President's Statement on Iraq
Federal News Service
Sunday, December 20, 1998; Page A46
The following are excerpts from President Clinton's announcement, delivered last night at the White House, that allied air strikes against Iraq had concluded.
On Wednesday, I ordered our armed forces to strike military and strategic targets in Iraq. They were joined by British forces. That operation is now complete, in accordance with our 70-hour plan. My national security team has just briefed me on the results. They are preliminary, but let me say just a few words about why we acted, what we have achieved and where we want to go.
We began with this basic proposition: Saddam Hussein must not be allowed to develop nuclear arms, poison gas, biological weapons or the means to deliver them. He has used such weapons before against soldiers and civilians, including his own people. We have no doubt that if left unchecked, he would do so again. Saddam must not be . . . permitted . . . to defy the will of the international community. Without a firm response, he would have been emboldened to do that again and again.
For seven and a half years now, the United Nations weapons inspectors have done a truly remarkable job in forcing Saddam to disclose and destroy weapons and missiles he insisted he did not have. But over the past year, Saddam has repeatedly sought to cripple the inspection system. Each time, through intensive diplomatic efforts backed by the threat of military action, Saddam has backed down.
When he did so last month, I made it absolutely clear that if he did not give UNSCOM full cooperation this time, we would act swiftly and without further delay. For three weeks, the inspectors tested Saddam's commitment to cooperate. They repeatedly ran into road blocks and restrictions, some of them new. As their chairman, Richard Butler, concluded in his report to the United Nations on Tuesday, the inspectors no longer were able to do their job. So far as I was concerned, Saddam's days of cheat and retreat were over.
Our objectives in this military action were clear: to degrade Saddam's weapons-of-mass-destruction program and related delivery systems, as well as his capacity to attack his neighbors. . . . Based on the briefing I have just received, I am confident we have achieved our mission. We have inflicted significant damage on Saddam's weapons-of-mass-destruction programs, on the command structures that direct and protect that capability, and on his military and security infrastructure. . . .
So long as Saddam remains in power, he will remain a threat to his people, his region and the world. With our allies, we must pursue a strategy to contain him and to constrain his weapons-of-mass-destruction program, while working toward the day Iraq has a government willing to live at peace with its people and with its neighbors.
Let me describe the elements of that strategy going forward. First, we will maintain a strong military presence in the area and we will remain ready to use it if Saddam tries to rebuild his weapons of mass destruction, strikes out at his neighbors, challenges allied aircraft or moves against the Kurds. We also will continue to enforce "no-fly" zones. . . .
Second, we will sustain what have been among the most extensive sanctions in U.N. history. To date, they have cost Saddam more than $120 billion, resources that otherwise would have gone toward rebuilding his military. At the same time, we will support a continuation of the oil-for-food program, which generates more than $10 billion a year for food, medicine and other critical humanitarian supplies for the Iraqi people. . . .
Third, we would welcome the return of UNSCOM and the International Atomic Energy Agency back into Iraq to pursue their mandate through the United Nations, provided that Iraq first takes concrete, affirmative and demonstrable actions to show that it will fully cooperate with the inspectors. But if UNSCOM is not allowed to resume its work on a regular basis, we will remain vigilant and prepared to use force if we see that Iraq is rebuilding its weapons programs.
Now, over the long term, the best way to end the threat that Saddam poses to his own people in the region is for Iraq to have a different government. We will intensify our engagement with the Iraqi opposition groups, prudently and effectively. We will work with Radio Free Iraq. . . . And we will stand ready to help a new leadership in Baghdad that abides by its international commitments and respects the rights of its own people. . . .
Again, foremost, I want to give my thanks to our men and women in uniform. We are waiting for the last planes to come home and praying that we'll be able to tell you tomorrow that every last one of them has returned home safely.
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