Clinton Gives Saddam New Warning
AP White House Correspondent
Thursday, February 19, 1998; 11:06 a.m. EST
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Clinton said today that Saddam Hussein should not be emboldened by raucous dissent at a town hall meeting over possible American airstrikes against Iraq. ``Not if he understands the first thing about America,'' the president said.
Clinton also said he had asked Vice President Al Gore to delay a planned trip to South Africa next week so he can have his full national security team on hand if the United States decides to attack Iraq.
Despite angry protests at Wednesday's town hall meeting in Columbus, Ohio, about attacking Iraq, Clinton said, ``I believe strongly that most Americans support our policy. They support our resolve.''
Clinton spoke with reporters on the South Lawn of the White House before boarding a helicopter for a speaking engagement in Baltimore. He said he had just spoken with French President Jacques Chirac about Iraq. They both agreed that U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan's diplomatic mission to Baghdad is ``a critical opportunity to achieve the outcome that all of us would prefer'' -- a peaceful, principled settlement.
To achieve that result, Saddam must give U.N. weapons inspectors free and unfettered access to all suspected weapons sites anywhere in the country, Clinton said. Closing off room for negotiations, Clinton said, ``He simply must adhere to that standard.''
Repeating threats of force, the president said, ``If diplomacy fails, we must be and we are prepared to act. The choice is Saddam Hussein's.''
Clinton said that Saddam ``must bear the responsibility for the onsequences.''
The president's comments came on the heels of the Columbus town meeting where Clinton's national security team struggled to be heard over angry protests. Officials argued that Saddam must be forced -- by military strikes if necessary -- to open his weapon sites to inspection.
Playing down the divisions -- broadcast around the world, including to Baghdad -- the president said, ``I thought it was a good, old-fashioned American debate.''
``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 belive it will unite, just as we did in 1991. I believe it will unite behind taking the necessary action.''
Asked if Saddam might be emboldened to resist the international community because of the reaction in Columbus, Clinton said. ``Not if he understands the first thing about America.''
© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press