Clinton: Iraq has abused its last chance
December 16, 1998
The president said Iraq's refusal to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors presented a threat to the entire world.
"Saddam (Hussein) must not be allowed to threaten his neighbors or the world with nuclear arms, poison gas or biological weapons," Clinton said.
Operation Desert Fox, a strong, sustained series of attacks, will be carried out over several days by U.S. and British forces, Clinton said.
"Earlier today I ordered America's armed forces to strike military and security targets in Iraq. They are joined by British forces," Clinton said.
"Their mission is to attack Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs and its military capacity to threaten its neighbors," said Clinton.
Clinton also stated that, while other countries also had weapons of mass destruction, Hussein is in a different category because he has used such weapons against his own people and against his neighbors.
The Iraqi leader was given a final warning six weeks ago, Clinton said, when Baghdad promised to cooperate with U.N. inspectors at the last minute just as U.S. warplanes were headed its way.
"Along with Prime Minister (Tony) Blair of Great Britain, I made it equally clear that if Saddam failed to cooperate fully we would be prepared to act without delay, diplomacy or warning," Clinton said.
The president said the report handed in Tuesday by Richard Butler, head of the United Nations Special Commission in charge of finding and destroying Iraqi weapons, was stark and sobering.
Iraq failed to cooperate with the inspectors and placed new restrictions on them, Clinton said. He said Iraqi officials also destroyed records and moved everything, even the furniture, out of suspected sites before inspectors were allowed in.
"Instead of inspectors disarming Saddam, Saddam has disarmed the inspectors," Clinton said.
"In halting our airstrikes in November, I gave Saddam a chance -- not a license. If we turn our backs on his defiance, the credibility of U.S. power as a check against Saddam will be destroyed," the president explained.
Clinton said he made the decision to strike Wednesday with the unanimous agreement of his security advisors.
Timing was important, said the president, because without a strong inspection system in place, Iraq could rebuild its chemical, biological and nuclear programs in a matter of months, not years.
"If Saddam can cripple the weapons inspections system and get away with it, he would conclude the international community, led by the United States, has simply lost its will," said Clinton. "He would surmise that he has free rein to rebuild his arsenal of destruction."
Clinton also called Hussein a threat to his people and to the security of the world.
"The best way to end that threat once and for all is with a new Iraqi government -- a government ready to live in peace with its neighbors, a government that respects the rights of its people," Clinton said.
Such a change in Baghdad would take time and effort, Clinton said, adding that his administration would work with Iraqi opposition forces.
Clinton also addressed the ongoing impeachment crisis in the White House.
"Saddam Hussein and the other enemies of peace may have thought that the serious debate currently before the House of Representatives would distract Americans or weaken our resolve to face him down," he said.
"But once more, the United States has proven that although we are never eager to use force, when we must act in America's vital interests, we will do so."
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