News

TRANSCRIPT

DoD News Briefing


Thursday, April 2, 1998
Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen

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Perhaps I'll skip NATO and just go directly to Iraq because some of you have been asking me how's it going? What's it look like? Is Saddam Hussein complying with his agreement? The answer is yes and no -- a good political answer. I haven't given up my senatorial credentials as yet. (Laughter) But the answer is yes and no.

As a result of the military power that we demonstrated in the Gulf, Kofi Annan would be the first to stand up at this podium and tell you he was able to go to meet with Saddam Hussein and come up with this memorandum of agreement. Without the U.S. power, without our friends the Brits, I might say, and let me point out, it was not just the United States and Great Britain. There were 25 countries involved in committing their forces in one fashion or another to that area if a conflict were to result. So we overlook the fact that we have 25 nations with us -- 13 out or 16 NATO countries. If you take the three who are seeking accession into NATO, it would have been 16 out of 19 of the NATO countries also contributing to that effort in the Gulf. But without that display of power and without the display of the intention to use it, Kofi Annan or anyone else could not have been successful in coming up with any kind of agreement.

There's an old adage, as you know -- what you cannot win on the battlefield, you can't really succeed in achieving at the bargaining table. You must be prepared to go to battle in order to allow our diplomats to achieve a diplomatic solution.

In any event, having said that, has he complied? The answer is right now that he is imposing no barriers to the inspectors who are going from room to room and from palace to palace. But we should not be deceived by the fact that they're not finding anything. I want you to think about this in concrete terms. It is virtually impossible to take a table the size of this head table here, 20 people or 30 people, turn them loose in a country the size of the State of Wyoming -- 170,000 square miles -- looking for chemically or biologically tipped needles in haystacks that are spread over that country.

To say we walked into a room, we haven't found anything, they must be complying. If that is the test, we lose. That should not be the test and it cannot be the test. That is only part of the effort that is underway.

The other part is, Saddam Hussein is under an affirmative obligation to prove that he has destroyed what he claims he had in his inventory, so keep this also in mind. The Iraqi government, the officials, had lied consistently about their having chemical and biological weapons.

Initially after the Persian Gulf War, they said we don't have any biological weapons. Then, of course, we found out that they had some 2100 gallons of anthrax. They said we don't have any chemical weapons and we found they had four tons of VX. A single drop of VX on your finger and you will die within a matter of minutes. A single spore of anthrax and you will die within a matter of four or five days. So when you're talking about 2,000 or 3,000 gallons of anthrax and four tons of VX...

They're also developing something called ricin which you take out of castor beans. Castor beans can be used to produce something we all loved as a child, in our childhood days, and that's castor oil. It can also produce ricin which is a deadly poison for which there is no antidote. Guess what? They were growing hundreds of acres of castor beans. But all of this they claim they destroyed.

There's only one problem -- they can't produce any evidence that showed when, how, where, under what circumstances it has been destroyed. That has been the problem as far as the UNSCOM inspectors are concerned. They have asked the Iraqi authorities, show us. Where did you destroy it? Where are the records? You keep records on everything in terms of how many ball point pens you manufactured during the 1980s. Where are the records in terms of the VX and the anthrax and the castor beans and ricin? They have been unable to produce such records.

In fact about a month ago, prior to the resolution of this memorandum of agreement, Tariq Aziz had requested a new team, an evaluation team, to come in and make an assessment. It was headed by a Russian at the request of Tariq Aziz. That team went into Iraq, and they came back and said, filed a report saying, the Iraqis have failed to comply with the UN resolutions. They are still stalling. They are still hiding. They are not producing evidence of what they have destroyed.

So what we have to do, and to do it now, is to make it very clear to Saddam Hussein, it's not enough to open up your palace doors. Whether you have 8 or whether you have 80 -- they have about 80 of those palatial estates, some of which occupy hundreds of acres, thousands of acres of land. It's not enough to open up your doors. It's not enough to enter the empty rooms. It's not enough to look at your computers and find the delete button has been pushed. What you have to do is to supply information to the UNSCOM inspectors that says now we're satisfied. You claim you destroyed 50 SCUD missiles that are armed with anthrax. We can only find evidence of 30 having been destroyed. Where are the other 20? You claim you've destroyed 130,000 pounds of precursor chemicals. Where is the evidence that you destroyed it and where did you destroy it?

So they've got all of these questions to answer, and we have to lay that marker down now. If we don't, what's going to happen, I can assure you, is that we'll have more of these inspections; they will turn up little, if anything. Then there will be pressure on the United States to relieve the Iraqi people of any sanctions, and that is his goal -- get rid of the inspectors, get rid of the sanctions, and he can go back to doing business again.

If we, at the last moment, come in and say, by the way you haven't given us evidence of the destruction of those weapons, it will look as if we're moving the goal posts once again at the last moment. No one will be there to support us.

So this is something that we have to focus on now, and not allow that to slip. Until that's done, we cannot claim there has been any successful resolution of this crisis.

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Q: Mr. Secretary, (inaudible) town hall (inaudible) town meeting in Ohio.

A: You were right, I shouldn't have taken this question. (Laughter)

There are several rules about town meetings. Number one, never hold a town meeting at a university. Number two, never have 6,000 unscreened visitors to your town meeting. Number three, do not go to a town meeting at a university when the subject is war and peace. Number four, when there is an outbreak in the audience, do not throw the first protester out of the auditorium. Rule number five, if you throw him out, do not let him back in. (Laughter)

Each of these rules was violated at Ohio State. I'm looking at Time Magazine, and I have on my desk the original drawing that appeared in the issue following that what has been described as a debacle at Ohio State, and I have that on my wall framed now to remind me never to violate those rules in the future.

Having been the only member of the delegation who's ever experienced town hall meetings, my counsel was not sought, but I think I have more credibility now following that experience.

I'll respond very quickly to the question about sanctions. The sanctions are important. Saddam Hussein has made a choice. He has deprived his people of roughly $110 billion since those sanctions were imposed. He would rather deprive his people of $110 billion in revenues than comply with the UN resolutions. He made that choice, and yet he has been successful in portraying the United States and the West as the ones who have inflicted the cruel and unusual punishment upon his people.

While he was denying them the revenue from the sale of oil because he wouldn't comply with UN resolutions, he was building an additional 40 or 45 palaces. Somehow that escaped everybody's attention, but we were the ones getting the blame for it. It was overlooked that we were the ones who initiated the so-called Section 986, the oil for food program. That was the United States who was responsible for that, because we wanted to make sure that we tried to persuade the Arab population that we were more concerned about their welfare than he was. We actually supported, during this crisis, a doubling of the oil for food program, invoking great criticism, saying aren't you confusing your message? On the one hand you're threatening to punish the hell out of Saddam, and on the other you're doubling the amount of oil that can be sold for food for these people.

What has to be remembered is that when we have the oil for food program, he doesn't like it. He doesn't like it because he doesn't get to control the money. The United Nations gets to control the money, which brings me to another point. We ought to pay our dues and... (Applause)

So the sanctions have been effective. Without the sanctions he would be back in a position to rebuild his military. It's probably at about 60 percent of where it was prior to the Gulf War. He has not had the capability he once had. He doesn't have the ability to simply manufacture either nuclear weapons which he was trying to do which require the technology. He doesn't have the ability to, as long as the inspectors are there, to regenerate his ability to produce the delivery systems for the anthrax and the VX and other types of biological and chemical weapons. So we have kept him in a box. The sanctions have been effective. That's why he was resisting -- get rid of the inspectors, get rid of the sanctions.

So far he has been somewhat successful, but I would only point out, if you look at where we are today, we do have access to every facility today. All those that were declared off limits are now being inspected. We may find them empty, but the principle is, everything is open to inspection.

Secondly, we are keeping him off balance. He doesn't know exactly where the inspectors are going. He may try to penetrate that, might try to get intelligence on it, but he doesn't know where they are going, and they're off guard at all times.

The third point is something that's very important to the Arab population in the Gulf states in particular. They were worried that we were so anxious to go in there and bomb him, and to kill a lot of innocent people in the process, that they said you should be willing to walk the extra mile for diplomacy. By walking the extra mile at considerable criticism to the United States, nonetheless, every one of those Gulf states called me and spoke with me personally saying we are glad you were willing to walk the extra mile to see if this won't work. And now we've given him the final chance. Now we can, with good conscience, go to our people who have not been supportive of this and make it clear to them: know the United States was willing to take this last step, and now, if Saddam Hussein in any way inhibits those inspections, we have no trouble in saying we walked the last mile.

You may recall their language was: We hope you'll exhaust every reasonable diplomatic initiative. Once you have done that and if he fails to comply, he will be solely responsible for the consequences. That was language very clearly intended to tell him that they were going to be supportive of our effort.

So we have gained a lot of credibility with the Gulf States, even though with some criticism here at home. We didn't carry through with the potential bombing attack.

I can tell you as a military, someone in charge of our military as such, as the civilian head, bombing is the last resort. Bombing would not have accomplished what the inspectors could accomplish on the ground by keeping him off balance, by keeping him unable to regenerate his capabilities. We could have done substantial damage, and we would have done substantial damage, and I will tell you without getting into anything classified, that the targets that we had selected and the way in which it would have been carried out, it would have inflicted a great deal of damage upon his ability to regenerate his weapon systems and their delivery mechanism, and it would have put at risk some of the things that he prized most.

So he became very much aware of that. The message got through. As a result, I think he became more willing to sign this memorandum of agreement.

So I think we gained. We lost some, but we gained overall credibility with our Arab friends, the Gulf states. We made it very clear; we've got a UN resolution saying the most severe consequences will flow in the event that he goes back to his old ways. So I think this bears every opportunity to revisit that. We may have to. In the mean time I want to raise that issue about making sure that he has to come forward and prove that he has destroyed what he claims he has destroyed.

Thank you very much.