...Saddam has been pursing nuclear weapons and we've been living with this risk for over 20 years. He does not have the weapons now, as best we can determine. He might have the weapons in a year or two if the control for the highly enriched uranium and other fissionable materials broke down. I think his best opportunity would have been to go to his friend Slobodan Milosevic and ask for those materials during the time of the Kosovo campaign, since there was active collusion between the Serbs and the Iraqis, but apparently if he asked for them he didn't get them because the Serbs have turned them over for us.
If he can't get the highly enriched uranium, then it might take him five years or more to go through a centrifuge process or gaseous diffusion process to enrich the uranium, but the situation is not stable. The U.N. weapons inspectors who, however ineffective they might have been and there's some degree of difference of opinion on that, nevertheless provided assistance in impeding his development programs. They've been absent for four years, and the sanction regime designed to restrict his access to weapons materials and resources has been continuously eroded, and therefore the situation is not stable.
The problem of Iraq is not a problem that can be postponed indefinitely, and of course Saddam's current efforts themselves are violations of international law as expressed in the U.N. resolutions. Our president has emphasized the urgency of eliminating these weapons and weapons programs. I strongly support his efforts to encourage the United Nations to act on this problem and in taking this to the United Nations, the president's clear determination to act if the United States can't -- excuse me, if the United Nations can't -- provides strong leverage for undergirding ongoing diplomatic efforts.
But the problem of Iraq is only one element of the broader security challenges facing our country. We have an unfinished worldwide war against al-Qaida, a war that has to be won in conjunction with friends and allies and that ultimately will be won as much by persuasion as by the use of force. We've got to turn off the al-Qaida recruiting machine. Now some 3,000 deaths on September 11th testify to the real danger from al-Qaida, and I think everyone acknowledges that al-Qaida has not yet been defeated.
As far as I know, I haven't seen any substantial evidence linking Saddam's regime to the al-Qaida network, though such evidence may emerge. But nevertheless, winning the war against al-Qaida and taking actions against the weapons programs in Iraq, that's two different problems that may require two different sets of solutions. In other words, to put it back into military parlance, Iraq, they're an operational-level problem. We've got other operational-level problems in the Middle East, like the ongoing conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Al-Qaida and the foundation of radical extremist fundamentalist Islam, that's the strategic problem.
We've got to make sure that in addressing the operational problem we're effective in going after the larger strategic problem. And so, the critical issue facing the United States right now is how to force action against Saddam Hussein and his weapons programs without detracting from our focus on al-Qaida or our efforts to deal with other immediate mid- and long-term security problems.
I'd like to offer the following observations by way of how we could proceed. First of all, I do believe that the United States' diplomacy in the United Nations will be strengthened if the Congress can adopt a resolution expressing U.S. determination to act if the United Nations cannot act. The use of force must remain a U.S. option under active consideration.
Such congressional resolution need not, at this point, authorize the use of force. The more focused the resolution on Iraq, the more focused it is on the problems of weapons of mass destruction. The greater its utility in the United Nations, the more nearly unanimous the resolution, the greater its utility is, the greater its impact is on the diplomatic efforts under way.
The president and his national security team have got to deploy imagination, leverage and patience in working through the United Nations. In the near term, time is on our side and we should endeavor to use the United Nations if at all possible. This may require a period of time for inspections or the development of a more intrusive inspection regime such as Richard Perle has mentioned, if necessary backed by force. It may involve cracking down on the eroding sanctions regime and countries like Syria who are helping Iraq illegally export oil, enabling Saddam Hussein to divert resources to his own purposes.
We have to work this problem in a way to gain worldwide legitimacy and understanding for the concerns that we rightly feel and for our leadership. This is what U.S. leadership in the world must be. We must bring others to share our views, not be too quick to rush to try to impose them even if we have the power to do so. I agree that there's a risk that the inspections would fail to provide evidence of the weapons program. They might fail, but I think we can deal with this problem as we move along, and I think the difficulties of dealing with this outcome are more than offset by the opportunities to gain allies, support and legitimacy in the campaign against Saddam Hussein.
If the efforts to resolve the problem by using the United Nations fail, either initially or ultimately, then we need to form the broadest possible coalition including our NATO allies and the North Atlantic Council if we're going to have to bring forces to bear. We should not be using force until the personnel, the organizations, the plans that will be required for post conflict Iraq, are prepared and ready. This includes dealing with requirements for humanitarian assistance, police and judicial capabilities, emergency medical and reconstruction assistance, and preparations for a transitional governing body and eventual elections, perhaps even including a new constitution.
Ideally, the international/multinational organizations will participate in the readying of such post-conflict operations -- the United Nations, NATO, other regional organizations, Islamic organizations -- but we have no idea how long this campaign could last, and if it were to go like the campaign against the Afghans, against the Taliban, in which suddenly the Taliban collapsed and there we were.
We need to be ready because if suddenly Saddam Hussein's government collapses and we don't have everything ready to go, we're going to have chaos in that region. We may not get control of all the weapons of mass destruction, technicians, plans, capabilities; in fact, what may happen is that we'll remove a repressive regime and have it replaced with a fundamentalist regime which contributes to the strategic problem rather than helping to solve it.
So, all that having been said, the option to use force must remain on the table. It should be used as the last resort after all diplomatic means have been exhausted unless there's information that indicates that a further delay would represent an immediate risk to the assembled forces and organizations. And, I want to underscore that I think the United States should not categorize this action as preemptive. Preemptive and that doctrine has nothing whatsoever to do with this problem.
As Richard Perle so eloquently pointed out, this is a problem that's long-standing. It's been a decade in the making. It needs to be dealt with and the clock is ticking on this. Obviously once initiated, a military operation should aim for the most rapid accomplishment of its operational aims and prompt turnover to follow on organizations and agencies, and I think if we proceed as outlined above, we may be able to minimize the disruption to the ongoing campaign against al-Qaida.
We could reduce the impact on friendly governments in the region and even contribute to the resolution of other regional issues, perhaps such as the Arab-Israeli conflict, Iranian efforts to develop nuclear capabilities, and Saudi funding for terrorism. But there are no guarantees. The war is unpredictable. It could be difficult and costly, and what is at risk in the aftermath is an open-ended American ground commitment in Iraq and an even deeper sense of humiliation in the Arab world which could intensify our problems in the region and elsewhere.
The yellow light is flashing. We have a problem. We've got to muster the best judgment in this country. We've got to muster the will of the American people and we've got to be prepared to deal with this problem, but time is on our side in the near term and we should use it. Thank you.