THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
VIDEOTAPED REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT TO THE ARAB WORLD
EMBARGOED UNTIL 7:00 AM EST DECEMBER 19, 1998
The Cabinet Room, The White House
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you for this opportunity to address America's friends throughout the Arab and the entire Islamic world. I want to explain why we have taken military action against Saddam Hussein, and why we believe this action is in the interests of the Iraqi people and all the people of the Middle East.
Saddam has ruled through a reign of terror against his own people and disregard for the peace of the region. His war against Iran cost at least half a million lives over 10 years. He gassed Kurdish civilians in Northern Iraq. In 1990, his troops invaded Kuwait, executing those who resisted, looting the country, spilling tens of millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf, firing missiles at Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Israel and Qatar. He massacred thousands of his own people in an uprising in 1991.
As a condition for the Gulf War cease-fire, Iraq agreed to disclose and to destroy its weapons of mass destruction, and to demonstrate its willingness to live at peace with its neighbors. Iraq could have ended economic sanctions and isolation long ago by meeting these simple obligations. Instead, it has spent nearly eight years defying them. Saddam has failed to disclose information about his weapons arsenal. He has threatened his neighbors and refused to account for hundreds of Kuwaitis still missing from 1991.
Each time Saddam has provoked a crisis, we've tried hard to find a peaceful solution, consulting our friends in the Arab world and working through the United Nations. A month ago, we joined the other 14 members of the U.N. Security Council in demanding that Saddam come into compliance immediately. We supported what Iraq said it wanted -- a comprehensive review of its compliance after it resumed full cooperation with the U.N. weapons inspectors. And we were gratified when eight Arab nations -- Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the UAE and Oman -- warned that Iraq would bear the blame -- Iraq alone would bear the blame for the consequences of defying the UN.
Now, I canceled a military strike when, at the last moment, Saddam promised to cooperate unconditionally with the inspectors. But this month, he broke his promises -- again, and again defied the U.N. So we had to act. Saddam simply must not be allowed to threaten his neighbors or the world with nuclear arms, poison gas or biological weapons.
America understands that Saddam's first victims are his own people. That is why we exempted food and medicine when sanctions were imposed on Iraq. That is why, since 1991, we have offered to allow Iraq to sell its oil and use the proceeds to pay for humanitarian supplies. For five years, Saddam rejected that offer while building lavish palaces for himself and diverting resources to his military.
Finally, in 1996, Saddam allowed the oil-for-food program to take effect. Since then, the U.N. has delivered nearly $3 billion worth of food and medicine to the Iraqi people every year. Without the watchful eye of the U.N., we would soon see the oil-for-food program become oil for tanks, leading to less food for the Iraqi people and more danger for Iraq's neighbors.
No decision to use force is easy, especially at a time when I'm working so hard to build peace in the Middle East and to strengthen our own relations with the Arab world. My visit to Gaza last week reflected my deep commitment to the peace process. I will never forget the warm welcome I received from the Palestinian people, eager to shape their own future at last.
Let me also state my deep respect for the holy month of Ramadan. In the days ahead, I hope all Muslims will consider America's sincere desire to work with all people in the Middle East to build peace. We have the most profound admiration for Islam. Our dispute is with a leader who threatens Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
As the crescent moon rises, and the ninth month begins, Muslim-Americans -- and all Americans -- wish you the blessings of faith and friendship. May our prayers for a better world soon be answered. Ramadan Kareem.