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Updated: October 16, 2013 01:35 IST

‘India’s vote against me came as a big shock’

Shobhan Saxena
Comment (10)   ·   print   ·   T  T  
José Maurício Bustani. File Photo.
José Maurício Bustani. File Photo.

‘The Bush administration feared that chemical weapons inspections in Iraq would neutralise their plans for invading it as there were no chemicals weapons. By December 2001, I knew that the Americans were serious about getting rid of me.’

José Maurício Bustani could have prevented the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But the first director general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was shown the door at a special session of the then 145-nation watchdog in 2002. It’s an open secret that the Brazilian diplomat was fired by the OPCW under pressure from the U.S. administration of George W. Bush, which saw Bustani as a major obstacle in its plans to attack Iraq. After leaving the global organisation, Bustani quietly returned to Brazilian diplomatic service. As the OPCW was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last Friday, the world suddenly remembered the first chief of the organisation and his controversial exit.

In an exclusive interview with The Hindu’s Shobhan Saxena in Sao Paulo, Bustani, who is now Brazil’s ambassador to France, told his side of the story: the real reasons behind his removal from the OPCW, how he could have stopped the Iraq war and how shocked he was by India’s vote against him.

What was your first reaction when you heard that the OPCW has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize?

I felt happy because it’s the recognition of all the good work done by the organisation in the past 15 years. They certainly deserved it for all their efforts in making the world safe from chemical weapons. It’s also a recognition and acceptance of the OPCW as an instrument of diplomacy in peace processes. It’s playing a very important role in such processes, and not just in Syria.

But it’s not just a coincidence that the prize has been announced as chemical weapons inspectors are working in Syria...

Yes, that is definitely a factor but the present situation in Syria is very different from what it was 11 years ago in Iraq. At that time, the U.S. was determined to oppose Iraq joining the convention against the weapons, which it did not even have. But right now inspectors from the organisation are cataloguing the Syrian government’s stockpiles of chemical weapons as a step forward in Syria’s civil war. So, the OPCW is a part of the peace plan this time. In 2002, it was seen as an obstacle to U.S. plans to invade Iraq.

What exactly happened in 2002? When were you forced to leave? There is a lot of speculation about it but what’s your side of the story?

As the first director general of the watchdog, I had a huge task of building it into a good organisation. In the beginning, we had just 87 members but we created a code of conduct and made a programme of technical assistance for member nations and we got many more countries — almost double the number — to sign the charter. I got re-elected for a second term in 2001 and later that year, things begin to turn bad after Iraq and Libya expressed their desire to join the Chemical Weapons Convention, the international treaty. As to become a member a country has to provide a list of stockpiles and agree to the inspection and destruction of weapons, our inspectors were planning to visit Iraq in January 2002. That caused a major uproar in Washington and I began to get warnings from American and other diplomats. The Bush administration feared that chemical weapons inspections in Iraq would neutralise their plans for invading it as there were no chemicals weapons. By December 2001, I knew that the Americans were serious about getting rid of me. I fought hard till the end. But the western countries all came together and the developing nations failed to back me.

So, they basically removed you because you were an obstacle in their plan to invade Iraq?

Yes. If our plan about chemical weapons inspection in Iraq had been accepted, there would be no war. In those months, Washington was claiming that Saddam Hussein had chemical weapons, but our experts believed that those weapons were destroyed in the 1990s after the war with Iran. An inspection would make it obvious there were no weapons to destroy. This would have made it impossible for the Americans to invade Iraq. So, they accused me of going beyond my mandate without consulting with the member nations. They used this as a justification to call a special session and vote me out.

In 2002, Brazil was a developing country and yet you couldn’t get support from other developing nations...

I didn’t even get enough support from my own government. Our government (of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso) was pressured by Washington. Initially, the Americans failed to get a no-confidence motion against me from the OPCW’s executive council. But then they threatened to cut off its financing. They were supported by Japan and then the U.K. With the U.S. and Japan, which provided almost half the funds, threatening to stop financing, the organisation faced the risk of collapsing. And Washington pressured other major developing countries to vote against me. Even India voted against me. That was quite shocking.

But India has quite a good record of chemical weapons elimination...

Yes, but the Indian government was pressured by Washington to vote against me. I was banking on India to support me as that would have mobilised other developing countries as well. But India’s vote came as a big shock.


Nobel award propels OPCW into spotlightOctober 11, 2013

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How can India alone be pointed out, when Brazilian Government itself would not support Mr. Bustani?

from:  Krishna V V
Posted on: Oct 17, 2013 at 20:38 IST

Bustani's statement isn't a great shock for many people who've followed
the Bush Administration's actions prior to the Iraq war. The Americans
were hell bent on invading Iraq and would have done whatever was
necessary to go through with it. I am just sorry that India did not
attempt to put its foot down. It is all well and good to support the
US, but it must not be at the expense of those values we hold dear as a

from:  Renjini
Posted on: Oct 17, 2013 at 11:16 IST

India was vying to get benefits from NSG and US for it's civilian
nuclear program, that could be a reason why India got pressured into not
supporting José Maurício Bustani

from:  Vineet
Posted on: Oct 17, 2013 at 04:38 IST

A good article to point out how financial muscle works behind the scene and Bush´s self-interest persuaded by war lords and petroleum CEO plunged the world for the first time into US100 dollars and above per barrel of oil.

from:  Dr N T Chellappa
Posted on: Oct 16, 2013 at 18:48 IST

Iraq war was result of vested interests of US, which boomeranged for US as well.If
international community showed some guts that time and backed Bustani's proposal to
send the team of inspectors from opcw to check whether chemical weapons frail
existed with Iraq, the much bloodshed and turmoil could have avoided.It's good that
this time multilatrislm prevailed over unilateral decision and opcw has been
successful to avoid another chaos in middle east.The OPCW is doing commendable job
in obviating fear of underming soverignith of other countries in the name if human
rights violation.Hope the Hague based organisation be continuous inspiration to the
world which seeks stability and transquillity.

from:  Shivraj Gurjar
Posted on: Oct 16, 2013 at 16:43 IST

Every one has their own say, but if what he is saying the truth, then
Bush Govt. and their supporters are the real wolves.

from:  Manu Prakash
Posted on: Oct 16, 2013 at 16:43 IST

This incidence and many more incidence of past of trying to impinge
upon the autonomy of international peacekeeping organisations by
western nations is the very serious issues, which must be raised by all
developing nations in one voice .There is need to make international
organisation more democratic and suitable to contemporary
geopolitics.There is urgent need to expand the United nations security
councils, that should include the emerging economies also. How can a
council could be said global in nature if it lefts out a country which
is home to around the 18% global population.

from:  manish kumar
Posted on: Oct 16, 2013 at 16:22 IST

Nice Interview! Now a days a lot of talk about 'appeasing Muslims' in
India. Perhaps India appeasing US seems to be more common and more
frequent than that, and this needs more attention and response. By the
way, for those who talk much about the former: the rather more dangerous
US 'appeasing,' when India satisfied US by voting against Bustani, has
happened in 2002, when BJP was leading India!

from:  Muthuraj S.
Posted on: Oct 16, 2013 at 14:58 IST

It would be quite surprising for Indians if we vote against N.Americas
will. This is a finely crafted pogrom against Iraq and Saddam by Bush's
and vice president Dick Chaney, it is a well known fact.

from:  sandeep kumar
Posted on: Oct 16, 2013 at 14:39 IST

Was he surprised?

from:  Abhinav
Posted on: Oct 16, 2013 at 13:45 IST
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