Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release February 19, 1998


The South Lawn

10:25 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. I 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 standard.

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 vital, 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, 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 Hussein --

Q Does that mean you're going to start bombing next week?

THE PRESIDENT: I've made no decision about a deadline.

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 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 articulated the goals of this policy, if we do, indeed, have to attack Iraq?

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 deliver 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 and the kinds of problems they can do -- 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, and 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.

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