Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 23, 1998
As Prepared for Delivery



DECEMBER 23, 1998

Thank you for having me today. Before I take your questions, I want to talk about where we stand on Iraq -- about what we accomplished in the military operation that concluded over the weekend and about our strategy for moving forward.

For the last eight years, American policy toward Iraq has been based on the direct threat Saddam poses to international security. That threat is clear. Saddam's history of aggression leaves little doubt that he would resume his drive for regional domination and his quest for weapons of mass destruction if he had the chance.

Over these years, through the Bush and Clinton Administrations, we have met that threat with a consistent policy of containment, based on four pillars: economic sanctions; UN inspections; the credible threat of force; and diplomacy to sustain an international consensus in pursuit of this goal. In the face of periodic challenges since the Gulf War ended, this strategy essentially has held Saddam in check. We have prevented him from attacking his neighbors and slowly but surely worked to reduce his nuclear, chemical and biological weapons capability and the missiles needed to deliver it.

But over the past year in particular, Saddam has tried to cripple the UN inspection system that has caused Iraq to destroy a significant part of its prohibited arsenal. Clearly, he hoped to destroy UNSCOM and to cajole the UN Security council into declaring him in compliance with his disarmament obligations, leading to the lifting of sanctions. For Saddam 1998 was the year to break out of the box he has been in -- the year to end containment.

But when Saddam refused to cooperate with UNSCOM in August, he did not split the Security Council -- he united it. And when he backed down in the face of imminent force in November, the United States and Great Britain made clear that our restraint was conditional, that he had to cooperate fully with UNSCOM or we would act without further diplomacy or delay. Last week, we did exactly what we said we would do, and we were right to do it. If Saddam could eviscerate UNSCOM without a firm response, not only would there be no effective UNSOCM; there would be no deterrence against future aggression because the threat of force would no longer be credible. And there would be no prospect for keeping his program of weapons of mass destruction in check.

The operation that ended on Saturday inflicted substantial damage on Saddam's weapons of mass destruction programs and on his military capability to threaten his neighbors. That does not mean the threat is gone. UNSCOM has not been able to account for all of the chemical and biological weapons it believes Iraq once had, but neither has it been able to locate them. We cannot disarm Saddam from the air as precisely as we can from the ground. But disarmament from the ground -- that is an UNSCOM that is permitted to do its job -- has been thwarted by Saddam. And there is much we can do from the air. We can damage the systems Saddam needs to deliver his weapons of mass destruction, the security forces he needs to direct and protect those weapons, and the industrial facilities he needs to produce more. And that is exactly what we did.

We damaged or destroyed much of the machinery that Iraq uses to develop, test and produce the delivery systems for its WMD. Iraq's missile program has been seriously set back. We also targeted the military apparatus that oversees Saddam's WMD programs and provides security for him and his leaders. We destroyed the headquarters of the Special Republican Guard, and a number of other Republican Guard headquarters, barracks and training facilities throughout Iraq. We attacked airfields throughout Iraq, where we destroyed a number of unmanned, 'drone' aircraft we believe were fitted to spray anthrax, and almost a fifth of the helicopter force Iraq has used for internal oppression. We disrupted Saddam's command and control apparatus. That includes Iraq's military intelligence headquarters, which was completely destroyed. It includes TV and radio transmitters used to communicate with troops, broadcast propaganda, and jam transmissions. It includes Bath Party Headquarters and presidential palaces around the country that are part of Saddam's command system.

It was neither the purpose nor the effect of the strike to dislodge Saddam from power. That is not a military objective that plausibly can be achieved with air power. It was not achieved after a month of air strikes in Desert Storm. But today, after taking his country from one crisis to another over weapons inspections this year, promising a lifting of trade sanctions, Saddam has nothing to show for his efforts. He is weaker, deterrence is stronger and the Middle East is safer than before the operation. Saddam has learned that we have not lost our resolve to block his aggressive aims. He has learned that there is no path to sanctions relief that does not pass through compliance with his obligations. And he has learned that what cannot be inspected can in many cases be destroyed.

The question today, of course, is where do we go from here? Let me start to answer that question by discussing some of the approaches we reject.

At one end, some have suggested that we have invested too much for too long in Saddam and that the time has come to downgrade the threat and move on. This view is shared by some nations that are eager to end sanctions by lowering the bar for compliance.

But we cannot evade the reality that Saddam's external aggression and internal repression still pose a genuine threat to his neighbors and the world. Year after year, in conflict after conflict, Saddam has proven that he seeks weapons, including WMD, not for some abstract concept of deterrence, but for the very real purpose of using them. There is no doubt that if he could rebuild his arsenal, he would. And make no mistake: we would find once again that dealing with an armed, unrestrained Iraq is far more costly and dangerous than dealing with a contained Iraq. And walking away in the face of Saddam's defiance ultimately would destroy the credibility of the UN Security Council.

At the other extreme, most people are so fed up with Saddam's unending deception and defiance that they say we should just get rid of him, now, no matter what the cost. That may be emotionally satisfying, but it is not a strategy. It is certainly not something we can do by air power alone. Cruise missiles and smart bombs by themselves will not destroy this regime, nor can they deliver the motivation, leadership and spine that Saddam's forces will need to rise against him.

The only sure way for us to effect his departure now would be to commit hundreds of thousands of American troops to fight on the ground inside Iraq. I do not believe that the costs of such a campaign would be sustainable at home or abroad. And the reward of success would be an American military occupation of Iraq that could last years.

The strategy we can and will pursue is to contain Saddam in the short and medium term, by force if necessary, and to work toward a new government over the long term.

The goal of containment is to prevent Saddam from rebuilding his deadly weapons and from threatening his neighbors. The question is how do we do that in the wake of the recent crisis?

The best alternative is for Saddam to allow UNSCOM back to Iraq with clear assurances that they will be able to complete their job. Why would he do that? If the UN Security Council makes clear that consideration of sanctions relief can only come with verified compliance by Iraq of its disarmament obligations. Indeed, lifting sanctions before there is verifiable compliance would be a sad day for the UN.

We should not reward Iraqi intransigence with new, watered down monitoring mechanisms designed to meet Saddam's demands. We should not be interested in helping Iraq create the illusion of compliance. Iraq needs to change its approach to inspections, not the international community. Iraq must demonstrate it will fully cooperate with the inspectors by taking affirmative steps. This is not hard for Iraq to do. Chairman Butler has proposed a roadmap to compliance that would take between 3 and 6 months to complete. If Saddam had the will to end this confrontation, he certainly has the way.

If there is not credible outside verification that Iraq has fulfilled its obligations, we must be ready to use force again if we determine Saddam is reconstituting his biological, chemical or nuclear weapons program or the missiles to deliver his WMD.

Disarmament by force does not promise perfect results. But then, neither did disarmament by inspections. Even at its most effective, UNSCOM never had it in its power to uncover every act of deception in every nook and cranny of Baghdad. And for much of the last year, the Iraqis have only been allowing UNSCOM to look where Iraq knows there was nothing to be found.

With or without UNSCOM, we have formidable intelligence capabilities. We will continue to conduct air reconnaissance. We can act if Iraq resumes production of missiles, or tries to test any missile system. We can act if Iraq tries to resume large scale production of chemical or biological weapons. We will watch Iraq's external procurement activity and we will know what it is trying to build and buy. And of course we can also act if Saddam prepares to move against his neighbors or the Kurds in northern Iraq, or if he threatens our aircraft.

With respect to Saddam's arsenal of deadly weapons, our strategy will be simple: if he rebuilds it, we will come. We have the obligation to do this; we have the will to do it; and we have forces in the region that are ready to do it.

Moreover, the sanctions regime that has already cost Saddam $120 billion will stay in place without change until UNSCOM returns. We will continue the oil for food program to ensure Iraq's oil revenues are spent on people, not arms.

In all these ways, we will continue to contain Saddam. But we also recognize that containment is a difficult policy to sustain in the long run. It is, first of all, a costly policy in economic and strategic terms. And even a contained Iraq is harmful to its region.

Saddam's continued misrule of Iraq is partly responsible for the pervasive sense of insecurity that prevents the Middle East as a whole from evolving in a positive way. It requires us to keep a costly presence in the Persian Gulf. It helps foster the false perception of a conflict between Muslims and the United States -- a perception President Clinton has done much to erase, but which inevitably persists and is exploited by those who wish us harm. It means the continuation of oppressive policies against all the peoples of Iraq that threaten that country's integrity. It condemns the Iraqi people to a future of unending isolation in a murderous police state, a future in which their basic needs are met but their hopes of a normal life are constantly dashed.

That is why we are going to do all we can to strengthen the Iraqi opposition so that it can seek change inside Iraq. We will do so in a practical and effective way, step by step. If we are serious, we must do this carefully, not noisily. We will not play recklessly with the lives of those who may risk their lives to oppose Saddam. And we must not imply commitments before we are clear about their risks and costs and likely benefits.

The responsibility to mount an effective movement that appeals to people inside Iraq and inspires them to struggle for change lies with the opposition leaders themselves. But there is much we can and will do. Already, we have reconciled the two Kurdish factions and worked with them to improve the lives of the three million Iraqis who live outside of Saddam's control in the North. We have set up Radio Free Iraq to get uncensored news and information to the Iraqi people. We are intensifying our contacts with the entire spectrum of Iraqi opposition groups, working with the Congress to help them become a more effective voice for the aspirations of the Iraqi people.

When the time is right and the opposition is ready, we will decide what kind of additional support it will need to overcome Saddam's apparatus of violence and terror. We will not overreach. But we are willing to use whatever means are appropriate to advance our interests in Iraq, as long as the means are effective.

We will also stand ready to help a new government in Iraq that respects the rights of its people and meets its obligations to the world. We would work to ease economic sanctions against such a new Iraq as quickly as possible. We would work to relieve Iraq's massive economic debts.

We will pursue this strategy with patience and resolve and with confidence that our goals will be met. We know from history that when tyrannies are prevented from expanding they often retreat and decay. We know from experience that when people struggling for freedom gain the moral and material support of the American people, they usually prevail in the end. We know as well that change, when it does come, often comes suddenly and at unexpected times.

Change will come to Iraq, at a time and in a manner that we can influence but cannot predict. And when it does, we'll look back and say "thank goodness we persevered." That is what we intend to do, with the support and understanding of the American people.

Thank you very much.

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