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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.