Powell: Iran is going down Iraq's path
COLIN Powell yesterday warned that Iran was heading down the same path as Iraq had done before the 2003 invasion and could not be trusted to tell the truth about its nuclear programme.
The former United States secretary of state said he believed Iran posed a serious threat to the rest of the world in the same way that Iraq had done, and he refused to apologise for the action the US took against Saddam Hussein's regime.
However Mr Powell, who was in Glasgow to address a Jewish group, admitted that the military campaign against Iraq was based on "bad intelligence" and that it was now clear that Saddam had not managed to amass any stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.
In an interview with The Scotsman, Mr Powell said it was clear that negotiations with Iran had come to a dead end and efforts now had to concentrate on preventing it taking the same path as Iraq had done.
"We are trying to keep it from being that way," he said. "Iraq actually had nuclear weapons capability that they were within a couple of years of bringing to weapons status. The UN found that after the war, even though Iraq denied it."
But he questioned whether Iran could be trusted: "Iran has a nuclear energy programme, they say, but the concern is that for so many years they have denied full access to what they are doing and have deceived the international community.
"Should the international community believe that it is simply an energy programme for a nation that is awash with oil?"
It was Mr Powell who was sent to the UN to present the case for going to war against Iraq, a case which was based on intelligence which later proved to be badly flawed, but he said he did not believe the backlash over Iraq would hinder attempts to deal with Iran. "I think there is no dispute within the international community that over the years Iran has not been forthcoming with information concerning its programmes," he said.
He went on: "This is not just a judgment of US intelligence - the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] has made that judgment and even Iran itself has acknowledged gaps in the information it has provided over time, so there is sufficient reason to take what the Iranians are doing with some scepticism and suspicion."
But the retired general, who was chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff during the first Gulf War, said he did not believe that the case had yet been made for an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. "We are not planning any military action. Everybody seems to be talking today about war," he said. Instead, he argued, Iran should be referred to the UN Security Council.
"We have been trying to get it to the Security Council for years. Our friends in the EU wanted to follow a different track and we supported it for the last two years, but now that track has run into a dead end and I think there is a strong consensus that [Iran] ought to be referred from the IAEA to the Security Council."
Questioned about which country posed the greatest threat, Saddam's Iraq or present-day Iran, Mr Powell said that Iran needed to be taken seriously, just as Iraq had been.
"They both are serious. Iraq was a serious matter in that for a dozen years it ignored all the UN resolutions that were in place against it. It had a history of using chemical weapons and a record of pursuing nuclear and biological and chemical technology," he said. Where the US had gone wrong on Iraq, he said, was in believing the intelligence reports that it had stockpiles of WMDs.
"We had bad intelligence. But I have no second thoughts about the claims we made, that this was a nation that had those intentions."
And he added: "The only error in our intelligence was that we thought they had stockpiles and it turned out when we got into the country and looked there were no stockpiles.
"So that was an error in our intelligence. But there was no error in the judgment we made that this was a country that had the intention of having such weapons, had them in the past, had the capability to develop them and if left to their own devices ... they would have returned to such developments. Neither President Bush nor Prime Minister Blair or a number of other leaders were prepared to take that risk."
Mr Powell said he was glad Saddam's regime had been toppled and he expressed surprise that so many people remained focused on what had happened in Iraq in the lead-up to the war, rather than concentrating on the future of that country.
"We ought to be looking at the fact that the Iraqi people are desperately trying to put down an insurgency so that they can have a freely elected government that can operate in peace," he said.
He added: "They have had elections in the face of bombs, in the face of terror incidents, and they still come out to vote, they come out to join the police force, they come out to join the military. Rather than celebrating that, we have this constant argument about the intelligence issue of several years ago. We ought to be looking forward."
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