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[casi-analysis] The depth of her ignorance: Claudia Rosett faces Benon Sevan

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In promoting the faux scandal-of-convenience involving Oil for Food, journalists
in the neocon echo chamber (the Wall Street Journal editorial board, the
National Review, the NYT's William Safire, the Washington Post's George Will)
are dangerously exposed. I don't think they have a clue how disastrous their
position could be, both morally and journalistically, and good riddance to them

A warning for Mr. Will and Mr. Safire (who know some history): David Irving.

Former WSJ editorial board member Claudia Rosett[1] is one of the shrillest
cheerleaders of this bunch, the lead shill for scandal.  She faced her bete noir
Benon Sevan last year on CNN, and the transcript reveals more of Ms. Rosett's
ignorance and peevish agression than any critic could possibly muster.  Sevan's
exasperated outrage speaks volumes, too.

Drew Hamre
Golden Valley, MN USA

[1] Rosett's bio (and note transcript mis-spells her name)



What Will Happen to Oil for Food Program?

Aired May 4, 2003 - 03:30:00   ET


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are told the people of Iraq are saying they receive
nothing. It is the biggest (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I've ever heard in my life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't see how the United Nations could be sidelined.



MICHAEL OKWU, GUEST HOST: Accusations and anger, conflict and concessions.
Iraqis return to the United Nations after the U.N. was sidelined by war. And we
are back too after our own war hiatus. Hello and welcome to DIPLOMATIC LICENSE.
I'm Michael Okwu, sitting in for Richard Roth.

Is diplomacy also back? Will nations be able to kiss and make up after the big
split over Iraq? They would have to get along if they are going to work out the
tangle of issues a post-war Iraq bring. Some of the toughest: Iraq's oil and
what to do with the humanitarian "Oil for food" program.

The idea was simple: Allow Iraq to sell its oil, and the profits would feed its
people. And by many accounts it's worked. Each week, Iraqis received a food
basket containing key items, like dried milk, beans, soap. In fact, the program
has been feeding 60 percent of Iraq's roughly 26 million people.

The Security Council established the program in 1995. Why? To blunt the effect
of sanctions on the Iraqi people. Council members set up rules, procedures for
approving contracts with a keen eye towards monitoring items that could be
questionable. Billions of dollars were placed in a U.N. escrow account. That
figure stands at 3.2 billion today, with roughly 10 billion worth of goods in
the pipeline to Iraq.

The program technically expires on June 3. But already diplomatic lines are
being drawn.


JOHN NEGROPONTE, U.S. AMB TO U.N.: The Iraqi people should have access to their
own resources and dispose of them as they see fit.

SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIA AMB TO U.N.: The "Oil for Food" program could be further
used, and in absence of the government, it should be, we believe, discussed
whether to give the authority to the secretary-general.

JEAN-MARC LE LA SABLIERE, FRENCH AMB TO U.N.: So many people are depending on
the "Oil for Food" program. So we have to go cautiously.


OKWU: While the council debates the fate of "Oil for Food," a slew of attacks
have resurfaced in the American media, accusing the program of being as one U.S.
general put it "the oil for palace" program. One journalist called it "an
invitation for kickbacks," political back scratching and smuggling.

Pretty strong words about "Oil for Food". We have that writer right here,
Claudia Rossett, a freelance journalist and columnist for the opinion journal
and Web site for the "Wall Street Journal". But no free ride for Ms. Rossett
today. We also have in the studio the man at the held of "Oil for Food", Benon
Sevan, executive director of the United Nations Office of the Iraq program.

Let me talk to one of your accusers. Claudia Rossett, you've used some very
harsh language about this organization, about this particular program, a program
that's provided over $27 billion for goods for Iraqi people. Tell me why.

CLAUDIA ROSSETT, FREELANCE JOURNALIST: Well, let's just quickly say the 27
billion that's been provided came from the oil money of Iraq. It did not come
from the U.N.

But let's talk about full transparency for a minute. Because this is
information, we are told, is provided to the Security Council members, but it is
not provided to the public in any way that you or I can have access to.

And I have a question for Mr. Sevan, which is, somewhere between the beginning
of this program with four billion a year envisioned in funding from Iraqi oil
money and medicine and food for children, you were right at the point where last
December you and the secretary-general were approving things like $20 million
for an Olympic sport city, $50 million for the Ministry of Information. We know
what that was in Iraq. Air conditioners for the Ministry of Justice. Was there
justice in Iraq? And I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about where, in
the course of the program, something crossed that line, that you were funding,
we have to assume, without any further information, the things like the sports
city were in the jurisdiction of Saddam Hussein's son.

wish you could have done before you made these accusations, which are totally
unfounded, I'm sorry to say, Mr. Rossett, you should have done a little bit of
research and read about the program. We have a fantastic Web site, by the way,
we just opened. I think it's one of the best Web sites in terms (ph) of the

OKWU: What about your accusations?


OKWU: ... focus has shifted?

SEVAN: There is one thing. You talk about Olympics stadium. True, there was, as
recommended, but what program (UNINTELLIGLBLE) we received the contract for
$40.1 million, by the way, for the Olympic stadium, and not the single cent was
approved. You know very well, the Security Council gave the authority to Iraqi
government under the organization of the program to select its own contractors,
to submit some proposals, but they were all subject to approval by the Security
Council committee after full review and clearance by my office, plus UNMOVIC,
plus IAEA. Therefore, not a single dollar was (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

OKWU: So where does your responsibility lie?

SEVAN: My responsibility lies the following: The government of Iraq was given
authority to implement the program fully in the 15 governorates (ph) for which
it was responsible. We, the United Nations, including nine specialized agencies
in the program, were given the authority to implement the program, again, by the
Security Council on behalf of the government of Iraq. It is not me who decided
that arrangements.

At the same time, all concerns, all members of the Security Council reaffirm the
territory integrity and the national sovereignty of the Iraqi. Therefore, I had
to work within the confines and the parameters established by the Security

OKWU: You are talking about the confines and parameters. You clearly have issues
with the way this entire program is structured. Very briefly, if you can, what
are those salient points, what are your problems with the structure?

ROSSETT: May I very quickly just address the point about the sport stadium? What
probably cut that off was the war. Because that was approved in December...

SEVAN: It was not approved, Madam, I'm sorry, you are dead wrong.

ROSSETT: It's....

SEVAN: I have the facts here.

ROSSETT: Well...

SEVAN: I know what I'm talking about, but you don't know, unfortunately.

ROSSETT: I have spent a great deal of time on your Web site, which is extensive,
but omits information about details and you cannot...

SEVAN: Like what, details like what? Because these are big words you are using,
details. Please give me the details, I'm ready to provide you with all the

ROSSETT: We'll get to the structure in a minute. But for example, one of the
things approved quite recently was the purchase of television equipment from
Russia. There are three things that are vital in understanding any business
contract and deciding whether or not it is a reasonable deal. The price, who
it's being bought from and what precisely and in what quantities is being

I -- there is no public disclosure, and I had asked your press people and they
have told me this is not publicly available. Can you tell us or provide details
to the public of what were the names of the Russian companies, what exactly was
approved to be shipped, and how much was paid? Because this question applies to
every contract under the program, and there is no transparency on the answers.

SEVAN: Are you objecting because the company is Russian?

ROSSETT: I'm asking...

SEVAN: No, no, first I'd like to know, whether you are objecting because the
company is a Russian company, or a French company, because unfortunately, you,
along with your colleagues, who had been attacking the program on ideological
grounds, by the way, I'm sorry to say, purely on ideological grounds, you are
making the mistake of judging the genuineness of a contract, the needs for the
items ordered, solely based on the nationality of contractors.


OKWU: Let's assume...


OKWU: I do have to cut you off, Mr. Sevan. Let's assume for a moment...

SEVAN: Please.

OKWU: ... that they are United States companies, or that she doesn't have a
problem with the fact that they are Russian companies. Are you ready to name
those companies and the amount and quantities that were -- that were secured?

SEVAN: All this information is provided to Security Council, (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
Security Council established rules and regulations. I report to the
secretary-general, to the Security Council, not to Ms. Rossett...

OKWU: That brings us to another question, which is, Ms. Rossett, to what extend
is his agency accountable to anyone else beyond the Security Council? The
Security Council in essence is his boss. Why should you see his books?

ROSSETT: This is a beautiful lead into the structure of the program. And the
answer is, it's a very badly structured program. The incentives here are
enormously perverse (ph).


OKWU: Let's go ahead and finish that. Let her finish for a moment.

ROSSETT: Yes. I'm not questioning how well you carried out the mandate here. I'm
questioning the actual structure of the program. And let's start with the fact
that this is a very, very different from most relief programs, in that it is not
funded by donations from U.N. members or individuals or -- it's funded by
tapping directly into Iraq's oil funds (ph). And this gives a sort of steady and
enormous source of income. We are talking about $64 billion worth of contracts
in oil sales vetted by the U.N. That's tremendous clout.

And to be able to approve, reject, know what's going on in there and then buy
the goods that come in, the 27 billion worth, or 10 billion (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
contracted for. This is huge business. And the idea that the U.N. should simply
-- that this program simply operates by taking in 2.2 percent of those oil
funds, which has come to more than $1 billion. So....

SEVAN: (UNINTELLIGIBLE), $1 billion. And I'm not ashamed to say to you, and also
from that we saved (UNINTELLIGIBLE) which are returned to the program for
purchase of additional food -- additional food items and from the remaining
(UNINTELLIGIBLE) $800 million. I'd like to challenge Madam to give me a single
man since you've been working with "Wall Street Journal," to give you the name
of a single American company or a private organization which works for less that
2 percent over its cost. What (UNINTELLIGIBLE) American company which are going
down to Iraq total its cost?

ROSSETT: I wish...

SEVAN: Please, don't tell about -- we are talking about implementation of a
program of $45 billion, by the way.


OKWU: The fact is, most companies operate with the budget of, say, 15, 20
percent for operating cost. What would you say to that? 2.2 billion - 2.2
percent - that's far less than the status quo.

SEVAN: We should not even use it.

ROSSETT: I was hoping this would come out, because it's a wonderful example...


ROSSETT: ... by the end (ph) of that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) business. You are not in
the business of producing oil. This is 2.2 percent of the oil revenues. That's
what that should reflect. You are...

SEVAN: No, no, no.

ROSSETT: ... in the business of administering...

SEVAN: No, no, no, I'm sorry. I were supposed to be administering the revenues
provided by oil experts, which was done by Iraq and Iraqi government, not by the

ROSSETT: You are speaking as if you were the owner of an oil company.

SEVAN: No, no, no.

ROSSETT: ...which is precisely the problem.


SEVAN: It was the countries on the Security Council which -- they took the
decision to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) structures. You ask your own government along other
governments who are members of the Security Council. So therefore stop blaming
the United Nations, because the problem with you and your kind of people is,
whenever it suits you, you need the will (ph) of the United Nations, as an
intergovernmental body, whenever it does not suit you, you accuse the
(UNINTELLIGIBLE) There is -- there has to be a distinction made as an
intergovernmental body, the United Nations, and the secretary.

OKWU: I know you are chomping at the bit, but I have to move this forward, we
have very little time here. What is your feeling about what will happen after
June 3? That's, of course, when the mandate runs out for this program. Very
briefly. Less than 10 seconds.

ROSSETT: I know it will be a big fight. My hope is that the Iraqi people will
end up administering their own oil and that this program, which creates huge
incentives for the U.N. to keep its hand in this oil pot will be ended.


SEVAN: No, I'm very sorry, I reject totally, Mr. Okwu, this accusation. Clear
cut, blunt accusation, which is totally false. We are not looking for jobs, I
assure you. And if you think the U.N. is skimming, I'm very sorry. We spend
about $800 million, we have over 900 staff numbers inside Iraq, with 3,500
national (ph) staff, crisscrossing the country for observations. We have done
more than two million observations, monitoring reports from where supplies
arrive under the program, monitoring the oil flow out of U.N. timeline (ph),
monitoring also the lifting of oil, and you tell me we are skimming? Skimming
what? What proof do you have we skim anything? I'm very sorry to say. This is
very easy to talk la-la-la- la, you know.

OKWU: Mr. Sevan, I appreciate your joining us, I am going have to stop it there
and get in the last word. Claudia Rossett, I appreciate your time as well.

ROSSETT: Thank you.

OKWU: Clearly, we are not going to reach reconciliation on this one, but the
Security Council is going to have to in the future deal with this.

<remainder deleted due to space>

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