Ronald Cleminson (Interview)

Ronald Cleminson was working for the Department of External Affairs in 1991, helping to develop techniques to verify compliance with international arms treaties, when he was assigned to the first team of UN weapons inspectors going to Iraq.

Cleminson, Ronald (Interview)

Ronald Cleminson was working for the Department of External Affairs in 1991, helping to develop techniques to verify compliance with international arms treaties, when he was assigned to the first team of UN weapons inspectors going to Iraq. The Persian Gulf War had just ended, and the Iraqis were co-operative. But Cleminson, who lives in Ottawa, went to Iraq again in 1998, and this time found local authorities deceptive and well-schooled in frustrating the inspectors. Cleminson is now one of 16 UN commissioners involved in overseeing the latest UN team planning to head into Iraq. He spoke with Maclean's World Editor Tom Fennell.

Does Iraq possess weapons of mass destruction?

I'm not sure of the case that is being built against them. For example, people in the United States are saying they have battalions of Scud missiles. They clearly don't - the UN has accounted for 817 of the 819 missiles they had. There was no nuclear weapons program in 1998, and we would be able to identify it if there was one now. As far as chemical weapons go, I believe 85 per cent of their supplies were destroyed.

And germ warfare?

They admitted having nuclear and chemical weapons programs, but never their germ warfare program, and we're still at the starting gate in that area. This was a program they wanted to keep hidden, and it's difficult to detect because laboratories could be almost anywhere. Verification and compliance will be difficult.

To an outsider, looking for Iraqi weapons is like hunting for a needle in a haystack.

But you have to remember that 90 per cent of Iraq's military capability is within 100 km of Baghdad. So when I was there and we started off in the morning, we didn't tell the Iraqis where we were going, and we could take off at any time to look at installations. The new team will have the advantage of using everything we have learned over the last decade.

What timeline do you see on the latest UN mission, and will the Iraqis co-operate?

Hans Blix, the Swedish diplomat who heads the verification group, will meet with the Iraqis on Sept. 30, and then the mission will have to get its headquarters in Baghdad up and running. If Saddam co-operates fully with the inspectors, in 10 months Blix should be able to go to the UN and say, "My 200 experts have found the following and here is my judgment."

But if there is a stumbling block, he will report to the Security Council. And the statements of President Bush don't leave any illusions as to what will happen if Blix can't proceed. You would think common sense would lead Saddam to co-operate, but when does Saddam use common sense?

The credibility of the UN seems to be on the line, along with the fate of Saddam.

Blix's mandate is clear, but if the UN can't handle this and the U.S. acts unilaterally, then the UN could forever be an invalid. That's why it's important that every single nation in the world should be supporting the UN in this.

See also TERRORISM.

Maclean's September 30, 2002