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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Remarks on Air Strikes Against Iraq
Washington, D.C., December 16, 1998
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State

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Crisis in Iraq Home Page

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Good evening. You have all heard the President, Secretary Cohen and General Shelton. This is a moment of grave determination. We have decided to use force because other means simply have not worked.

Before taking questions, I want to emphasize the extent to which the United States sought a diplomatic outcome to the confrontation between Iraq and the UN Security Council. Show-downs last fall, last winter and last month were all concluded without air strikes, after Iraq promised to cooperate fully with UN weapons inspectors.

Throughout, we worked hard to maintain Security Council unity by allowing time and then more time for Iraq to live up to those promises. We agreed to Iraq's request for a comprehensive review of compliance issues, provided cooperation was forthcoming. We encouraged allies and friends, such as Russia and many in the Arab world, to do all they could to persuade the leaders in Baghdad to act in accordance with Security Council resolutions. Both we and the Security Council were explicit in our warnings that a continued failure by Iraq to cooperate with UN weapons inspectors would have severe consequences.

Although we were criticized by some for persevering in our diplomatic efforts for so long, the truth is that these efforts were both necessary and successful. They helped to preserve Council unity and isolate Iraq internationally. They were not successful, however, in gaining full Iraqi compliance with its obligations. This is not because the requests the Security Council made were unreasonable or unachievable or unjustified, but because compliance would have required something Saddam Hussein is simply unwilling to do, which is to come fully clean about his weapons of mass destruction programs.

US policy is based on principles established by the Security Council in the aftermath of the Gulf War more than seven and a half years ago. These principles have been reaffirmed on literally dozens of occasions, and they are designed to ensure that Saddam Hussein's Iraq does not again threaten its neighbors or the world with weapons of mass destruction. This is a deadly serious objective, given Saddam's demonstrated willingness to use such weapons both against foreign adversaries and his own people.

Saddam's capacity to develop and brandish such armaments poses a threat to international security and peace that cannot be ignored. One way or another, it must be countered; and degrading that capacity is the purpose of the strikes on military targets in Iraq that the President has ordered today.

Let me also echo the President by stressing that our quarrel is not with the Iraqi people. On the contrary, we recognize that Iraqis have been the primary victims of Saddam Hussein's failure to cooperate internationally and his reign of terror domestically.

The United States took the lead in establishing a UN program to meet the humanitarian needs of Iraqi civilians and supported the expansion of that program earlier this year. In carrying out military action, we will do all we can to minimize civilian casualties, and we will support Iraqis who are working for the day when the people of their country will be free to choose their own leaders and shape their own destiny.

During the course of the day, I have consulted by phone with more than a dozen of my counterparts; and I found broad understanding about the goals of our action, because those goals have long had widespread support within the international community.

In closing, let me emphasize again that the United States did not go looking for this fight. As the United States' chief diplomat, I can tell you that we exhausted every diplomatic approach and every possibility. Month after month we have given Iraq chance after chance to move from confrontation to cooperation. We have explored and exhausted every diplomatic option. We will see now whether force can persuade Iraq's misguided leaders to reverse course and to accept at long last the need to abide by the rule of law and the will of the world.

I'd be happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, if this operation doesn't succeed in getting rid of Saddam Hussein, how can you expect that an Iraq that has been hit before, after all, will not continue to defy UN weapons inspections? And by the way, what about the notion of getting rid of him? We've just got a note from Helms and Lugar and a fairly broad range of Senators saying that the US policy should be to get rid of him. But mainly I'm asking, if you hit him again, how does that somehow enhance the prospects of him finally cooperating with the UN?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that clearly it is a very strong message. What our main desire here is, is to get compliance from him. As the President has said, however, we are very concerned about his ability to reconstitute and deliver his weapons of mass destruction and to have an ability to continue to threaten his neighbors.

So this serious and sustained military action is not designed to get Saddam Hussein, but to degrade his abilities in the areas of weapons of mass destruction and his ability to threaten his neighbors. You've heard from Secretary Cohen.

But I think that the point here is that we want Saddam Hussein to comply, and it is important that he get the message. We tried it through diplomatic means, and perhaps this other means will be recorded more easily by him.

But I think that the point here is compliance, and the international community has demanded such compliance for the last seven and a half years.

QUESTION: If I could just go with Barry's question a little bit differently, do you hold out any hope that Saddam will, in fact, let the inspections resume; or has bombing now become sort of the only policy you can employ if you feel he's rebuilding his weapons programs?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that obviously it would be better if he complied and then after this strike that he would let UNSCOM get back in and work again, because compliance is the only way forward. But as the President said, because we do consider the danger that he poses by his ability to reconstitute the weapons of mass destruction and his record of having used it, that it is important for us to make clear to him that if he cannot comply peacefully, the targets are the kind that help to degrade his capabilities.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, in recent weeks the Administration has put a new stress on trying to support the Iraqi opposition. Could you tell us a little bit about where that program stands right now and how does this bombing effort affect that goal, that program?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that clearly we have been talking more with the variety of opposition groups. We are looking at ways, as provided by the Iraqi Liberation Act, of how we can carry that out. We are generally working in a more active way with these groups.

I think that they need to know that we are willing to work with them -- that is something that we have now made very clear -- and also that we believe that the Iraqi people deserve a better regime than the one they have. I think that, as the President said, having a change in regime could take a long time. But we are prepared to work with them in a sustained way.

QUESTION: Do you see this military action as somehow weakening Saddam and thereby making their job easier?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that, as I've said, the purpose of the military strikes is really to degrade his weapons of mass destruction capability and his command and control of military security. To the extent that it weakens his regime, fine. But as the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman have described the targets, I'm not going to go into that. But the purpose of the use of force is for degrading those items that I mentioned.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, you've said that you talked to more than a dozen of your counterparts today. France, since these strikes have started, has issued a statement saying that it disassociated itself from the military action. My question is, what are they telling you about the reasons that, in effect, the US and Britain are acting alone?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that basically they have felt that Saddam Hussein needs to comply, and they have approached it from a different way. But the truth is they have no answers as to how to make them comply. I think that we have support from a number of countries. I feel very satisfied with the overall support -- not only for diplomatic purposes, but I think that Secretary Cohen has also indicated that we have the kind of support we need in order to carry out our mission.

The bottom line is that it would be very nice if those who do not support our approach had an approach that worked. We have not been able -- either they, through their diplomatic efforts, or we through ours -- to persuade Saddam Hussein to comply. I think we've been at this, as I've said -- in the last year there have been over four crises with Saddam Hussein. I think the important point that I have made as I've made my calls is that we have to break this cycle. Unless people have an answer that works, I think they can go their way. But the bottom line here is I feel quite comfortable with the support we have. And if I might say, as I said in my opening statement, diplomatically the Security Council, which had been divided a year ago, had come together recently with a 15 to nothing vote in support of having Saddam Hussein comply. So I think that basically we've got the support we need.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, is there anything that Iraq can do now to lessen the severity of these strikes? Is there anything that they can say or do that would make these strikes end prematurely?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: No. I think that they've had their chance. I'm not going to talk about the military details of this or the length or anything like that; I refer you to the Defense Department. But the bottom line here is we gave Saddam Hussein the extra chance -- and there were a lot of people that were critical for that extra chance -- and Saddam Hussein blew it. Frankly, I thought that he would comply, and he would have been in the middle of a comprehensive review. He had every opportunity and he has systematically, if you read Chairman Butler's report, undermined the work of UNSCOM.

I thought the President stated it very well -- that rather than UNSCOM being able to disarm Saddam Hussein, he has systematically worked to disarm them. In this last series of inspections, he blocked them; he created new safe havens; he decided Friday was not a day to inspect; he interfered with helicopters; he blocked photography; he cleaned out rooms. We know that he ordered the destruction of documents; we now know that. So everything he did was contrary to the interests of complying.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, if in 1991 our military campaign did not succeed in completely eliminating Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction program, why are we now simply going after degrading his WMDs and not using a more extensive military strike?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, let me say, first of all, this is a serious and sustained strike. We have reserved the right to continue it if he does not comply.

I think that we have set ourselves a do-able goal; and it is important, I think, to state what we can do, which is to degrade his weapons of mass destruction -- his ability to reconstitute and deliver -- and to reconstitute his ability to threaten his neighbors. The Gulf War had 500,000 troops there and a variety of other methods and we have chosen this very strong message to Saddam that he needs to comply.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, you mentioned several times that France and others don't seem to have an answer to get him to comply. I'm not quite clear what our answer is. If you assume that it will be very difficult at best to get UNSCOM back into the country, what exactly is our post-UNSCOM policy towards Iraq? Do we continue to bomb until -- towards what end, basically; how are we prepared to do it?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Basically we do want him to comply. Getting UNSCOM back in would be, obviously, the best way. But as I said, the purpose of this is to degrade. Because the purpose of UNSCOM is to be the eyes and ears so that he does not have the capability of using these weapons, if he does not allow UNSCOM to do its work then we have to take a different approach.

But in the long run, we want compliance; and in the longer run, we have now made quite clear that we are prepared to work with these opposition groups for a regime change. Saddam Hussein may not only be a slow learner, but also may not have it even in his capability to comply. We have talked about the fact that he needs to comply with all the Security Council resolutions, and I think that is why we have come to the decision that we need to work more actively with these opposition groups in order to give the Iraqi people the kind of government that they deserve.

QUESTION: As our chief diplomat, does it damage your ability to conduct foreign policy to have Republican leaders who have called for us to use force in the past, having them criticize the decision to use force now?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I'll tell you what upset me particularly is that somehow the rules that have existed for many years about criticizing the President when he's abroad seem to have been broken. I found that very unseemly and unbecoming to members of Congress.

I do think that it would be very nice if we had complete support from members of Congress; but that doesn't happen. So I think that it's the Commander in Chief who made this decision. We do have support, by the way. I spoke with Chairman Helms a little while ago, and he supports this action. In fact, his only criticism was that we hadn't done it sooner.

QUESTION: Have you heard from any of the Republican leaders that criticized in the beginning, saying they have now amended their criticism?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I have not personally; but I think that it is very helpful when the United States can act all together in a matter of national security importance.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, after the stand-off in November, the President was quoted as saying that if there had been strikes, UNSCOM would not have been allowed back in. You're referring now to the possibility of compliance and UNSCOM going back in. Has there been a reassessment of the impact of strikes between then and now? And also, you've referred a couple times to doing strikes and then seeing how Saddam reacts. Are you suggesting that there will be a pause in a sustained series of strikes which will allow Saddam to comply?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, let me say that it is much desired that UNSCOM be able to go back in, but I'm not sure that is going to happen. We did not undertake this strike with the idea that that might be the result. The purpose of this strike, as I have now said a number of times, was to do what we could to degrade the threat. I think that the best result would be if he did let UNSCOM back in.

I am not going to go further into what our military plans are. I think that we have made clear that this is a serious and sustained strike, and we will see what happens. The important point here is that Saddam Hussein get the message that the international community, through its Security Council resolutions, wants him to comply. I think the very important part here is that this crisis was created by Saddam Hussein. He is solely responsible for this crisis. I think a very important part of the discussions that I've had with the countries that I've called today -- and which was very evident in the declaration in Damascus the last time -- is that countries hold him solely responsible for what is happening. He is the one that can end this by complying with Security Council resolutions.

Thank you.

[End of Document]

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