President Clinton's statement

President Clinton's statement

Published December 17, 1998 1:34PM (EST)

Editor's note: The United States and Britain Wednesday launched "strong, sustained"
airstrikes against Bagdhad. The attack comes one day after U.N. weapons
inspectors released a stinging report accusing the Iraqis of refusal to
cooperate with disarmament efforts and a month after Saddam Hussein's
last standoff with the United Nations.

Good evening.

Earlier today, I ordered America's armed forces to strike military
and security targets in Iraq. They are joined by British forces. Their
mission is to attack Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons
programs and its military capacity to threaten its neighbors.

Their purpose is to protect the national interest of the United
States, and indeed the interests of people throughout the Middle East
and around the world.

Saddam Hussein must not be allowed to threaten his neighbors or the
world with nuclear arms, poison gas or biological weapons.

I want to explain why I have decided, with the unanimous
recommendation of my national security team, to use force in Iraq; why
we have acted now; and what we aim to accomplish.

Six weeks ago, Saddam Hussein announced that he would no longer
cooperate with the United Nations weapons inspectors called UNSCOM. They
are highly professional experts from dozens of countries. Their job is
to oversee the elimination of Iraq's capability to retain, create and
use weapons of mass destruction, and to verify that Iraq does not
attempt to rebuild that capability.

The inspectors undertook this mission first seven and a half years ago at the
end of the Gulf War, when Iraq agreed to declare and destroy its arsenal
as a condition of the cease-fire.

The international community had good reason to set this requirement.
Other countries possess weapons of mass destruction and ballistic
missiles. With Saddam, there is one big difference: He has used them.
Not once, but repeatedly. Unleashing chemical weapons against Iranian
troops during a decade-long war. Not only against soldiers, but against
civilians, firing Scud missiles at the citizens of Israel, Saudi Arabia,
Bahrain and Iran. And not only against a foreign enemy, but even against
his own people, gassing Kurdish civilians in Northern Iraq.

The international community had little doubt then, and I have no
doubt today, that left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will use these terrible
weapons again.

The United States has patiently worked to preserve UNSCOM as Iraq has
sought to avoid its obligation to cooperate with the inspectors. On
occasion, we've had to threaten military force, and Saddam has backed

Faced with Saddam's latest act of defiance in late October, we built
intensive diplomatic pressure on Iraq backed by overwhelming military
force in the region. The U.N. Security Council voted 15 to zero to condemn
Saddam's actions and to demand that he immediately come into compliance.

Eight Arab nations -- Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain,
Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Oman -- warned that Iraq alone would bear
responsibility for the consequences of defying the U.N.

When Saddam still failed to comply, we prepared to act militarily. It
was only then, at the last possible moment, that Iraq backed down. It
pledged to the U.N. that it had made, and I quote, "a clear and
unconditional decision to resume cooperation with the weapons

I decided then to call off the attack with our airplanes already in
the air because Saddam had given in to our demands. I concluded then
that the right thing to do was to use restraint and give Saddam one last
chance to prove his willingness to cooperate.

I made it very clear at that time what unconditional cooperation
meant, based on existing U.N. resolutions and Iraq's own commitments. And
along with Prime Minister Blair of Great Britain, I made it equally
clear that if Saddam failed to cooperate fully, we would be prepared to
act without delay, diplomacy or warning.

Now over the past three weeks, the U.N. weapons inspectors have carried
out their plan for testing Iraq's cooperation. The testing period ended
this weekend, and last night, UNSCOM's chairman, Richard Butler,
reported the results to U.N. Secretary-General Annan.

The conclusions are stark, sobering and profoundly disturbing.

In four out of the five categories set forth, Iraq has failed to
cooperate. Indeed, it actually has placed new restrictions on the
inspectors. Here are some of the particulars.

Iraq repeatedly blocked UNSCOM from inspecting suspect sites. For
example, it shut off access to the headquarters of its ruling party and
said it will deny access to the party's other offices, even though U.N.
resolutions make no exception for them and UNSCOM has inspected them in
the past.

Iraq repeatedly restricted UNSCOM's ability to obtain necessary
evidence. For example, Iraq obstructed UNSCOM's effort to photograph
bombs related to its chemical weapons program.

It tried to stop an UNSCOM biological weapons team from videotaping a
site and photocopying documents and prevented Iraqi personnel from
answering UNSCOM's questions.

Prior to the inspection of another site, Iraq actually emptied out
the building, removing not just documents but even the furniture and the

Iraq has failed to turn over virtually all the documents requested by
the inspectors. Indeed, we know that Iraq ordered the destruction of
weapons-related documents in anticipation of an UNSCOM inspection.

So Iraq has abused its final chance.

As the UNSCOM report concludes, and again I quote, "Iraq's conduct
ensured that no progress was able to be made in the fields of

"In light of this experience, and in the absence of full cooperation
by Iraq, it must regrettably be recorded again that the commission is
not able to conduct the work mandated to it by the Security Council with
respect to Iraq's prohibited weapons program."

In short, the inspectors are saying that even if they could stay in
Iraq, their work would be a sham.

Saddam's deception has defeated their effectiveness. Instead of the
inspectors disarming Saddam, Saddam has disarmed the inspectors.

This situation presents a clear and present danger to the stability
of the Persian Gulf and the safety of people everywhere. The
international community gave Saddam one last chance to resume
cooperation with the weapons inspectors. Saddam has failed to seize the

And so we had to act and act now.

Let me explain why.

First, without a strong inspection system, Iraq would be free to
retain and begin to rebuild its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons
programs in months, not years.

Second, if Saddam can cripple the weapons inspection system and get
away with it, he would conclude that the international community -- led by
the United States -- has simply lost its will. He will surmise that he has
free rein to rebuild his arsenal of destruction, and someday -- make no
mistake -- he will use it again as he has in the past.

Third, in halting our air strikes in November, I gave Saddam a
chance, not a license. If we turn our backs on his defiance, the
credibility of U.S. power as a check against Saddam will be destroyed.
We will not only have allowed Saddam to shatter the inspection system
that controls his weapons of mass destruction program; we also will have
fatally undercut the fear of force that stops Saddam from acting to gain
domination in the region.

That is why, on the unanimous recommendation of my national security
team -- including the vice president, the secretary of defense, the
chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, the secretary of state and the
national security advisor -- I have ordered a strong, sustained series of
air strikes against Iraq.

They are designed to degrade Saddam's capacity to develop and deliver
weapons of mass destruction, and to degrade his ability to threaten his

At the same time, we are delivering a powerful message to Saddam. If
you act recklessly, you will pay a heavy price. We acted today because,
in the judgment of my military advisors, a swift response would provide
the most surprise and the least opportunity for Saddam to prepare.

If we had delayed for even a matter of days from Chairman Butler's
report, we would have given Saddam more time to disperse his forces and
protect his weapons.

Also, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins this weekend. For us to
initiate military action during Ramadan would be profoundly offensive to
the Muslim world and, therefore, would damage our relations with Arab
countries and the progress we have made in the Middle East.

That is something we wanted very much to avoid without giving Iraq a
month's head start to prepare for potential action against it.

Finally, our allies, including Prime Minister Tony Blair of Great
Britain, concurred that now is the time to strike. I hope Saddam will
come into cooperation with the inspection system now and comply with the
relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions. But we have to be prepared
that he will not, and we must deal with the very real danger he poses.

So we will pursue a long-term strategy to contain Iraq and its
weapons of mass destruction and work toward the day when Iraq has a
government worthy of its people.

First, we must be prepared to use force again if Saddam takes
threatening actions, such as trying to reconstitute his weapons of mass
destruction or their delivery systems, threatening his neighbors,
challenging allied aircraft over Iraq or moving against his own Kurdish

The credible threat to use force, and when necessary, the actual use
of force, is the surest way to contain Saddam's weapons of mass
destruction program, curtail his aggression and prevent another Gulf

Second, so long as Iraq remains out of compliance, we will work with
the international community to maintain and enforce economic sanctions.
Sanctions have cost Saddam more than $120 billion -- resources that would
have been used to rebuild his military. The sanctions system allows Iraq
to sell oil for food, for medicine, for other humanitarian supplies for
the Iraqi people.

We have no quarrel with them. But without the sanctions, we would see
the oil-for-food program become oil-for-tanks, resulting in a greater
threat to Iraq's neighbors and less food for its people.

The hard fact is that so long as Saddam remains in power, he
threatens the well-being of his people, the peace of his region, the
security of the world.

The best way to end that threat once and for all is with a new Iraqi
government -- a government ready to live in peace with its neighbors, a
government that respects the rights of its people. Bringing change in
Baghdad will take time and effort. We will strengthen our engagement
with the full range of Iraqi opposition forces and work with them
effectively and prudently.

The decision to use force is never cost-free. Whenever American
forces are placed in harm's way, we risk the loss of life. And while our
strikes are focused on Iraq's military capabilities, there will be
unintended Iraqi casualties.

Indeed, in the past, Saddam has intentionally placed Iraqi civilians
in harm's way in a cynical bid to sway international opinion.

We must be prepared for these realities. At the same time, Saddam
should have absolutely no doubt if he lashes out at his neighbors, we
will respond forcefully.

Heavy as they are, the costs of action must be weighed against the
price of inaction. If Saddam defies the world and we fail to respond, we
will face a far greater threat in the future. Saddam will strike again
at his neighbors. He will make war on his own people.

And mark my words, he will develop weapons of mass destruction. He
will deploy them, and he will use them.

Because we're acting today, it is less likely that we will face these
dangers in the future.

Let me close by addressing one other issue. Saddam Hussein and the
other enemies of peace may have thought that the serious debate
currently before the House of Representatives would distract Americans
or weaken our resolve to face him down.

But once more, the United States has proven that although we are
never eager to use force, when we must act in America's vital interests,
we will do so.

In the century we're leaving, America has often made the difference
between chaos and community, fear and hope. Now, in the new century,
we'll have a remarkable opportunity to shape a future more peaceful than
the past, but only if we stand strong against the enemies of peace.

Tonight, the United States is doing just that. May God bless and
protect the brave men and women who are carrying out this vital mission
and their families. And may God bless America.

By President Clinton

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