a war with North Korea. Nobody wants a war in the Korean Peninsular. But let's begin a dialogue to get them out of the dire straits that they are in and reduce the tension in that part of the world."

The administration is also adamant that its policy does not contradict or undermine the 'sunshine policy' of South Korean President Kim Dae-jung. Speaking in Seoul on February 16, Bush emphasised: "South Korean people must know that our nation will enter a dialogue with North Korea. We have made an offer to do so, but North Korea won't accept for some reasons. I guess the main impediment is that they don't want to have a dialogue." On February 20, at a joint press conference with Kim Dae-jung, Bush stated: "I made it very clear to the President that I support his sunshine policy. And I'm disappointed that the other side, the North Koreans, will not accept the spirit of the sunshine policy. ... In order to make sure there's sunshine, there needs to be two people, two sides involved." President Kim observed: "President Bush and I...discussed in-depth issues related to the threat of WMD proliferation... [We] concurred that the objective is to resolve the issue of North Korean WMDs at an early date through dialogue. To this end, we agreed that Korea-US joint efforts were necessary." Speaking after President Bush's visit, Kim told reporters (February 25) he hoped that a moment of crisis had now passed and talks could resume: "We had faced a critical moment. North Korea must have felt a great threat after President Bush's 'axis of evil' remarks. A war can erupt if two parties reject each other." The extent of South Korean shock at the 'axis' labelling of its neighbour can be partly gauged by the extraordinary language of Song Sok-chan, a parliamentarian belonging to the President's ruling party, who described President Bush on February 18 as "evil incarnate who wants to make the division of Korea permanent by branding North Korea part of the 'axis of evil'."

Pressure is building in the Congress for the administration to take its policy a step further and suspend its participation in the 1994 Agreed Framework, at least until the International Atomic Energy Agency has been able to verify the amount and status of existing fissile materials in the country. The Agency has not been able to conduct full inspections in the country since 1993. While the administration agrees that the issue of full IAEA inspections is the major stumbling block holding up progress on the Agreed Framework, it has thus far been reluctant to announce any suspension or even withdrawal from the plan. On February 13, three senior members of the House of Representatives - Republicans Christopher Cox and Benjamin Gilman, and Democrat Edward Markey - wrote to President Bush to urge him to "give further consideration with regard to whether it is in the US national interest to allow North Korea to obtain access to light-water reactor designs or technologies in light of its ongoing interest in obtaining access to weapons of mass destruction". The same day, Representative Cox, Chair of the House Planning Committee, issued a statement arguing: "North Korea is the largest recipient of US foreign aid in the Asia-Pacific region. ... We supply three-quarters of the donated oil to supply heat and electricity in North Korea. Supplementing this largesse with plutonium is not only unnecessary but counterproductive: doing so gives [North Korean President] Kim Jong-il more political and military power. ... By preventing Kim Jong-il from acquiring nuclear materials before he becomes even more belligerent, perhaps we can prevent war. We certainly should not supply him with nuclear technology and materials that will make war both more likely and more deadly."

Related Material on Acronym website:

Reports: China tells Iraq opposed to widening war on terror, Reuters, January 28; The President's State of the Union Address, White House transcript, January 29; Iran says Bush comments are interference in domestic affairs, Associated Press, January 30; Unclassified Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions, January 1 Through June 30, 2001, US National Intelligence Council (NIC), January 30 (http://www.cia.gov); Israeli welcomes Bush's speech, Associated Press, January 31; Transcript - Rice warns of dangerous powers pursuing dangerous weapons, Washington File, January 31; North Korea says Bush speech close to war declaration, Agence France Presse, February 1; Bush not abandoning dialogue with N. Korea, Iran, Reuters, February 1; Alliance may not always back US, Associated Press, February 1; Bush warns 'evil axis' trio again, Reuters, February 2; From Crisis to Opportunity, speech by Senator John McCain, Munich Security Conference, February 2 (http://www.securityconference.de); Top officials defend Bush on 'axis of evil', Reuters, February 3; Transcript - Rumsfeld cites nexus of terror and weapons of mass destruction, Washington File, February 3; China slams Bush over 'evil axis' speech', Reuters, February 3; US, Russia at odds over war on terrorism, Reuters, February 3; Russian aide warns US not to extend war to Iraq, New York Times, February 3; Iranian minister responds to Bush, Associated Press, February 3; Members of Congress criticize Bush's 'axis of evil' speech, Global Security Newswire, February 4; Transcript - Rumsfeld interview with Jim Lehrer on defense budget, Washington File, February 4; Rice says 'it's time to get serious' about North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Washington File, February 4; US seeks talks with North Korea, despite Bush statement, Global Security Newswire, February 4; Allies give little support on Iraq, Associated Press, February 4; Iran says US accusations 'hallucinations', Reuters, February 4; Russia cautions Bush over 'imaginary' threats, Reuters, February 4; Iraq proposes UN talks and gets a wary reply, New York Times, February 5; Powell dismisses Iraq talks offer, Associated Press, February 5; UN says UN discussion with Iraq should be 'short', Reuters, February 5; Iran denies US weapons accusation, Associated Press, February 5; Arab League hopes for 'positive' Iraq-UN talks, Reuters, February 6; Annan willing to talk with Iraq on weapons inspectors, Washington File, February 6; Russia rips CIA report on technology, Associated Press, February 7; Bush statements on terrorism presage more interventionist policy, Berger says, Washington File, February 7; Patten lays into Bush's America, The Guardian, February 9; Breaking the silence, interview with Chris Patten, The Guardian, February 9; Lawmakers talk tough against 'axis', Associated Press, February 10; Tough talk against 'axis' - some want quick action at least against Iraq, Associated Press, February 11; US renews offer of Iran dialogue, Associated Press, February 11; A commentary on the war against terror,' speech by Al Gore, Council on Foreign Relations, February 12 (http://www.cfr.org); Excerpt - Powell on Russia, Europe, Central Asia, Proliferation, Washington File, February 13; Iraq sees no need for UN arms inspectors to return, Reuters, February 13; Text - policy chairman urges end to nuclear subsidies for N. Korea, Washington File, February 13; Powell dismisses European critics of Bush speech, Financial Times, February 13; Russia, Canada say Iraq should not be target, Reuters, February 14; Russia, Canada leaders seek alliance, Associated Press, February 14; Bush's hard line with North Korea, New York Times, February 14; Russian officials deny US claims, Associated Press, February 15; US calls in French Ambassador over Vedrine remarks, Reuters, February 15; Cheney - allies will back US on Iraq, Associated Press, February 15; European officials warn US not to attack Iraq, Reuters, February 16; Bush says wants talks with North Korea, Reuters, February 16; Bush warns North Korea as he flies to Asia, Reuters, February 16; Saudi opposed to any US strike against Iraq, Reuters, February 16; Transcript - Powell rejects charges of US unilateralism, Washington File, February 17; Powell rejects assurances by Iraq on weapons, Reuters, February 17; Interview by Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov to the French newspaper Le Figaro, February 15, Russian Foreign Ministry transcript, February 18; Bush visit draws 'evil' epithets in South Korea, Reuters, February 18; Cheney takes defense of Bush 'axis' on the road, Reuters, February 18; Solana urges EU critics to stop slamming US, Reuters, February 19; US says arms deal by May summit could be tough, Reuters, February 19; Cheney defends 'axis of evil' label, Associated Press, February 20; Transcript - Bush says US committed to peace, S. Korea's security, Washington File, February 20; Bush meets with S. Korea President, Associated Press, February 20; Some push to block N. Korean reactors, Chicago Tribune, February 20; Russian, US export control experts meet, Russian Foreign Ministry Statement, Document 310-22-02-2002, February 22; North Korea rejects Bush dialogue call, Reuters, February 22; N. Korea rejects Bush's offer of talks, Associated Press, February 22; North Korea calls Bush 'kingpin of terrorism', Reuters, February 23; Transcript - Rumsfeld calls for stiffer weapons inspections in Iraq, Washington File, February 24; Rumsfeld has doubts about Iraq inspectors, USA Today, February 25; S. Korean President - tensions high, Associated Press, February 25; Shutting down the Russian candy store, by Joseph Biden, Chicago Tribune, February 28; Annan hopes for positive talks with Iraq, Reuters, February 28; Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov's interview to Vremya ORT news programme, February 28, 2002, Russian Foreign Ministry transcript; Inspections may not deter Saddam, Associated Press, March 1; Blair agrees Iraq is 'a real threat', Los Angeles Times, March 1; Iraq invites Britain to find weapons, Associated Press, March 1; Transcript - Powell assesses foreign policy trouble spots on CNN, Washington File, March 3; Meeting scheduled on Iraqi sanctions, Associated Press, March 3; UN arms expert - no 'cosmetic' inspections in Iraq, Reuters, March 3; Congressional leaders discuss foreign policy with Bush and Rice, Washington File, March 6; Remarks by Foreign Ministry official spokesman Alexander Yakovenko, March 7, 2002, Russian Foreign Ministry transcript; Iraq and UN to meet again in April; Excerpt - UN talks produce no Iraqi promise of compliance, Washington File, March 8; Annan to Iraq - let arms inspectors return, Reuters, March 8; Iraq says it won't allow arms inspectors to return, Reuters, March 10.

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