THE WHITE HOUSE
> Office of the Press Secretary
> For Immediate Release December 16, 1998
> STATEMENT BY THE PRESIDENT
> The Oval Office
> 6:00 P.M. EST
> THE PRESIDENT: 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,
> biological programs, and its military capacity to threaten its
> neighbors. Their
> purpose is to protect the national interest of the United States and,
> the interest 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
> 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
> cooperate with the United Nations weapons inspectors, called UNSCOM.
> They are
> highly professional experts from dozens of countries. Their job is to
> 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
> years ago, at the end of the Gulf War, when Iraq agreed to declare and
> its arsenal as a condition of the cease-fire.
> The international community had good reason to set this
> Other countries possess weapons of mass destruction and ballistic
> With Saddam, there’s one big difference: he has used them, not once
> 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 –
> not only
> against a foreign enemy, but even against his own people, gassing
> 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
> The United States has patiently worked to preserve UNSCOM, as
> Iraq has
> sought to avoid its obligation to cooperate with the inspectors. On
> we’ve had to threaten military force, and Saddam has backed down.
> Faced with
> Saddam’s latest act of defiance in late October, we built intensive
> 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
> 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
> 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
> 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
> profoundly disturbing.
> In four out of the five categories set forth, Iraq has failed
> cooperate. Indeed, it actually has placed new restrictions on the
> Here are some of the particulars:
> Iraq repeatedly blocked UNSCOM from inspecting suspect sites.
> 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
> evidence. For example, Iraq obstructed UNSCOM’s effort to photograph
> related to its chemical weapons program. It tried to stop an UNSCOM
> weapons team from videotaping a site and photocopying documents, and
> 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
> 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 disarmament. In light of this experience, and
> in the
> absence of full cooperation by Iraq, it must, regrettably, be recorded
> that the Commission is not able to conduct the work mandated to it by
> 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
> effectiveness. Instead of the inspectors disarming Saddam, Saddam has
> the inspectors.
> This situation presents a clear and present danger to the
> stability of
> the Persian Gulf and the safety of people everywhere. The
> community gave Saddam one last chance to resume cooperation with the
> inspectors. Saddam
> has failed to seize the chance.
> And so we had to act, and act now. Let me explain why.
> First, without a strong inspections 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 inspections 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 some day, 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
> 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
> allowed Saddam to shatter the inspections 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
> team, including the Vice President, Secretary of Defense, the Chairman
> of the
> Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of State, and the National
> 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
> neighbors. 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
> report, we would have given Saddam more time to disperse forces and
> protect his
> 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
> action against it.
> Finally, our allies, including Prime Minister Tony Blair of
> 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
> 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
> destruction or their delivery systems, threatening his neighbors,
> allied aircraft over Iraq, or moving against his own Kurdish citizens.
> 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 War.
> Second, so long as Iraq remains out of compliance, we will
> work with the
> international community to maintain and enforce economic sanctions.
> have caused 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
> program become oil-for-tanks, resulting in a greater threat to Iraq’s
> and less food for its people.
> The hard fact is that so long as Saddam remains in power, he
> the well-being of his people, the peace of his region, the security of
> world. The best way to end that threat once and for all is with the
> new Iraqi
> government, a government ready to live in peace with its neighbors, a
> 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
> casualties. Indeed, in the past, Saddam has intentionally placed
> 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
> 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 are
> acting today, it is less likely that we will face these dangers in the
> 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
> between chaos and community; fear and hope. Now, in a 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
doing just that.
May God bless and protect the brave men and women who are
this vital mission, and their families. And may God bless America.
END 6:15 P.M. EST