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Clinton, lieutenants take tough line on Iraq

Clinton and Albright November 9, 1997
Web posted at: 9:34 p.m. EST (0234 GMT)

From White House Correspondent John King

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bill Clinton and his top lieutenants took a hard line Sunday in the ongoing dispute between Iraq and the United Nations over weapons inspections.

Administration officials said there must be -- and will be -- an immediate military response if Iraqi President Saddam Hussein orders strikes on U.S.-piloted U-2 surveillance planes, which are scheduled to resume inspection missions over Iraq starting Monday.

"Those flights are United Nations flights, even though they're American pilots in those planes, and you cannot dictate to the United Nations what we do," Clinton said, speaking on NBC's "Meet The Press." "They will resume, and if you shoot at them, you will be making a big mistake."

"We will not tolerate his efforts to murder our pilots acting on behalf of the United Nations."

On Monday, the U.N. Security Council will decide what action it will take in response to Iraq's refusal to allow weapons inspection teams with American members to operate in Iraq.

The White House wants tough new economic sanctions -- and a clear statement that a military response is also possible.

"Saddam Hussein is a congenital liar, and he cheats and he steals and he cannot be allowed to defy the international community," said Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Iraq has said it wants to see the number of Americans on those U.N. inspection teams reduced -- a demand the U.S. government says is unacceptable.

"Saddam Hussein can't dictate who the inspectors are," said Sandy Berger, Clinton's national security adviser. "It's like the bank robber saying he gets to choose the police."

Six years after the end of the Persian Gulf war, France, Russia and some other countries have talked about the possibility of easing sanctions against Iraq -- something the United States opposes.


Sunday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair pledged his country's support for the hard-line American position, and the White House believes this latest showdown has repaired any cracks in the international community's anti-Saddam Hussein coalition.

"This is not Saddam Hussein versus the United States," Albright said. "This is Saddam Hussein versus the United Nations."

Still, Clinton has asked his military advisers for a contingency plan in the event he decides the United States must act alone against Iraq.

A top Republican leader reiterated Sunday that Clinton will have broad-based political support if he decides to proceed.

"The president will have bipartisan support if he will act decisively," said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott.


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