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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 19, 1998
                             TO THE NATION 

                            The Oval Office

10:06 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. As I speak to you America's men and women in uniform, and our British allies, are fighting for security, peace and freedom in the Persian Gulf. They're doing an outstanding job, showing bravery and skill, making our country proud. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.

Putting our troops in harm's way is the hardest decision any President faces. I believe our action in Iraq clearly is in America's interest. Never again can we allow Saddam Hussein to develop nuclear weapons, poison gas, biological weapons, or missiles to deliver them. He has used such terrible weapons before against soldiers, against his neighbors, against civilians. And if left unchecked, he'll use them again.

For seven and a half years, United Nations weapons inspectors did a truly remarkable job in forcing Saddam to disclose and destroy weapons he insisted he did not have. But over the past year Saddam repeatedly has blocked their efforts. Each time with intensive diplomacy backed by the threat of force, we compelled him to back down.

Last month, when he agreed to fully cooperate, I cancelled an American military action. But I, along with Prime Minister Tony Blair of Great Britain, made it absolutely clear that if he did not fully cooperate we would have no choice but to act without further negotiation or warning.

For three weeks, the U.N. inspectors tested Saddam's commitment. He failed the test, hindering and preventing inspections, withholding and destroying documents. As their Chairman concluded, the inspectors can no longer do their vital job. Under these circumstances, had we failed to respond it would have given Saddam a green light to rebuild his arsenal and threaten his neighbors.

I acted quickly because, as my military advisors stressed, the longer we waited, the more time Saddam would have to disperse his forces and protect his arsenal. Our mission is clear: to degrade Saddam's capacity to develop and deliver weapons of mass destruction, and threaten the region. Based on reports from the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and the CIA Director, I believe the mission is going well.

Now, where do we go from here? Our long-term strategy is clear. First, we stand ready to use force again if Saddam takes threatening action such as seeking to reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction, menacing his neighbors or his own Kurdish citizens, or challenging allied aircraft.

Second, so long as Iraq fails to live up to its obligations, we'll work with the international community to keep the sanctions in place. They have cost Saddam more than $120 billion -- resources he would have devoted to rebuilding his weaponry. At the same time, we will continue to support the ongoing program to provide humanitarian supplies to the people of Iraq, so that Saddam uses his oil to buy food and medicine, not tanks and missiles.

Finally, we'll strengthen our engagement with Iraqis who want a new government, one that will respect its citizens and live in peace with its neighbors. We must not harbor illusions, however, that change will come easily or quickly. But we should go forward, and we will, with determination, working with opposition groups, strengthening the global consensus for bringing Iraq a government worthy of its people.

As our forces carry out their missions, I want to express my heartfelt thanks to all our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, in the Gulf and all around the world, who work every day to defend our freedom, promote stability and democracy, and bring hope. To those forces now engaged in the battle against Saddam Hussein, you have our appreciation for your courage, and our nation's hopes for your safe and successful return.

To all those in our Armed Forces who will spend this holiday season away from home, away from your loved ones, we thank you for your service. You are helping to insure a just and peaceful world.

As we enter the season of peace, we remain ever-hopeful that, one day, all nations and all communities will actually live in peace, with tolerance, respect, and civility. There can be no greater gift for our children.

Thanks for listening.

END 10:11 A.M. EST