rotesters disrupt ambassador’s speech

Emily Babcock

A breakfast and speech by the United States’ ambassador to the United Nations was cut short by screams of more than 70 protesters Friday at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.
Ambassador Bill Richardson was shouted down while delivering a speech to about 150 people at the Humphrey Institute during a policy forum titled “Estrangement or Engagement.”
Protesters against the United States’ involvement in Iraq disrupted Richardson’s speech after about 15 minutes, adding another top U.S. official to a list of administrators who have been loudly interrupted during speeches to ready the American people for a possible war with Iraq.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, Defense Secretary William Cohen and President Clinton also faced anti-war protesters last week in speeches around the country.
“I want to talk to you about the United Nations, and I want to talk to you about Iraq,” Richardson told the audience before the protesters arrived. But Richardson, who was scheduled to speak long before the current crisis in Iraq, had little time to talk about either.
Richardson began his speech, stressing that the United States should pay back its $1 billion debt to the United Nations.
“American international leadership cannot come on the cheap,” he said.
He also said the administration is behind U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s trip to Iraq, which began Saturday and is an attempt to broker an agreement with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
The White House contends that Hussein has been ignoring U.N. resolutions regarding the chemical and biological weapons inspection programs.
After 15 minutes had passed, demonstrators who had gathered outside the building filed in and listened as Richardson spoke.
Several of the members soon began shouting out comments in response to Richardson’s arguments.
The rest of the protesters then joined in, chanting against sanctions and the United States’ policies, and they eventually cut off Richardson’s speech.
Richardson was able to quiet the protesters by moving directly to questions from the crowd.
“Having seen that the sanctions and the bombing have not done their supposed job of stopping Saddam Hussein, why are we going further with it when we see the results are the continued destruction of the Iraqi people,” asked Muhamad Elrashidi, a junior in the College of Liberal Arts.
“The biggest enemy of the Iraqi people is Saddam Hussein,” Richardson countered, drawing a loud protest from the demonstrators. “Saddam Hussein denies his own people the food and medicine that America is providing.”
After the speech, Elrashidi said he felt that Richardson might have mistaken him for a supporter of Saddam.
In reality, there is consensus on both sides of the issue that Hussein is a tyrant, a murderer and a dictator, Elrashidi said.
Richardson drew the most protest when he said 75 percent of Americans polled supported the government’s policies toward Iraq.
“I would ask him: Seventy-five percent of what people? Seventy-five percent of the people that paid $70 to hear him speak,” asked Jen Udelhofen, a member of the Progressive Student Organization and a CLA junior.
Event organizers said they were disappointed Richardson did not get to deliver his speech, but demonstrators said they have already heard what he has to say.
“This man and the administration he represents can have the world’s ears at the snap of his fingers,” said Udelhofen, “and I think to upstage and to take over was correct.”
Richardson agreed that their participation is necessary in a democracy.
“While you have not shown respect for my point of view, I want to say to you that at least those of you that are protesting are engaged, and I know you care about our country,” he said. “And I salute you and I wish you the best, but I have to tell you on the policy toward Iraq, you are wrong. You are wrong.”
Richardson’s speech was one of a number of speeches and panels Friday at the Humphrey Institute.
Later in the day, James Schlesinger, former U.S. defense secretary and energy secretary, spoke about America’s changing role in the international community.
On Saturday, a four-person panel addressing an audience of about 200 discussed the possibility of war and current policies toward Iraq. The meeting, held at Willey Hall, criticized the United States’ approach to its sanctions on Iraq. The forum was organized by University professor Caesar Farah and the Minnesota Alliance for Iraqi Children.