Georgie’s latest reason for attacking Iraq:
The Duelfer report showed that Saddam was systematically gaming the system, using the U.N. oil-for-food program to try to influence countries and companies in an effort to undermine sanctions. He was doing so with the intent of restarting his weapons program, once the world looked away.
Given that strong statement, you’d think the preznit would be hot on the trail of them abettors of evildoers, right?
Wrong. Ya’ see, there’s an election in 25 days.
The Bush administration does not plan to take immediate action or pressure foreign governments to act against individuals or companies that may have violated U.N. sanctions against Saddam Hussein because it fears igniting new tensions with allies — and undermining the president’s message that he is working closely with the international community, according to U.S. officials.
“What’s next is subject to the election campaign. . . . We’re interested in tracking down the [illegal] trade but not interested in doing it before the elections for fear of opening up new fronts and further alienating European allies,” said a U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive diplomacy. “The inducement is to make no news.”
It’s too late to worry about pissing off the world, though. Consider them pissed.
Yesterday, a backlash built among countries that were listed in the report. European allies and individuals expressed outrage at being named, with the unstated implication that they may have engaged in illicit activity in violation of a U.N. resolution.
The atmosphere at a State Department briefing Tuesday for diplomats from countries in the report was “extremely bad” and some participants were “totally outraged,” said a foreign diplomat who attended the meeting. “The line of questioning was hostile. People wanted to know why they weren’t given further advance notice, why there was no specific information about what the report would say and why American companies were not named.”
Another envoy said the group, briefed by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State John F. Tefft, was fuming because the report concluded that Hussein did not seek new weapons of mass destruction after 1991, and yet implied some countries were helping such an effort. The diplomats were also angry because they were not given the report and were instead told to download it from the CIA Web site. But the site became so overwhelmed that some envoys said yesterday they had to try other Web sites, including washingtonpost.com.
In one section, the report lists the Indonesian president, the Russian foreign ministry, a former French cabinet official and the governments of two African countries as having cashed in on lucrative “vouchers” for millions of barrels of oil from Iraq, potentially for profit.
In Indonesia, foreign ministry spokesman Marty Natalegawa said yesterday that there is “no credence” to allegations that President Megawati Sukarnoputri made illegal use of Iraqi vouchers to cash in on 3.7 million barrels of oil. “It’s a fact that we took part in the oil-for-food program, but this notion of vouchers is far-fetched.”
In Washington, French Ambassador Jean-David Levitte “expressed anger at the process and said he was not happy that names of individuals and companies are being made public on the basis of allegations that have not been verified,” French Embassy spokeswoman Nathalie Loiseau said. Levitte also protested that the parties listed in the report were not given any opportunity to provide their side of the story, while the names of U.S. companies that conducted the same business were left out. Those companies were not identified because of U.S. privacy laws, U.S. officials said.
The Namibian government said it had never received vouchers for 7 million barrels of oil, as cited in the report, or bought oil from Iraq. In a statement, former Russian presidential candidate Vladimir Zhirinovsky said he never took oil or money from Iraq; the U.S. report, based on Iraqi documents, says he cashed in on almost 80 million barrels of oil.