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Ritter, Former Inspector, Speaks at MIT

By Beckett W. Sterner

Scott Ritter, the former chief weapons inspector of the United Nations Special Commission in Iraq, spoke last night to a packed audience at the MIT Technology and Culture Forum and called on the United States to seek the return of weapons inspectors instead of the overthrow of Iraq’s government. He was joined by Professor Stephen M. Walt of Harvard University.

“If it’s about weapons of mass destruction, then we should give inspectors a chance,” Ritter said.

President Bush has made Saddam Hussein’s ouster a goal of his administration. “Saddam Hussein is a threat to peace,” Bush said on Tuesday. “For 11 years he’s ignored the United Nations, and for 11 years he has stockpiled weapons.”

Ritter says Iraq almost disarmed

Citing recent overtures from the Iraqi government to allow inspectors back into the country, Ritter argued that inspectors should be given the chance to resume efforts that he said were ended when the U.S. and Britain initiated military action against Iraq in 1998.

Although “the Iraqis made the decision from the very beginning to lie,” Ritter said his inspection team nonetheless “achieved a very advanced degree of disarmament,” eliminating close to 95 percent of the weapons Iraq had when the team began its job in 1991.

Weapons left behind by the inspectors in 1998, and Iraqi programs in the interim, are unlikely to cause concern, Ritter said, citing the decay of several types of biological agents and the difficulty of evading detection while obtaining fissionable material to build a nuclear bomb.

Pentagon says Ritter ‘Russian’

A Department of Defense spokeswoman declined to comment on Ritter’s claims, saying only that she was “familiar with Mr. Ritter” and that “He’s a Russian citizen now too. ... He gave up his citizenship.”

It was unclear whether the spokeswoman meant that Ritter had renounced his American citizenship. She declined to elaborate, as did another Pentagon spokesman.

Ritter said the statement was untrue, that he remains a U.S. citizen, and that his wife, born in the Republic of Georgia, also recently became an American citizen. He called the Pentagon comments “character assassination.”

A spokeswoman for the White House expressed surprise at the military’s comments, promising an explanation. Later, another White House spokeswoman called to decline comment.

“I have no knowledge of that individual’s case,” she said, referring further inquiries to the Pentagon.

Walt discusses costs of U.S. action

Walt generally agreed with Ritter, addressing the consequences of a war with Iraq.

“Our presence in the Middle East created al-Qaida in the first place,” he said. “Do we want to stay longer?”

Walt said it was unlikely that Hussein, who has been Iraq’s president for 23 years, would suddenly provoke an American retaliation by launching weapons of mass destruction.

“Saddam Hussein has never used weapons of mass destruction against anyone who could retaliate,” he said. But Hussein might use what weapons he has if faced with certain death in a war against the U.S., he said.

He stressed that Iraq is a country of more than 20 million people, and the thinking that removing Hussein will revolutionize the country is unrealistic, he said.

Referring to U.S. and U.N. interventions in the former Yugoslavia, Walt said, “It’s much easier to get into these places than it is to get out. ... Once we win, we have no exit strategy.”