Fired for Standing in Way of Iraq War: Ousted Director of Nobel-Winning OPCW Speaks Out

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Common Dreams

Fired for Standing in Way of Iraq War: Ousted Director of Nobel-Winning OPCW Speaks Out

Statements come as Norwegian Nobel Committee falls under criticism for caving to U.S. power

Jose Bustani (Photo: AP/Wide World Photos)

Jose Bustani (Photo: AP/Wide World Photos)

The former director general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which won the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize, declared Sunday that he was ousted from the organization's helm over a decade ago for making plans to investigate Iraq's weapons stocks, thereby limiting the Bush administration's ability to build justification for invasion on unverified weapons claims.

The public statements are likely to cast a further pall over a Norwegian Nobel Committee decision that, many have charged, fails to stand up to U.S. power and aggression.

Former director general José Bustani, now France's ambassador to Brazil, told the New York Times in an exclusive interview published Sunday that efforts to unseat him date back to late 2001, when Iraq showed interest in joining the Chemical Weapons Convention, which OPCW oversees. As one condition of joining, countries must open their doors to weapons inspection and destruction. Under Bustani, OPCW inspectors made plans for Iraq weapons inspections in 2002.

Bustani says those plans caused an "uproar in Washington" and unleashed a torrent of threats against him. “By the end of December 2001, it became evident that the Americans were serious about getting rid of me,” he stated. “People were telling me, ‘They want your head.’”

Bustani says he received a call in 2002 from then-U.S. Under Secretary of State John R. Bolton that he had 24 hours to resign. When he refused, his ouster was put to a vote, and after a U.S. pressure campaign, he was pushed out. "He was reportedly the first head of an international organization to be pushed out of office this way, and some diplomats said the pressure campaign had made them uneasy," the New York Times reports. One of the pressure tactics the U.S. used to achieve Bustani's ouster was to threaten a cut to the OPCW's budget, 22 percent of which was controlled by the U.S., and warning other countries would do the same, diplomats told the New York Times.

Bustani holds that he was pushed out because he presented an obstacle in the path of George W. Bush's drive for war. Claims that Saddam Hussein possessed chemical weapons were central to the push for invasion. “Everybody knew there weren’t any,” Bustani told the New York Times. “An inspection would make it obvious there were no weapons to destroy. This would completely nullify the decision to invade.”

While Bolton vigorously denied Bustani's claims when interviewed by the New York TImes, arguing he was ousted for 'incompetence,' several diplomats back up Bustani's version of events. They include Celso Lafer, the former Brazilian foreign minister, who said that in 2002, he was told by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, ‘I have people in the administration who don’t want Bustani to stay, and my role is to inform you of this.’

Many charge that, by awarding the Nobel Prize to a weakened OPCW that caves to U.S. power, the Norwegian Nobel Committee falls short of pushing universal principles of peace and disarmament. “Under the Bush administration, the OPCW and its leadership was attacked and undermined because it dared to use inspections rather than unsubstantiated claims to determine the existence of these dangerous arsenals and peaceful means rather than war to eliminate them," declared leading Middle East scholar Stephen Zunes in a statement released by the Institute for Public Accuracy.

"I think the very fact that we do have the OPCW beginning the process of disarming Syria’s chemical weapons, whereas we don’t have such activity in Israel and Egypt, is indicative that even the best international organizations are limited by what the great powers can say they can or cannot do," he added in an interview with Democracy Now! Friday.

Some, however, hope that by awarding the OPCW this prize, the Norwegian Nobel Committee can ultimately strengthen diplomacy as an alternative to war. Robert Naiman of Just Foreign Policy told Common Dreams, "The decision of the Nobel committee to give the Peace Prize to the OPCW will help add pressure for Israel to ratify the chemical weapons treaty, for Egypt to ratify the treaty, and for the U.S. to use its leverage with the Egyptian government to bring them into the convention."

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