[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book II)]
[November 15, 1998]
[Pages 2035-2038]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks on the Situation in Iraq and an Exchange With Reporters
November 15, 1998

    The President. Good morning. Last night Iraq agreed to meet the 
demands of the international community to cooperate fully with the 
United Nations weapons inspectors. Iraq committed to unconditional 
compliance. It rescinded its decisions of August and October to end 
cooperation with the inspectors. It withdrew its objectionable 
conditions. In short, Iraq accepted its obligation to permit all 
activities of the weapons inspectors, UNSCOM and the IAEA, to resume in 
accordance with the relevant resolutions of the U.N. Security Council.
    The United States, together with Great Britain, and with the support 
of our friends and allies around the world, was poised to act militarily 
if Iraq had not reversed course. Our willingness to strike, together 
with the overwhelming weight of world opinion, produced the outcome we 
preferred: Saddam Hussein reversing course, letting the inspectors go 
back to work without restrictions or conditions.

[[Page 2036]]

    As I have said since this crisis began, the return of the 
inspectors, if they can operate in an unfettered way, is the best 
outcome because they have been, and they remain, the most effective tool 
to uncover, destroy, and prevent Iraq from rebuilding its weapons of 
mass destruction and the missiles to deliver them.
    Now, let me be clear: Iraq has backed down, but that is not enough. 
Now Iraq must live up to its obligations.
    Iraq has committed to unconditionally resume cooperation with the 
weapons inspectors. What does that mean? First, Iraq must resolve all 
outstanding issues raised by UNSCOM and the IAEA. Second, it must give 
inspectors unfettered access to inspect and to monitor all sites they 
choose with no restrictions or qualifications, consistent with the 
memorandum of understanding Iraq itself signed with Secretary-General 
Annan in February. Third, it must turn over all relevant documents. 
Fourth, it must accept all weapons of mass destruction-related 
resolutions. Fifth, it must not interfere with the independence or the 
professional expertise of the weapons inspectors.
    Last night, again, I confirmed with the U.N. Security-General, Kofi 
Annan, that he shares these understandings of Iraq's obligations.
    In bringing on this crisis, Iraq isolated itself from world opinion 
and opinion in the region more than at any time since the Gulf war. The 
United Nations Security Council voted 15-0 to demand that Saddam Hussein 
reverse course. Eight Arab nations--Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, five 
other Gulf states--warned Saddam that Iraq alone would bear 
responsibility for the consequences of defying the United Nations. The 
world spoke with one voice: Iraq must accept once and for all that the 
only path forward is complete compliance with its obligations to the 
world. Until we see complete compliance, we will remain vigilant; we 
will keep up the pressure; we will be ready to act.
    This crisis also demonstrates, unfortunately, once again, that 
Saddam Hussein remains an impediment to the well-being of his people and 
a threat to the peace of his region and the security of the world. We 
will continue to contain the threat that he poses by working for the 
elimination of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capability under 
UNSCOM, enforcing the sanctions and the no-fly zone, responding firmly 
to any Iraqi provocations.
    However, over the long term, the best way to address that threat is 
through a government in Baghdad--a new government--that is committed to 
represent and respect its people, not repress them; that is committed to 
peace in the region. Over the past year we have deepened our engagement 
with the forces of change in Iraq, reconciling the two largest Kurdish 
opposition groups, beginning broadcasts of a Radio Free Iraq throughout 
the country. We will intensify that effort, working with Congress to 
implement the Iraq Liberation Act, which was recently passed, 
strengthening our political support to make sure the opposition--or to 
do what we can to make the opposition a more effective voice for the 
aspirations of the Iraqi people.
    Let me say again, what we want and what we will work for is a 
government in Iraq that represents and respects its people, not 
represses them, and one committed to live in peace with its neighbors.
    In the century we are leaving, America has often made the difference 
between tyranny and freedom, between chaos and community, between fear 
and hope. In this case, as so often in the past, the reason America can 
make this difference is the patriotism and professionalism of our 
military. Once again, its strength, its readiness, its capacity is 
advancing America's interest and the cause of world peace. We must 
remain vigilant, strong, and ready, here and wherever our interests and 
values are at stake. Thanks to our military, we will be able to do so.
    Q. Mr. President, what you just said today sounds a lot less tough, 
sir, than what your National Security Adviser said yesterday. He called 
it, what Iraq said, ``unconditionally unacceptable,'' and he said it had 
more holes than Swiss cheese.
    The President. That's right, and look what they did after we said 
that. That's right--look what's happened since they said that. We 
decided to delay the attack when we were informed that Iraq was going to 
make a--offer us a statement--the world, committing to complete 
compliance. And you will recall, when that statement came in, there were 
members of the international community and members of the Security 
Council who said that they thought that the statement was sufficient to 
avoid a military conflict and to get UNSCOM back in. We did not agree, 
and the British did not agree. Mr. Berger and Prime Minister Blair both 
went out and made statements to that effect.

[[Page 2037]]

    After that occurred, we received three subsequent letters from the 
Government of Iraq, going to the President of the Security Council, 
dealing with the three big holes we saw in the original Iraqi letter.
    First of all, it became clear, and they made it clear, that the 
attachment to the letter was in no way a condition of their compliance, 
that their compliance was not conditional. Secondly, they explicitly 
revoked the decisions they made in August and October to suspend 
cooperation with UNSCOM. And thirdly, they made it clear that they would 
not just let the inspectors back in to wander around in a very large 
country but that their cooperation with them would be unconditional and 
    Those were the things which occurred after Mr. Berger spoke and 
after Prime Minister Blair spoke. Those were the things which have 
caused us to conclude that with world opinion unanimous and with the 
ability to actually--the prospect, at least--of getting this inspection 
system going until we can complete the work that we have been working on 
now since the end of the Gulf war--it was those three things that made 
us believe we should go forward. That is the difference between where we 
are now and where we were yesterday when the United States and Great 
Britain made its statements.
    Q. Mr. President--[inaudible]----
    Q. Mr. President--[inaudible]----
    The President. Wait. Wait. Wait a minute.
    Q. Why is there any reason to believe that Iraq will comply this 
time when it has failed to do so repeatedly in the past?
    The President. Well, I think there are four things that I would say 
about it, with the beginning that no one can be sure. We're not--this is 
not a question of faith; this is a question of action. Let me remind 
you, the most important sentence in the statement I just read you was, 
``Iraq has backed down, but that's not enough. Now Iraq must live up to 
its obligations.''
    Now, let me just point out four things. Number one, we have an 
unprecedented consensus here. I do not believe that anyone can doubt 
that there was an unprecedented consensus condemning what Saddam Hussein 
had done in not cooperating with UNSCOM. Number two, we had a very 
credible threat of overwhelming force, which was imminent had we not 
received word that Iraq was prepared to make the commitments we had been 
asking for. Number three, the set of commitments we received, in the 
end, after making our position clear yesterday in refusing to negotiate 
or water down our position, is clear and unambiguous. And number four, 
we remained ready to act. So we don't have to rely on our feelings here, 
or whether we believe anything. The question is, have we made the proper 
judgment to suspend any military action in order to give Iraq a chance 
to fulfill its commitments, even though it has failed to do so, so many 
times in the past.
    These four things are what you have to keep in mind. I believe--let 
me just say this--I believe we have made the right decision for a very 
specific reason, and I think it's very important that we keep hammering 
this home. If we take military action, we can significantly degrade the 
capability of Saddam Hussein to develop weapons of mass destruction and 
to deliver them, but that would also mark the end of UNSCOM. So we would 
delay it, but we would then have no oversight, no insight, no 
involvement in what is going on within Iraq.
    If we can keep UNSCOM in there working and one more time give him a 
chance to become honorably reconciled by simply observing United Nations 
resolutions, we see that results can be obtained.
    Look, what has happened this year? We had the VX testing, and this 
summer--I can't remember exactly when it was; I'm sure that when my team 
comes up here to answer the questions, they can--we uncovered a very 
important document giving us--giving the world community information 
about the quantity and nature of weapons stocks that had not been 
available before.
    So I have to tell you, you have to understand where I'm coming from 
here. I really believe that if you have a professional UNSCOM, free and 
unfettered, able to do its job, it can do what it is supposed to do in 
Iraq. And given the fact that I believe that over the next 10 to 20 
years, this whole issue of chemical and biological weaponry will be one 
of the major threats facing the world, having the experience, the 
record, and the success--if we can do it--of having a United Nations 
inspection regime in Iraq can have grave positive implications for the 
future--profound positive implications, if it works--and grave 
implications in a negative way if it doesn't.

[[Page 2038]]

    So I believe we made the right decision, and I believe that the 
factors that I cited to you make it the right decision. Now, what I----
    Q. Mr. President----
    The President. Wait. Wait. Wait. What I'd like to do now--you, 
naturally enough, want to get into a lot of the specific questions here 
that I believe that Secretary Cohen and General Shelton and Mr. Berger 
can do a good job of answering. And none of us have had a great deal of 
sleep, but I think it would be appropriate for me to let them answer the 
rest of the questions.
    Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 11:30 a.m. in the Briefing Room at the 
White House. In his remarks, he referred to President Saddam Hussein of 
Iraq; United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan; and Prime Minister 
Tony Blair of the United Kingdom. The President also referred to the 
United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) and the International Atomic 
Energy Agency (IAEA). H.R. 4655, the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, 
approved October 31, was assigned Public Law No. 105-338.