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December 17, 1998

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Thursday, December 17, 1998


The United States Gave Iraq The Opportunity To Avoid Air Strikes. President Clinton's decision to order air strikes against Iraq for its failure to comply with the United Nations Special Commission's (UNSCOM) weapons inspections came after a similar episode six weeks ago, when Saddam Hussein announced that he would no longer cooperate with UNSCOM, whose job is to oversee the elimination of Iraq's capability to retain, create and use weapons of mass destruction, and to verify that Iraq does not attempt to rebuild that capability. The U.N. Security Council voted 15 to zero to condemn his actions and to demand that he immediately come into compliance. When Saddam still failed to comply, the United States prepared to act militarily. It was only then, at the last possible moment, that Iraq backed down. It pledged to the U.N. that it had made "a clear and unconditional decision to resume cooperation with the weapons inspectors." The President decided to give Saddam one last chance to prove his willingness to cooperate.

The UNSCOM Report Details Saddam's Failure To Comply. Over the past three weeks, the U.N. weapons inspectors have carried out their plan for testing Iraq's cooperation. The testing period ended this weekend, and Tuesday night, UNSCOM's Chairman, Richard Butler, reported the results to U.N. Secretary General Annan. In four out of the five categories set forth, Iraq has failed to cooperate and has actually placed new restrictions on the inspectors:

  • Iraq repeatedly blocked UNSCOM from inspecting suspect sites. For example, it shut off access to the headquarters of its ruling party, and said it will deny access to the party's other offices, even though U.N. resolutions make no exception for them and UNSCOM has inspected them in the past;
  • Iraq repeatedly restricted UNSCOM's ability to obtain necessary evidence. For example, Iraq obstructed UNSCOM's effort to photograph bombs related to its chemical weapons program, tried to stop an UNSCOM biological weapons team from videotaping a site and photocopying documents, and prevented Iraqi personnel from answering UNSCOM's questions;
  • Prior to the inspection of another site, Iraq actually emptied out the building, removing not just documents, but even the furniture and the equipment. Iraq has failed to turn over virtually all the documents requested by the inspectors; indeed, Iraq ordered the destruction of weapons related documents in anticipation of an UNSCOM inspection;
  • Iraq abused its final chance. The UNSCOM report concludes that the Commission is not able to conduct the work mandated to it by the Security Council with respect to Iraq's prohibited weapons program;
  • In short, even if the inspectors could stay in Iraq, their work would be a sham. Saddam's deception has defeated their effectiveness.

President Clinton Acted In The National Security Interest Of The United States. In ordering air strikes against Iraq, President Clinton acted on the unanimous recommendation of his national security team. We had to act for several reasons:

  • First, without a strong inspections system, Iraq would be free to retain and begin to rebuild its chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons programs in months, not years;
  • Second, if Saddam can cripple the weapons inspections system and get away with it, he would conclude that the international community, led by the United States, has simply lost its will. He will surmise that he has free rein to rebuild his arsenal of destruction;
  • Third, if we turn our backs on Saddam's defiance, the credibility of U.S. power as a check against him will be destroyed. We will not only have allowed Saddam to shatter the inspections system that controls his weapons of mass destruction program; we also will have fatally undercut the fear of force that stops Saddam from acting to gain domination in the region.

President Clinton Will Continue To Pursue A Long-Term Strategy to Ensure Iraqi Compliance. The President is also pursuing a long-term strategy to contain Iraq and its weapons of mass destruction, and work toward the day when Iraq has a government worthy of its people. The President remains prepared to use force again if Saddam takes threatening actions and will continue to work with the international community to maintain and enforce economic sanctions.

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