Clinton: Saddam to Blame if U.S. Strikes
By Edward Walsh
Adding to his administration's efforts this week to explain its Iraq policy to a largely skeptical audience, President Clinton sent a videotaped message to Arab countries yesterday warning that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein "must bear full responsibility for every casualty" resulting from threatened U.S. military action against Iraq.
Clinton's statement, which was videotaped Wednesday in the White House Cabinet Room and distributed by satellite yesterday, described the Iraqi people as "the victims" of Saddam Hussein's regime. The president said that if the Iraqi leader is allowed to rebuild his arsenal of chemical and biological weapons, "none of the region's children will be safe."
"Nobody wants to use force," he said. "But if Saddam refused to keep his commitments to the international community, we must be prepared to deal directly with the threat these weapons pose to the Iraqi people, to Iraq's neighbors and to the rest of the world. Either Saddam acts or we will act."
Adding to the sense of impending action, Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright yesterday authorized the "voluntary departure" of government dependents and non-emergency personnel from the U.S. embassies in Kuwait and Tel Aviv and the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem.
State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said the authorization was "a precautionary measure" made in response to expressions of concern and anxiety by some Americans in those countries. He said it was not based on "any intelligence of an imminent threat" of an attack by Iraq against Kuwait or Israel.
In his message to Arab states, which followed a rocky effort by his top foreign policy advisers to explain U.S. policy at a televised "town meeting" in Columbus, Ohio, Clinton repeated demands that Saddam Hussein allow United Nations inspection teams "full and free" access to suspected weapons sites. But he also devoted much of his message to the United Nations's oil-for-food program, which the Security Council voted yesterday to expand.
The 15-member council gave permission for Iraq to double the amount of oil it can sell each six months in exchange for food and medicine from $2.1 billion to $5.25 billion. The council has authorized oil-for-food humanitarian sales since December 1996 as a humanitarian exemption from the sanctions that have been in effect against Iraq since 1990.
In increasing the amount, the council agreed with Secretary General Kofi Annan's recommendation that more money is needed to help alleviate the plight of the 22 million Iraqi people. U.N. diplomatic sources said council members wanted to approve the increase before Annan begins his talks with Iraqi leaders in Baghdad about a diplomatic resolution of the confrontation over inspections.
The sanctions, including a ban on Iraqi oil sales, are to remain in place until Saddam Hussein agrees to inspections and the destruction of nonconventional weapons of mass destruction. But the United Nations has allowed a limited export of Iraqi oil to pay for food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies.
Clinton said the United States has supported enlargement of this program and accused Saddam Hussein of deliberately delaying the pumping of oil that could have been used to purchase food. Iraq has objected to some aspects of Annan's proposals and has said it wants assurances of greater autonomy in dispensing the relief aid before it prepares any distribution plan.
"Just as Saddam deprives his people of relief from abroad, he represses them at home, brutally putting down the uprisings of the Iraqi people after the Gulf War, attacking Irbil in 1996 and draining the marshes of southern Iraq," Clinton said. "Saddam's priorities are painfully clear: not caring for his citizens, but building weapons of mass destruction and using them."
Clinton's message was addressed to "all our Arab and Muslim friends" and was translated into Arabic, Chinese, French and Russian. The Chinese, French and Russians are opposed to military action and have been trying to broker a diplomatic solution to the dispute. Many Muslim countries have also publicly opposed the use of force, and several Arab allies of the United States have limited their cooperation with military planners.
Meanwhile, a group of 38 former foreign policy and defense officials released a letter they have sent to Clinton suggesting that the United States encourage a rebellion in Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein. "Iraq today is ripe for a broad-based insurrection. We must exploit this opportunity," the letter said.
The signers, most officials in the Reagan and Bush administrations, included former defense secretaries Frank C. Carlucci and Caspar W. Weinberger and former national security advisers Richard V. Allen, William P. Clark and Robert C. McFarlane.
Staff writer John M. Goshko contributed to this report from the United Nations.
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