THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
|For Immediate Release|| ||February 23, 1998|
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
The Oval Office
3:42 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon. Let me say first that Iwelcome U.N. Secretary General Annan's mission to Baghdad. I thankhim and his team for their hard work on behalf of the internationalcommunity.
I also want to commend each and every one of our men andwomen in uniform, and our coalition partners for their steadfastness.Once again, we have seen that diplomacy must be backed by strengthand resolve.
The government of Iraq has made a written commitment toprovide immediate, unrestricted, unconditional access for the UNSCOMweapons inspectors to all suspect sites in Iraq, as called for by theUnited Nations Security Council resolutions. If fully implemented --and that is the big "if" -- this commitment will allow UNSCOM tofulfill its mission: first, to find and destroy all of Iraq'schemical, biological and nuclear weapons; second, to find and destroythe missiles to deliver those weapons; and third, to institute asystem for long-term monitoring to make sure Iraq does not buildmore.
The Secretary General has made clear that Iraq'scommitment applies to all sites anywhere in the country, includingeight so-called presidential sites, which are among the areas towhich the weapons inspectors had previously been denied access.
Senior diplomats appointed by the Secretary General willaccompany the UNSCOM experts as they inspect these sites, with repeatvisits and no deadlines to complete their work. And Iraq hascommitted that all other areas, facilities, equipment, records, andmeans of transportation shall be open to UNSCOM under existingprocedures. Again, this includes sites that were previously closed.
There are issues that still need to be clarified to oursatisfaction and details that need to be spelled out. We will hearfrom the Secretary General tomorrow on these questions, and we willwork with him and with UNSCOM to make sure the inspections arerigorous and professional.
What really matters is Iraq's compliance, not its statedcommitments; not what Iraq says, but what it does. In the days andweeks ahead, UNSCOM must test and verify.
After two crises in the last four months, Iraq's failureto allow UNSCOM to do its job would be a serious, serious matter. IfIraq fails to comply this time to provide immediate, unrestricted,unconditional access to the weapons inspectors, there will be seriousconsequences.
I have ordered our military to remain in the PersianGulf. Our soldiers, our ships, our planes will stay there in forceuntil we are satisfied that Iran is complying -- that Iraq iscomplying with its commitments.
If the inspectors are allowed to inspect where and whenthey want, then they are the most effective tool we have to monitorIraq's compliance with the commitment it made at the end of the GulfWar, to give up all of its biological, chemical and nuclear weapons,the missiles to deliver them, and the capacity to rebuild itsarsenal.
I hope today's agreement will prove to be the stepforward we have been looking for. But the proof is in the testing.The United States remains resolved and ready to secure by whatevermeans necessary Iraq's full compliance with its commitment to destroyits weapons of mass destruction.
Thank you .
Q Mr. President, what makes you think that you willbe -- you won't be in this position a year from now, two years fromnow, three years from now? What in the preliminary details makes youcomfortable, or at least somewhat comfortable at this stage?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I've already said I don't knowwhether we'll be in a position of breach by Iraq within a year. AllI said is that I think it is now clear, based on my conversationswith Prime Minister Blair, President Chirac, President Yeltsin, andwhat we in our own team believe. No one seriously believes thatthere can be a breach of this agreement by Iraq without seriousconsequences.
But I will say this is the first time -- at least since1991 -- that Iraq has made a commitment to unconditional, open,unfettered access to all the sites, not only these presidential sitesthere's been so much talk about, but also some other so-calledsensitive sites that have been off limits.
So if the inspection system is allowed to go forward--we know from the record that the UNSCOM inspectors have compiled inthe last seven years that the system works. And if we can find apeaceful means for the system to work to secure the safety of thepeople in the region, the neighbors of Iraq and others that might bemenaced in the future by its weapons of mass destruction, that iswhat we have been seeking.
Q Mr. President, if Iraq does not keep its word thistime, do we go through this exercise of weeks and weeks and weeksagain?
THE PRESIDENT: I believe if it does not keep its wordthis time, everyone would understand that then the United States andhopefully all of our allies would have the unilateral right torespond at a time, place and manner of our own choosing. And I thinkthat's enough for me to say about that at this time.
Q Mr. President, you said before that he's lied andhe's cheated. Do you think that you can trust him this time? What'syour expectation? I know that you say you're going to take a waitand see attitude.
THE PRESIDENT: First of all, that is true. But I'vealso said before that when the UNSCOM inspectors have been allowed todo their job, even when there's been some cat-and-mouse games overthere, they have succeeded beyond anyone's expectations. You justhave to look at the volume of stuff they've uncovered and destroyedto know that. Therefore, this should not be a question of trust.First we need clarity. We need to clarify some of the remainingquestions about the agreement to our satisfaction. Clarity isimportant. And in fairness, all parties, even Saddam Hussein -- allthe parties are entitled to that: clarity. Then we need to test theagreement and verify that the commitments which are made in writingare kept in fact. So trust should not have to be an issue here. Ifyou have clarity, then you can verify.
So over the next two days we have a very -- allAmericans should have a positive reaction to the fact that we finallyhave a commitment to open all these sites and to let the inspectorsfinish their job. We need clarity. We need verification. And Iintend to keep our forces at high levels of preparation in the Gulfin the near-term to see what happens in terms of honoring theseobligations.
Q Mr. President, Senator Lott says you lack along-term strategy for handling Iraq. How do you respond to that,sir?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, since 1991, our strategy has beento keep the sanctions on, keep Iraq from rebuilding its militarymight and threatening its neighbors, but to pursue this inspectionsystem to end what is the biggest threat both to its neighbors and toothers by indirection, which is the chemical, the biological, and thenuclear weapons program. That has been our strategy all along.Whether that should continue to be our strategy depends in no smallmeasure I believe on whether this agreement is honored.
Q Sir, is there any wiggle room --
Q Has Saddam capitulated, sir?
THE PRESIDENT: I'll answer both questions.
Q Has Saddam Hussein capitulated?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think he has admitted that hehas to honor commitments he made back in '91. You know, I think thatour tough response was essential to getting him to admit that. TheSecretary General has conducted a hard mission. I am satisfied thathe has done the best he can. And I am satisfied that we would nothave this commitment to open all these spots had not the UnitedStates and our allies -- and there were lots of them, don't forget --been prepared to go further and to take whatever actions werenecessary.
But the main thing we need to do now is to focus onclarifying the details of the agreement to our satisfaction, thengoing ahead and testing it and verifying the commitment. I thinkthat is the most useful thing. What we want here is to secure thesafety of the people who would be exposed to chemical and biologicalweapons and to whatever nuclear capacity that he might still have.
You know, the United States -- I think I should pointthis out, it's not been part of my statement, but the United States-- and Ambassador Richardson was there carrying the ball for us -- westrongly supported expanding the program under Resolution 986 in theSecurity Council to let Iraq sell even more oil to go for food, tolift the Iraqi children above the minimum caloric requirement for allgrowing children in the world, to build 5,000 more schools, to put alot more medicine into that country, to rebuild the water and sewersystems and the agriculture system. We care a lot about the peopleof Iraq and we want them to have a decent life. But we must still bevigilant and steadfast about this regime.
This is -- and I say again, one of you asked me thisquestion -- this is not about trusting. First we need to be clear onwhat it means. And he needs to be clear on what it means. And thenwe need to see whether it is enforced. And if it is, fine. If it'snot, then the alternative will be a clear course of action toeveryone in the world.
Q Is there any wiggle room in this agreement?Because even before you spoke some of your critics predicted that youwould buy an agreement that was not air-tight simply as a way out.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think it's obvious that Ihaven't looked for a way out here. What I have looked for is a wayforward. The United States, because of our position in the world, iscalled upon to bring its power to bear when it's important to do so.But we also should have the self-confidence and the conscience toshow forbearance as well as strength, and to do what is right.
The objective is unassailable, and he has agreed to theobjective, which is full and free and unfettered access. I have toldyou -- not my critics, I have told you -- that there are details inthis agreement that still have to be flushed out, and there areprovisions in it which require greater clarity, and we have to havethose things resolved to our satisfaction in order to go forward.
But my instinct is, talking to the Secretary General andtalking to our partners, that we can resolve those things to oursatisfaction. I'm hoping that we can, but I am not prejudging it.Ambassador Richardson has got his work cut out for him tomorrow, andthe rest of our team will be working closely with him. We'll seewhat we're doing.
Q Can you give us examples of those things wheremaybe you need clarification that could provide a problem?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we'll do that at the proper time.The Secretary General has asked to have the opportunity -- and Ithink he's entitled to it -- to present the memorandum ofunderstanding to the Security Council before the rest of us commenton the details. And I think that he is entitled to that. He'sworked very hard. He's had very little sleep in the last severaldays. And I'm going to honor his request to that.