The Hon. Alexander Downer, MP
FORMER MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS

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Speech

Iraq: Weapons of Mass Destruction

Parliament House, Canberra, 17 September 2002

Statement by The Minister for Foreign Affairs

Mr Speaker

The announcement this morning by the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, that Iraq has told him that it has decided to allow the return of weapons inspectors immediately and without conditions is, on the face of it, a promising first step.

I hope this is the start of a genuine diplomatic solution, a course Australia has always supported. But experience with Iraq demonstrates that the international community must not take Saddam Hussein's commitments at face value. Caution is essential.

Australia has never been na�ve about President Saddam Hussein. He is a past master of last-minute manoeuvres to head off decisive action. And he is renowned for his unpredictability.

Mr Speaker

A return of inspectors would, of itself, provide no assurance to the international community - which explains Australia's firm position that resumed inspections must be unfettered and unconditional, and lead to the complete and permanent disarmament of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

Mr Speaker

I table the letter from the Foreign Minister of Iraq, Dr Naji Sabri, to the Secretary General of the United Nations, and the Secretary General's letter to the president of the United Nations Security Council.

Mr Speaker

Just under a week ago we marked the anniversary of the terrorist attacks that took place on September 11 2001. Attacks that created a new dimension in international affairs.

On September 11, terrorists turned civil aircraft into missiles and brought a new and threatening challenge to our security and to our way of life. This change has inevitably brought with it a new sense of vulnerability. A sense that is not unique to the United States, but applies equally to countries such as Australia. For Australia is not immune from the threats posed by irrational actors and new and devastating categories of weapons.

Responsible governments, Mr Speaker, are compelled to respond and address this vulnerability. We must identify those who use terror and those who have the capacity and the motive to acquire and use weapons of mass destruction. For they seek to undermine free societies, the values we share and to harm our citizens. We need to challenge those who challenge international order.

As the Prime Minister has emphasised, we can no longer afford to leave such threats unattended.

It is against this background that Saddam Hussein's ambition to develop and deploy chemical, biological and nuclear weapons simply cannot be ignored. Combined with his record of aggression, both within and across Iraq's borders, he threatens international security and directly challenges the authority of the United Nations and international law.

Mr Speaker

The international community is without doubt confronted with a grave threat.

The international community concluded years ago that Saddam Hussein's regime was a regime with an appalling record.

Without provocation, Saddam Hussein invaded Iran and later Kuwait resulting in the deaths of over one million people. During the five-year war against Iran Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons - mustard and nerve agents - on at least ten occasions. Between 25,000 and 30,000 people died.

In its attacks against its neighbours Iraq has also used SCUD missiles, firing more than 500 at Iran during the Iran-Iraq War and almost 90 at Israel, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain during the Gulf War.

Saddam Hussein has been equally brutal towards his own people. He has not hesitated to use chemical weapons against them. His aircraft bombed the town of Halabja in Iraq itself with chemical weapons in 1988, leaving 5,000 Iraqi Kurds dead and 7,000 injured or with long-term illnesses.

More generally, his record of human rights abuses is well known and it is appalling. His regime routinely tortures and ill-treats detainees. Suspected political opponents and their relatives are arrested arbitrarily. A ruthless and pervasive internal security apparatus keeps the Iraqi people in a climate of fear, intolerance, uncertainty and deprivation.

Mr Speaker

While our concern about Saddam Hussein is not new, it is now more immediate. His regime's actions remain a matter of great and growing concern to the international community including Australia. We are a country with global interests, and a history of active and responsible participation in world affairs. We cannot just stand by.

It is important that Parliament and the Australian community more broadly understand the reasons for our heightened concerns about Iraq and why we believe it is necessary to address them.

Mr Speaker, I want to address four issues here today.

First, Iraq's persistent failure to comply with UN Security Council resolutions.

Second, Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, including the implication of Iraq's refusal since 1998 to accept UN inspectors, and its links with international terrorism.

Third, possible developments in the UN Security Council based on my discussions with Council members and several Middle Eastern Foreign Ministers, including Dr Naji Sabri from Iraq.

And finally, why Australia has important national interests at stake in the resolution of the Iraq issue.

But, Mr Speaker, we are still in a diplomatic phase, as today's events demonstrate only too clearly, with the objective of persuading Iraq to comply with its United Nations' obligations. We are not at the stage of making decisions about possible military commitments. The United States has made no decision to take military action and we have not been invited to participate in military action.

Mr Speaker

For over a decade Iraq has persistently defied legally binding obligations to disclose and eradicate its weapons of mass destruction programs and capabilities. It has flouted and frustrated UN resolutions, UN inspections and UN sanctions.

In April 1991, following the Gulf War, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 687 - a resolution that laid down the conditions of the ceasefire between the UN-sanctioned allies and Iraq.

Importantly, it required Iraq to accept unconditionally the destruction and removal of all chemical and biological weapons, all stocks of agents, and all ballistic missiles with a range greater than 150 kilometres.

The resolution also required Iraq to agree not to acquire or develop nuclear weapons. It had to declare all elements of its chemical, biological, nuclear and missile programs - within 15 days.

The resolution established UNSCOM, the UN agency mandated to carry out inspections and destroy or remove Iraq's chemical and biological weapons and missiles. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was to uncover and dismantle Iraq's nuclear weapons program.

Iraq initially accepted inspectors from both UNSCOM and the IAEA, and these agencies subsequently discovered, documented and destroyed substantial elements of a large, advanced and lethal weapons of mass destruction program, a point I will return to shortly. But as the inspectors made more and more significant inroads into the Iraqi weapons program, Iraq became more and more obstructionist. Its actions constituted clear and material breaches of Security Council resolutions.

New Security Council resolutions demanding Iraqi compliance were passed when Iraq systematically blocked the full access of inspectors to suspect sites, or when Iraq concealed or removed materials from sites inspectors were about to visit. But the Security Council's attempts to steer Iraq back on course were met with a continuing pattern of obstruction and non-compliance.

Inspectors learned that in 1991 Iraq had destroyed critical evidence about its weapons of mass destruction. For instance, only in the face of information provided by a high-level defection in 1995 did Iraq admit it had produced and concealed biological weapons.

Iraq's pattern of frustrating the UNSCOM inspection program continued until UNSCOM was in effect forced out in 1998.

In short, Iraq consistently refused to comply fully with nearly all of the obligations imposed upon it: that is, 23 out of 27 obligations contained in nine Security Council resolutions. It is a serial transgressor.

The resolutions were entirely reasonable. They set out what the international community required so it could be satisfied that Iraq no longer presented an unacceptable threat to its neighbours or to global security.

Mr Speaker, at this point I table a 15-page UNSCOM document. It provides an extraordinary chronology of main events associated with UNSCOM's work, in particular the way in which Iraq frustrated its work. Given today's undertaking by Iraq, it justifies our caution and I recommend all members read the document carefully.

Let us be very clear - the reason for the present crisis lies at no nation's door but Iraq's. Iraq has had more than a decade to determine that its interests and those of its people lay with compliance and to act accordingly.

Iraq's persistent defiance displays a clear pattern of lies, concealment and harassment that would be dangerous to ignore. Now the international community has to decide how it will deal with this defiance.

Mr Speaker, let me now turn to my second point: Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

Throughout the 1990s, UN inspectors in Iraq supervised or verified the destruction of:

  • about 100,000 chemical munitions
  • over 400 tonnes of bulk chemical agents, and
  • over 2,600 tonnes of chemicals, known as precursors, which could have been used to make weapons.

Iraq initially lied to UN inspectors about producing VX, one of the most toxic of all known chemical warfare agents. It continues to deny ever weaponising VX, even though UN inspectors uncovered unambiguous physical evidence in 1998.

UNSCOM uncovered documentation which suggested Iraq had in the order of an additional 6000 undeclared chemical munitions. UNSCOM could not confirm Iraq's claim to have destroyed 500 artillery shells filled with mustard gas and 500 aerial bombs for delivery of chemical weapons.

UNSCOM assessed that major uncertainties still exist concerning some 4000 tonnes of declared chemical precursors, including 200 tonnes of precursors used in the production of VX.

Only after the defection in 1995 of General Hussein Kamil - Saddam Hussein's son-in-law - did Iraq admit it had produced over 19,000 litres of botulinum toxin, almost 8,500 litres of anthrax and over 2,000 litres of aflatoxin. At the end of 1998, UN inspectors judged that Iraq could have produced two to four times more biological weapons agent than it had declared.

UNSCOM judged the biological weapons program to be the most incompletely documented of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs. It concluded that Iraq possesses an industrial capability and knowledge base through which biological warfare agents could be produced quickly and in volume, if Iraq decided to do so. UNSCOM reported that in 1997 Iraq still had 79 facilities capable of playing a role in biological weapons production.

Iraq admitted to UN inspectors that it had produced missile warheads filled with chemical and biological weapons. The inspectors supervised or verified the destruction of several different types of delivery systems, including ballistic missile warheads, artillery shells and aerial bombs. But UN inspectors were unable to establish that all these warheads had been destroyed.

Iraq is known to have tested unmanned aerial vehicles and airborne spraying devices as possible delivery systems for biological and chemical weapons.

After it was effectively forced to leave Iraq, UNSCOM reported to the UN Security Council in early 1999 that Iraq's claims that it had destroyed all its chemical and biological weapons could not be verified.

At the time the inspectors were forced to leave Iraq, UNSCOM assessed that Iraq had:

  • a residual, illegal long-range missile capability
  • a quantity of chemical munitions
  • the ability to manufacture more of those, including the toxic VX agent, and
  • a biological weapons manufacturing capability.

Mr Speaker

Let us not forget what these chemical and biological weapons do to their victims.

The effects of chemical weapons are horrific.

Mustard gas burns or blisters any part of the skin it touches. Many Australian families will recall the awful and persistent effects it had on Australian soldiers who fought during the first World War.

Just a few droplets of chemical nerve agents such as tabun, sarin and VX will kill within minutes if inhaled or within hours if absorbed through the skin. These agents attack the central nervous system, causing rapid paralysis, respiratory failure and death by asphyxiation.

Biological agents like anthrax, botulinum toxin, gas gangrene, aflatoxin and ricin are either lethal or incapacitate people in various ways. Like chemical weapons, they are indiscriminate in their application.

Mr Speaker

Since 1998 and the departure of the UN inspectors, there has been an accumulation of intelligence information from a range of human and technical sources pointing to Saddam Hussein having continued or stepped up his weapons of mass destruction programs.

Australian intelligence agencies report Iraq's continuing attempts to procure equipment, material and technologies that could assist its weapons of mass destruction program. They judge that Saddam Hussein's desire for weapons of mass destruction remains undiminished.

Iraq has been working to increase its chemical and biological weapon capability over the past four years. Let me give you three examples, based on intelligence reports.

First, there has been some reconstruction and renovation of dual-use chemical weapon production facilities, like chlorine and phenol plants. This includes chemical production facilities at Fallujah on the outskirts of Baghdad.

Secondly, defectors involved in Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program reported the continuing development of its biological and chemical capability, including in mobile biological weapons production plants and in hospitals.

Thirdly, in 2001 Iraq announced it would be renovating a facility at al-Dawrah that it claims is a Foot and Mouth Disease Vaccine facility. This facility was known to be a biological weapon agent production facility before the Gulf War.

In addition, Iraq is also believed to retain a small number of SCUD variant missiles, launchers and warheads. UNSCOM was unable fully to account for Iraqi SCUD-type missiles, warheads and components. In particular, it was not able to verify Iraq's claims relating to the number of missiles and warheads it claimed to have destroyed unilaterally.

During the 1980s, Iraq developed the capacity to build and to extend the range of SCUD missiles, capable of delivering both chemical and biological warheads.

The extended range SCUDs have a range of around 650km, making them capable of striking neighbouring countries, including Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran and some other Gulf States. Iraq is forbidden by Security Council Resolution 687 from possessing ballistic missiles with a range greater than 150km. Iraq is also suspected of retaining components and production equipment for these missiles.

Mr Speaker

Before the Gulf War, Iraq also conducted an extensive, clandestine nuclear weapons program - in clear breach of its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

IAEA inspectors mandated to implement the nuclear dimension of the UN Security Council resolutions were, like UNSCOM, denied access to Iraq after 1998.

As with chemical and biological weapons, the Australian Government has no reason to believe that Saddam Hussein has abandoned his ambition to acquire nuclear weapons. All the circumstances suggest the opposite.

Australian intelligence agencies believe there is evidence of a pattern of acquisition of equipment which could be used in a uranium enrichment program. Iraq's attempted acquisition of very specific types of aluminium tubes may be part of that pattern.

Iraq still has the expertise and the information to reconstitute a nuclear weapons program and may have continued work on uranium enrichment and weapons design.

And Iraq could shorten the lead-time for producing nuclear weapons if it were able to acquire fissile material from elsewhere. The International Institute for Strategic Studies - an independent research organisation - concluded that Saddam Hussein could build a nuclear bomb within months if he were able to obtain fissile material.

Iraq may also be using its program for the development of short-range missiles, permitted by the UN, to develop prohibited longer-range missiles. There have been recent indications, including in intelligence, of new construction work on missile-related production and test facilities. Iraq may be developing longer-range missiles prohibited by Security Council resolution 687.

Mr Speaker

The Government's view is that there is good reason to be extremely worried about the current status of Iraq's programs. Any reasonable person would have to share that view. Indeed, while in New York I was struck by the broad consensus which exists regarding Iraq's WMD capabilities.

It would be appropriate at this stage to say something about the Iraqi regime's involvement with international terrorism.

Terrorism is contrary to all civilized values. Iraq has a long history of state-sponsored terrorism. Saddam Hussein has consistently used terror as a key instrument of his regime's policies and has supported its use by others.

The Iraqi regime has long supported, hosted, funded and trained Palestinian and other terrorist groups including the Abu Nidal organisation and the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF), led by Abu Abbas. The Abu Nidal Organisation is responsible for major terrorist attacks in twenty countries. The PLF has mounted many attacks against Israel. Members may remember the attack on the cruise ship Achille Lauro some years ago. And it has undertaken state-directed terrorist activities in other countries, including many of Iraq's neighbours, over a long period.

Iraq has developed and supported the Mujaheddin-e-Khalq, which undertakes terrorist acts against Iraq's neighbour, Iran, and in other countries - including Australia. I remind the House that it was this body that attacked Iranian diplomats in Canberra in 1992.

The Mujaheddin-e-Khalq has several thousand armed supporters located at bases throughout Iraq. It is armed with weapons including tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and artillery.

In recent times, the Iraqi regime has openly praised suicide attacks against Israelis. It provides substantial financial grants, to the sum of US$25,000, to families of Palestinian suicide bombers.

A nightmare for the international community would be for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction to find their way into the hands of terrorist organisations.

And also, Mr Speaker, recent intelligence sources have confirmed the presence of al-Qaeda members in Iraq.

Mr Speaker, let me now turn to my third point.

We have been in extensive consultations with the U.S. Administration for a number of months on Iraq. Recently the Prime Minister spoke to President Bush on the matter. We are very pleased with the process outlined by the President in his address to the UN General Assembly on September 12.

I have just returned today from New York where I had the opportunity to discuss Iraq with a range of colleagues, including with US Secretary of State Colin Powell, US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov, the President of the EU Foreign Ministers, Per Stig Moller, and several foreign ministers from Arab countries.

Everyone I spoke to agreed that the threat from Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs were real and could not be ignored by the international community. There was also a clear understanding that the authority of the United Nations was at stake - a point also made by the UN Secretary General, Mr Annan.

I stressed the importance of what can be broadly described as due process and the need for the Security Council to meet its responsibilities in addressing the threat to international peace and security.

I said Australia's considered view was that the longer we wait, the more time we gave Iraq to work on new and covert ways to produce and deliver these weapons.

I said Australia believed that the United Nations has been patient. It had worked hard to satisfy Iraq's concerns about the previous inspection body, UNSCOM, by designing a new and more streamlined inspection body, UNMOVIC. The Secretary General had been unstinting in his efforts to get Iraq to comply with Security Council resolutions.

I also said that the requirements set out in United Nations resolutions would be satisfied only if inspectors are given immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access to all areas, facilities, equipment, records and relevant Iraqi officials.

Finally, Mr Speaker, I said while Australia would welcome new leadership in Baghdad, our primary concern was the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and its fundamental breach of international law.

With all relevant interlocutors in New York, especially the Permanent Members of the Security Council, I urged a fresh resolution be passed condemning Iraq for non-compliance with existing resolutions, demanding the immediate return of inspectors to fulfil their responsibilities and a short timeframe for this resolution to be adhered to. Australia has been more agnostic on the question of whether there should be more than one resolution.

It is clear from my discussions that the Permanent Members of the Security Council are very conscious of their responsibilities and are indeed engaged in discussions on possible resolutions.

Mr Speaker, I also had a meeting with the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Dr Naji Sabri. Although some countries have refused contact with the Iraqi regime, I judged that Australia should leave no stone unturned in our efforts to get Iraq to comply with international law and disarm and destroy its WMD programs.

I asked him quite directly why, if Iraq has nothing to hide, his government refused to allow comprehensive inspections. I told him that if Iraq has nothing to hide from the international community it also has nothing to fear from the international community. Indeed by meeting the demands of the international community Iraq and its people have everything to gain.

Iraq's announcement today that it is prepared to accept the immediate and unconditional return of weapons inspectors is a direct response to the strong stand taken by the international community, including, importantly and very significantly, Iraq's Arab neighbours. Australia has been playing, and will continue to play, its part in bringing pressure to bear on Iraq.

Mr Speaker

The onus is now squarely on Iraq to allow immediate and unfettered inspections leading to the complete and permanent disarmament of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. The Security Council cannot allow Iraq to resile from today's commitment, as, unfortunately, it has done in the past.

My fourth point, Mr Speaker, relates to Australia's national interests, which are directly involved here, and in very concrete ways.

We have a fundamental interest in global security. And we need to understand the ramifications that could flow from Iraq continuing to defy the authority of the Security Council and successfully pursue its program for weapons of mass destruction.

It would do enormous damage to the system of collective security so painstakingly built up over the past 57 years since the end of World War II. It would encourage proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to other countries and even to other regions. It would encourage some to believe that treaty obligations - such as those taken on by Iraq in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Biological Weapons Convention - can be flouted with impunity.

Because it is in our security interests, Australia has been at the forefront of UN and other work to develop and strengthen agreements to impede the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. We lead the Australia Group, which imposes controls on chemical and biological agents, and we are at the forefront of efforts to strengthen the NPT and in 1996 brought the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to life via the UN General Assembly.

For these reasons, we contributed strongly to UNSCOM. Over 110 Australians served with UNSCOM during its seven years of operation, making Australia the fourth largest national contributor.

Hence we have a major stake in the effectiveness of these expressions of collective will.

Australia also has an important stake in the stability of the Middle East. An Iraq with the capability to menace the region with weapons of mass destruction would be destabilising and would have major economic consequences for the world and for Australia, given the vital role that secure supplies of Middle Eastern oil play in the global economy.

Let us be clear. Chemical and biological weapons are not ordinary weapons. They are designed to cause mass casualties and they are indiscriminate. They kill or incapacitate in horrendous ways. In the hands of malign or unpredictable leaders, they are weapons of terror. They have no place in conventional warfare. They have no place in modern civilisation.

Mr Speaker

The purpose of this statement has been specific, namely to update the House on Iraq's ambition to develop and deploy chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, and my recent meetings in New York on this issue. We also need to take cautious account of Iraq's letter to the United Nations Secretary-General.

Obviously Australia hopes that this crisis will be resolved diplomatically and peacefully, through strong action by the Security Council involving full compliance by Iraq with its international obligations.

In the weeks ahead the authority of the Security Council will be put to the test. The international community must not be seduced by words alone.

We must not forget that it was Iraq which drove the weapons inspectors out in 1998 and has denied them access for four years. It is Iraq which after four years without inspections has to disprove that it possesses weapons of mass destruction.

The crisis is not over.

We must not reverse the onus of proof by taking it away from Iraq, the transgressor, and placing it on the international community.


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