Exchange With ITN’s Washington Correspondent on Iraq and Nuclear Weapons

This is a companion piece to yesterday’s Media Alert: ‘How to Legitimise War – Iraq and the British Media’. Media Lens recently challenged Robert Moore, ITN’s Washington Correspondent, on his support for the claim that Iraq might soon be armed with a nuclear weapon. This is a really key claim as it is likely to prove central in determining the extent of public support for a further massive assault against Iraq.

We were extremely impressed by Moore’s gracious and restrained responses.

Dear Robert Moore

On last night’s ITN report, you discussed President Bush’s urgent need to make a decision on whether to attack Iraq, saying, “As Dick Cheney, his vice president warned, Iraq may soon be armed with a nuclear weapon.” (August 27, 2002)

It is significant that you did not say, ‘+According+ to Dick Cheney, Iraq may soon be armed with a nuclear weapon.’ Your use of ‘As Dick Cheney… warned…’ clearly communicated your agreement with Cheney’s view. If I report the comments of a friend, A, regarding a second friend B, I might say: ‘According to A, B is untrustworthy.’ This has a very different meaning from my saying: ‘As A says, B is untrustworthy.’ The second sentence clearly supports A’s view.

Do you accept that this is the case? If so, can you outline the evidence that informs your personal belief that Iraq may soon be armed with a nuclear weapon? Would you agree that this clear expression of your personal belief conflicts with the idea of journalistic neutrality and objectivity?

Many thanks for your time.

Best wishes

David Edwards (August 28, 2002)

Robert Moore responded on August 28:

Dear Mr Edwards,

Thanks for getting in touch with your views and thoughts. It’s always good to know there are viewers out there actually listening and thinking!

I take on board your comments, but in this case I’m very comfortable with my analysis and commentary, knowing it’s shared by the United Nations experts in the field. My primary source was not so much US briefings but the man probably most qualified to make the judgement about Iraq’s ambitions for a nuclear device – Hans Blix, head of the disarmament team for Iraq (no great friend of Pentagin hawks and, as you may know, uniquely qualified to talk about nukes, since he is a former chairman of the International Atomic Energy Agency). He appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press programme this weekend and was asked if Iraq was lying & cheating (about efforts for a nuclear weapon). This was his reply: “Yes, they have. They have to adhere to non-proliferation treaties, under which they were committed not to make a nuclear weapon. And they were busily trying to enrich uranium and to plan for a nuclear weapon.”

Richard Butler, his predecessor, shares the view it’s an ongoing effort by Iraqi scientists. Of course, I also use that old journalistic tactic of saying “Iraq MAY soon be armed…”

So, there is my defence. But thanks again for taking the trouble to write, and as always it’s a reminder how careful we need to be with language as the US prepares for a controversial war with Iraq.

Best wishes, Robert

Robert Moore
ITN Washington Correspondent

Media Lens responded on August 31:

Dear Robert Moore

Many thanks for your prompt and courteous reply; it’s much appreciated. You’re doing a difficult job and I’m aware that you carry a real burden of moral responsibility.

You quote Hans Blix as saying:

“And they [the Iraqis] were busily trying to enrich uranium and to plan for a nuclear weapon.”

It’s no secret that this was the case, but these comments were all made in the past tense. In March, the Financial Times reported that Blix “does not accept as fact the US and UK’s repeated assertions that Baghdad has used the time [since Desert Fox] to rebuild its weapons of mass destruction”. Blix himself added:

“It would be inappropriate for me to accept and adopt this position, but it would also be naive of me to conclude that there may be no veracity – of course it is possible, I won’t go as far as saying probable.” (FT, 7 March 2002)

It is valuable to set Blix’s comments alongside those of Scott Ritter. I was surprised you failed to mention Ritter’s assessment – as senior UN weapons inspector in Iraq for seven years, he seems uniquely placed to assess the threat posed by the Iraqi regime. Ritter said this week:

“Of the four categories, nuclear is the one that was most thoroughly eradicated; two aspects of the program, weaponization and enrichment. Enrichment is 100 percent eradicated. We destroyed the facilities. We destroyed the means of production. And of all the aspects of weapons of mass destruction, this is the one that’s most difficult to reconstitute. It would require a major reacquisition of technology, almost all of which is controlled technology, very difficult to obtain even under the most favorable of circumstances, especially not easy when you have economic sanctions and the entire world’s collective intelligence apparatus looking at you. And then you’d have to rebuild the facilities, which again is eminently detectable, not something that’s done underground or in a basement or in a cave. And again, void of any data or facts that show Iraq has done this, don’t need to worry about enrichment.

“Which means if Iraq is to have a weapon, they need to acquire the fissile material, the highly enriched uranium or plutonium, from an outside source. And contrary to popular belief, there just is not a viable market out there for highly enriched uranium. It’s not on the market. There isn’t sellers out there. It’s not something that’s readily available. Iraq does have a weapons design. They have solved the problem of designing and building a device and I believe it’s possible for Iraq to construct this device in Iraq today using indigenous capabilities. But that device minus highly enriched uranium or plutonium is just a very expensive high-explosive bomb. It’s not a nuclear weapon. So again, I’m not too worried about Iraq’s nuclear program.” (National Public Radio (NPR) Show: Talk of the Nation, NPR August 28, 2002. Headline: ‘Threat that Iraq poses to the United States’)

Ritter added:

“I’ll tell you this, if we can substantiate that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction capacity, we would not be standing alone. We would be able to get Security Council acquiescence on military action and we would be able to build a viable coalition with, you know, depth throughout the international community to confront Saddam Hussein.

“So that’s why, again, I’m puzzled by the fact that if we have a case against Saddam, why aren’t we making it? Why are we committing diplomatic suicide by standing alone in this fashion, having the entire world desert us if, in fact, this is, you know, the threat that we say it is?

“The Israeli chief of staff came out just yesterday and said he’s not losing any sleep over Iraq. And, you know, this is Israel we’re talking about, the nation that would bear the brunt of any Iraqi weapon of mass destruction. And Israeli intelligence doesn’t see that Iraq is a threat along the level that Dick Cheney and others in the Bush administration have said. So what’s going on here?” (Ibid)

You’re right to refer to the assessment of Richard Butler, who certainly emphasised the threat posed by Iraq at the recent Senate hearings. But Butler’s track record makes me cautious in accepting his assessment. He seems to be very close to the US and, in 1998, he allowed US officials a direct role in shaping the text of his December UNSCOM report – the report that was then used as a pretext for ‘Operation Desert Fox’.

I hope you will consider these additional opinions. There are also strong circumstantial reasons for being sceptical of the assessments of officials like Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bush. A World Policy Institute (WPI) review of major Bush appointees published in May found that 32 major policy makers had significant financial ties to the arms industry prior to joining the administration, as compared with 21 appointees with ties to the energy industry. As an example, they discussed links with Lockheed Martin, the largest US defence contractor, with Pentagon contracts worth a total of nearly $30 billion in 2000 and 2001 alone. The WPI writes:

“In all, eight current policymakers had direct or indirect ties to the firm before joining the administration. Officials with indirect connections to the company include Vice President Dick Cheney… and Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, who worked at Shea and Gardner, the powerhouse DC law firm that represents Lockheed Martin (along with numerous other corporate clients). Bush appointees with more direct links to the firm include Assistant Secretary of State for Latin American Affairs Otto Reich, who worked as a paid lobbyist for Lockheed Martin when the company was seeking a reversal of the U.S. ban on the sale of high tech weapons to Latin America; and Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and Deputy Transportation Secretary Michael Jackson, both of whom served as Vice Presidents at Lockheed Martin prior to joining the administration.” (‘About Face: The Role of the Arms Lobby In the Bush Administration’s Radical Reversal of Two Decades of U.S. Nuclear Policy,’ A World Policy Institute Special Report by William D. Hartung, with Jonathan Reingold, May 2002

In April 2001, Julian Borger of the Guardian reported:

“In the Bush administration, business is the only voice… This is as close as it is possible to get in a democracy to a government of business, by business and for business.” (Borger, ‘All the president’s businessmen’, The Guardian, April 27, 2001)

In my view, these facts are well worth bearing in mind. It is awful to think that literally thousands of innocents may be made to suffer agonising death and mutilation as a result of policies, which may, at least in part, be rooted in quite cynical motivations. As journalists and human beings, I’m sure you will agree that we should do everything we can to expose cynicism where it exists and to protect human life where we are able.

Many thanks again for taking the trouble to respond.

Very best wishes


Moore responded for a second time on September 2:

Dear David,

Thanks for those well-argued and compassionate points. I will certainly bear them in mind in the months ahead as I continue to report on the Iraq story.

Best regards,


Robert Moore
ITN Washington Correspondent


The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. In writing letters to journalists, we strongly urge readers to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

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