[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[February 19, 1998]
[Pages 245-246]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks on the Situation in Iraq and an Exchange With Reporters
February 19, 1998

    The President. Good morning. I have just had a very good 
conversation with the President of France, Jacques Chirac. We agreed that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi 
Annan's mission to Baghdad is a critical 
opportunity to achieve the outcome that all of us would prefer, a 
peaceful and principled end to this crisis.
    The Secretary-General is backed by the unambiguous position of the 
Security Council. Saddam Hussein must give 
the weapons inspectors full, free, unfettered access to all suspected 
sites anywhere in Iraq. That is the clear standard which Saddam himself 
agreed to at the end of the Gulf war and that the Security Council has 
reiterated on many occasions since. He simply must adhere to that 
    Let me also say that I have asked Vice President Gore to postpone his planned trip to South Africa. In the 
coming days I want my full national security team on hand to take part 
in our deliberations and decisions on this vitally important issue.
    We hope the Secretary-General's mission will 
succeed. But let me be clear: If diplomacy fails, we must be--and we 
are--prepared to act. The choice is Saddam Hussein's. We hope he will accept the mandate of the world 
community. He has, after all, agreed to it already, years ago. If not, 
he must bear the responsibility for the consequences.
    Q. Mr. President, what did you learn, sir--sir, what did you learn 
from the divided town meeting yesterday?
    The President. Well, I thought it was a good old-fashioned American 
debate. But I would say, I was, first of all, very proud of the 
Secretary of State, the Secretary of 
Defense, and Mr. Berger. I thought they answered the questions well. And I believe 
strongly that most Americans support our policy. They support our 
resolve. I think an overwhelming majority of Americans also want a 
peaceful resolution of this, but if it's necessary for us to act, I 
believe America will do what it always does. I believe it will unite, 
just as we did in 1991. I believe it will unite behind taking the 
necessary action.
    Q. Mr. President, do you think Saddam Hussein is emboldened to 
stiff-arm the international community based upon what happened in 
Columbus yesterday?
    The President. Not if he understands the 
first thing about America.
    Q. Mr. President, are you ready to deal with a deadline if Saddam 
    Q. Does that mean you're going to start bombing next week?
    The President. I've made no decision about a deadline.

Independent Counsel's Investigation

    Q. Mr. President, are you prepared to assert executive privilege in 
connection with the testimony of Bruce Lindsey and John Podesta, other 
of your top assistants before the grand jury?
    The President. It's my understanding that the White House Counsel 
 is trying to resolve that issue today, 
and while he's working on it, I don't think I should comment about it.
    Q. Thank you, Mr. President.

Situation in Iraq

    Q. Mr. President, are you considering delivering a more formal 
address to the American people about the need to deal with Saddam--
    The President. Well, if further action becomes necessary, I will 
obviously speak directly to the American people about it.
    Q. Mr. President, do you feel like you have articulated the goals of 
this policy, if we do indeed have to attack Iraq?

[[Page 246]]

    The President. I believe that the speech I gave at the Pentagon was 
quite clear about that. We want to significantly reduce his capacity to produce chemical and biological weapons 
and his capacity to delivery them and to visit them on his people, his 
neighbors, and people throughout the world. I believe the more the 
American people learn about the dangers of chemical and biological 
warfare, the kinds of problems they can present to us now and in the 
future, the stiffer their resolve will be.
    And so I feel that time is on our side. And I believe that 10 years 
from now, not in the heat of this moment, 15 years from now, when people 
look back at this time, they will want to look back at a period when 
those of us in positions of responsibility fulfilled our responsibility 
by trying to rid the world of this danger.
    Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 10:25 a.m. on the South Lawn at the White 
House, prior to his departure for Baltimore, MD. In his remarks, he 
referred to White House Counsel Charles F.C. Ruff.