Senate Foreign Relations Committee Holds Hearing on World Hunger Report

By:  Joe Biden, Jr.
Date: Feb. 25, 2003
Location: Washington, DC

BIDEN:
Well, thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I apologize for being late. I was committed to an interview on Iraq. For some reason, I didn't have all the answers.

I'd like to thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing on hunger around the world and the challenges of an effective U.S. response. As the chairman and those in the room are well aware, there are a number of countries across several regions that have long been facing severe food shortages—North Korea and Africa specifically mentioned in the hearing title. But food needs in Latin America, South Asia, the Middle East are just as urgent and concern us all greatly.

We've got a lot of urgent issues in our box—our preventing North Korea from becoming a plutonium factory, dealing with Saddam Hussein, helping establish peace and security in Afghanistan. In that context, it's going to all be a little bit too easy, I think, for all of us to dismiss the problem of hunger. I'm not suggesting my friend—our friends in front of us dismiss the problem. They don't at all.

I will cut to the chase, as they say, Mr. President—Mr. Chairman, and suggest that the thing that perplexes me the most and after my colleagues have asked their questions, I will wait until then because I am late, I think the line item requested is the same amount of money this year as last year.

I don't know where in the budget it may exist, where humanitarian assistance and food aid for Iraq is. Is this factored in? I mean, where will all that come from? I don't think it is, but I don't know where it comes from. I don't know whether or not in any negotiation with North Korea, if we get to that point, what impact any food assistance, which is a dire concern and necessity in the North, assuming we get to that point, how that all factors in.

And so, I am looking forward to hearing being brought up on what the first witnesses have already said, or at least Mr. Morris has already said and hearing Mr. Natsios speak to this. But I ask unanimous consent that the remainder of my statement be placed in the record as if read. Thank you both for being here and you, Mr. Chairman, for the courtesy of allowing me to make this brief opening statement.

BIDEN:
I want to go back to Iraq and not talk about the budget, but about the infrastructure. If, in fact, there is a massive need, and I don't know that there will be, but if there is a massive need for humanitarian assistance, including food, how—that will, in large part, be distributed by the military. But to sustain this, I assume, I don't know, I mean, have you been in on any of the planning. Has there been any discussions with you all about what part you would play? Not the budget, but just purely from the standpoint of infrastructure.

NATSIOS:
Senator, one, there is no food emergency in Iraq. People are well fed. The regime has doubled rations over the last six months to get more political support and they have a functional distribution system.

It is, however, a totalitarian distribution system. The state is the sole supplier of food to 60 percent of the population. And the danger of that, of course, is when that is disrupted. For any reason, it is disastrous. They did disrupt it deliberately. They shut off the Marsh Arabs when they were trying to—when they emptied marshes as you know, in the mid-nineties and they facilitated that by shutting off all the rations for the Marsh Arabs and many of them died as a result of that.

When they were encouraging Kircook (ph) of Turkmen, they did it by shutting off all their rations. And so, they use it as a political weapon in addition to a way of controlling the population. But it does work efficiently. There are 42,000 distribution agents. The ration is published in the paper every two weeks. You get ration tickets. It is a computerized system and it actually, other than the abuses of it that are used by totalitarian states whenever you put all that power in one government's hands, so it does work efficiently and we, I have to say, the World Food Programme and I'll let Jim talk about that, works very well in terms of the efficiency of the macroeconomics—I'm sorry, the macro picture, at least in the northern part of the country.

In terms of what will happen, should there be a conflict, should there be a conflict, our intention is to protect the existing system. It is funded through the oil for food program. We expect that program and want that program to continue, because the system works.
We do want to add into the system...

BIDEN:
That will continue, assuming that the contingency plans don't have to be initiated if he blows up the oil fields. It will continue if, in fact, there is some oil through which they can raise the money for food. It will continue if, in fact, I mean, the plans, I understand, within this administration are that we may have to assume responsibility of feeding between 40 percent and 60 percent of the Iraqi people. And the U.N.'s Oil for Food Program may be disrupted for weeks, if not months, depending on the damage to the oil fields and disruption in the administrative structures that exist.

So, I mean, there must be some contingencies plans. I mean, everything works fine. Assuming that, the x-thousand distribution points are not disrupted, the computer system functions, the oil flows and all goes well. I don't know where the hell you guys are living.

NATSIOS:
Well, I would just separate the oil fields over the long term. That is a problem years from now. There is seven months worth of purchases that have already been made and the money to do those purchases is already in U.N. accounts.

BIDEN:
OK.

NATSIOS:
There is $3 billion or $4 billion in these oil accounts of money that has already been put in them by the program. The purchases have already been done in countries—I can go through the countries that are the principle sources of the food that is imported in to Iraq.

So, we're not really worried for the first nine months, even if all the oil fields should be blown up or put on fire as they were in Kuwait. After that, we have a problem if those fires cannot be put out in that nine-month period.

I was a soldier during the Gulf War. I was activated and I was in Kuwait City literally two days after the ground assaults started. I watched the oil fires and I know how horrifying they are. But they were put out within a reasonable period of time.

BIDEN:
I guess what I am trying to get at here is that does this assume—are you operating under the assumption that notwithstanding the fact we may not get a second resolution—I think we will, but we may not get a second resolution. There has been, to the best of my knowledge, unless my colleagues know something I have not been informed of, there has been no judgment made yet as to what role the U.N. would play in a post-Saddam Iraq. I mean, if there is one, I am unaware of it.

And are you assuming that the U.N. will step in and through its existing systems that are in place, be the distributors of the food and/or purchase the food. In other words, I am a little confused here. There may be simple answers for this, but this seems a little more complicated to me than you are making it sound.

Can you tell us whether or not you are assuming that the U.N. will provide this function?

NATSIOS:
I can tell you the planning off line, Senator, but there are security problems in me describing in too much depth what we are doing. We do have a plan. It is quite detailed. We've been working on it for four months now.

BIDEN:
I come from that era that you do where I learned when I ran at 29 years old, never trust people over 30 and never trust a government official saying there is a plan that I haven't seen.

NATSIOS:
I can show you the plan.

BIDEN:
Well, I would ask unanimous consent that that be made available to us in whatever classified form is necessary. But can you tell us, is the U.N. in on the deal.

NATSIOS:
Yes, it is. But going into more detail puts people at risk and I don't want to do that.

BIDEN:
I don't understand that, but I'll let that go, because we—there's—anyway.

LUGAR:
Let me respond to the Senator by saying that by unanimous consent, we will ask that the plan be made available in classified form and delivered in the proper way.

I would mention that I suppose members of the committee saw that over the weekend, a very large meeting occurred here in Washington of governmental officials of several agencies. I found out last evening in conversation, which included officials of Great Britain. I'm not aware of other nations that may have been involved.

I was heartened by the fact that in our own small way, perhaps the committee meeting we had on February 11 stimulated some of this. I would hope, however, that those who are conducting the meetings would be in closer touch with the committee. We are intensely interested and we will have additional hearings and so, the dialogue will flow more easily if we are all better informed.

I am heartened, at least, by a great deal of activity involving, as I understand, 150 officials or more in this agency described to us that commenced about five weeks ago Monday.

BIDEN:
I am heartened that it has commenced. I am despondent that it didn't start until five weeks ago.

BIDEN:
I have one brief question.

Can you describe the food aid study commissioned by AID and conducted by Bob—is it Jersony (ph), is that how you pronounce his name. Can you speak to that?

NATSIOS:
I can tell you that a lot of research has been done on the work of food aid and the agricultural system in North Korea. We did not actually commission a study for North Korea ourselves. Other institutions have done that.

BIDEN:
Do you have a copy of the study?

NATSIOS:
There is no study that has been done. The research was done in terms of interviews, but there is nothing that has been written per se on it. It's a verbal report and I think—I believe some people in the Senate, staffers have talked with Mr. Jersony (ph) about his findings.

BIDEN:
But there is no report.

NATSIOS:
There is no report, no, sir.

BIDEN:
Well, is there a reason there is no report, do you know. It's not on your watch, but why would there be...

NATSIOS:
Well, you'd have to ask the organizations that hired Mr. Jersony (ph), but my understanding is that they wanted to find out some general sort of conclusions of what they found and it was communicated verbally as opposed to in writing.

BIDEN:
Thank you.