(also available at www.whitehouse.gov)
Thank you all. Thank you for that very gracious and warm
Cincinnati welcome. I'm honored to be here tonight; I appreciate
you all coming.
Tonight I want to take a few minutes to discuss a grave threat
to peace, and America's determination to lead the world in
confronting that threat.
The threat comes from Iraq. It arises directly from the Iraqi
regime's own actions -- its history of aggression, and its drive
toward an arsenal of terror. Eleven years ago, as a condition for
ending the Persian Gulf War, the Iraqi regime was required to
destroy its weapons of mass destruction, to cease all development
of such weapons, and to stop all support for terrorist groups. The
Iraqi regime has violated all of those obligations. It possesses
and produces chemical and biological weapons. It is seeking
nuclear weapons. It has given shelter and support to terrorism,
and practices [sic] terror against its own people. The entire
world has witnessed Iraq's eleven-year history of defiance,
deception and bad faith.
We also must never forget the most vivid events of recent
history. On September the 11th, 2001, America felt its
vulnerability -- even to threats that gather on the other side of
the earth. We resolved then, and we are resolved today, to
confront every threat, from any source, that could bring sudden
terror and suffering to America.
Members of the Congress of both political parties, and members
of the United Nations Security Council, agree that Saddam Hussein
is a threat to peace and must disarm. We agree that the Iraqi
dictator must not be permitted to threaten America and the world
with horrible poisons and diseases and gases and atomic weapons.
Since we all agree on this goal, the issues is: how can we best
Many Americans have raised legitimate questions: about the
nature of the threat; about the urgency of action -- why be
concerned now; about the link between Iraq developing weapons of
terror, and the wider war on terror. These are all issues we've
discussed broadly and fully within my administration. And tonight,
I want to share those discussions with you.
First, some ask why Iraq is different from other countries or
regimes that also have terrible weapons. While there are many
dangers in the world, the threat from Iraq stands aloe -- because
it gathers the most serious dangers of our age in one place.
Iraq's weapons of mass destruction are controlled by a murderous
tyrant who has already used chemical weapons to kill thousands of
people. This same tyrant has tried to dominate the Middle East,
has invaded and brutally occupied a small neighbor, has struck
other nations without warning, and holds an unrelenting hostility
toward the United States.
By its past and present actions, by its technological
capabilities, by the merciless nature of its regime, Iraq is
unique. As a former chief weapons inspector of the U.N. has said,
"The fundamental problem with Iraq remains the nature of the
regime, itself. Saddam Hussein is a homicidal dictator who is
addicted to weapons of mass destruction."
Some ask how urgent this danger is to America and the world.
The danger is already significant, and it only grows worse with
time. If we know Saddam Hussein has dangerous weapons today -- and
we do -- does it make any sense for the world to wait to confront
him as he grows even stronger and develops even more dangerous
In 1995, after several years of deceit by the Iraqi regime, the
head of Iraq's military industries defected. It was then that the
regime was forced to admit that it had produced more than 30,000
liters of anthrax and other deadly biological agents. The
inspectors, however, concluded that Iraq had likely produced two
to four times that amount. This is a massive stockpile of
biological weapons that has never been accounted for, and capable
of killing millions.
We know that the regime has produced thousands of tons of
chemical agents, including mustard gas, sarin nerve gas, VX nerve
gas. Saddam Hussein also has experience in using chemical weapons.
He has ordered chemical attacks on Iran, and on more than forty
villages in his own country. These actions killed or injured at
least 20,000 people, more than six times the number of people who
died in the attacks of September the 11th.
And surveillance photos reveal that the regime is rebuilding
facilities that it had used to produce chemical and biological
weapons. Every chemical and biological weapon that Iraq has or
makes is a direct violation of the truce that ended the Persian
Gulf War in 1991. Yet, Saddam Hussein has chosen to build and keep
these weapons despite international sanctions, U.N. demands, and
isolation from the civilized world.
Iraq possesses ballistic missiles with a likely range of
hundreds of miles -- far enough to strike Saudi Arabia, Israel,
Turkey, and other nations -- in a region where more than 135,000
American civilians and service members live and work. We've also
discovered through intelligence that Iraq has a growing fleet of
manned and unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to disperse
chemical or biological weapons across broad areas. We're concerned
that Iraq is exploring ways of using these UAVS for missions
targeting the United States. And, of course, sophisticated
delivery systems aren't required for a chemical or biological
attack; all that might be required are a small container and one
terrorist or Iraqi intelligence operative to deliver it.
And that is the source of our urgent concern about Saddam
Hussein's links to international terrorist groups. Over the years,
Iraq has provided safe haven to terrorists such as Abu Nidal,
whose terror organization carried out more than 90 terrorist
attacks in 20 countries that killed or injured nearly 900 people,
including 12 Americans. Iraq has also provided safe haven to Abu
Abbas, who was responsible for seizing the Achille Lauro and
killing an American passenger. And we know that Iraq is continuing
to finance terror and gives assistance to groups that use
terrorism to undermine Middle East peace.
We know that Iraq and the al Qaeda terrorist network share a
common enemy -- the United States of America. We know that Iraq
and al Qaeda have had high-level contacts that go back a decade.
Some al Qaeda leaders who fled Afghanistan went to Iraq. These
include one very senior al Qaeda leader who received medical
treatment in Baghdad this year, and who has been associated with
planning for chemical and biological attacks. We've learned that
Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and
deadly gases. And we know that after September the 11th, Saddam
Hussein's regime gleefully celebrated the terrorist attacks on
Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or
chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists.
Alliance with terrorists could allow the Iraqi regime to attack
America without leaving any fingerprints.
Some have argued that confronting the threat from Iraq could
detract from the war against terror. To the contrary; confronting
the threat posed by Iraq is crucial to winning the war on terror.
When I spoke to Congress more than a year ago, I said that those
who harbor terrorists are as guilty as the terrorists themselves.
Saddam Hussein is harboring terrorists and the instruments of
terror, the instruments of mass death and destruction. And he
cannot be trusted. The risk is simply too great that he will use
them, or provide them to a terror network.
Terror cells and outlaw regimes building weapons of mass
destruction are different faces of the same evil. Our security
requires that we confront both. And the United States military is
capable of confronting both.
Many people have asked how close Saddam Hussein is to
developing a nuclear weapon. Well, we don't know exactly, and
that's the problem. Before the Gulf War, the best intelligence
indicated that Iraq was eight to ten years away from developing a
nuclear weapon. After the war, international inspectors learned
that the regime has been much closer -- the regime in Iraq would
likely have possessed a nuclear weapon no later than 1993. The
inspectors discovered that Iraq had an advanced nuclear weapons
development program, had a design for a workable nuclear weapon,
and was pursuing several different methods of enriching uranium
for a bomb.
Before being barred from Iraq in 1998, the International Atomic
Energy Agency dismantled extensive nuclear weapons-related
facilities, including three uranium enrichment sites. That same
year, information from a high-ranking Iraqi nuclear engineer who
had defected revealed that despite his public promises, Saddam
Hussein had ordered his nuclear program to continue.
The evidence indicates that Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear
weapons program. Saddam Hussein has held numerous meetings with
Iraqi nuclear scientists, a group he calls his "nuclear
mujahideen" -- his nuclear holy warriors. Satellite
photographs reveal that Iraq is rebuilding facilities at sites
that have been part of its nuclear program in the past. Iraq has
attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes and other
equipment needed for gas centrifuges, which are used to enrich
uranium for nuclear weapons.
If the Iraqi regime is able to produce, buy, or steal an amount
of highly enriched uranium a little larger than a single softball,
it could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year. And if we
allow that to happen, a terrible line would be crossed. Saddam
Hussein would be in a position to blackmail anyone who opposes his
aggression. He would be in a position to dominate the Middle East.
He would be in a position to threaten America. And Saddam Hussein
would be in a position to pass nuclear technology to terrorists.
Some citizens wonder, after 11 years of living with this
problem, why do we need to confront it now? And there's a reason.
We've experienced the horror of September the 11th. We have seen
that those who hate America are willing to crash airplanes into
buildings full of innocent people. Our enemies would be no less
willing, in fact, they would be eager, to use biological or
chemical, or a nuclear weapon.
Knowing these realities, America must not ignore the threat
gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot
wait for the final proof -- the smoking gun -- that could come in
the form of a mushroom cloud. As President Kennedy said in October
of 1962, "Neither the United States of America, nor the world
community of nations can tolerate deliberate deception and
offensive threats on the part of any nation, large or small. We no
longer live in a world," he said, "where only the actual
firing of weapons represents a sufficient challenge to a nations
security to constitute maximum peril."
Understanding the threats of our time, knowing the designs and
deceptions of the Iraqi regime, we have every reason to assume the
worst, and we have an urgent duty to prevent the worst from
Some believe we can address this danger by simply resuming the
old approach to inspections, and applying diplomatic and economic
pressure. Yet this is precisely what the world has tried to do
since 1991. The U.N. inspections program was met with systematic
deception. The Iraqi regime bugged hotel rooms and offices of
inspectors to find where they were going next; they forged
documents, destroyed evidence, and developed mobile weapons
facilities to keep a step ahead of inspectors. Eight so-called
presidential palaces were declared off-limits to unfettered
inspections. These sites actually encompass twelve square miles,
with hundreds of structures, both above and below the ground,
where sensitive materials could be hidden.
The world has also tried economic sanctions -- and watched Iraq
use billions of dollars in illegal oil revenues to fund more
weapons purchases, rather than providing for the needs of the
The world has tried limited military strikes to destroy Iraq's
weapons of mass destruction capabilities -- only to see them
openly rebuilt, while the regime again denies they even exist.
The world has tried no-fly zones to keep Saddam from
terrorizing his own people -- and in the last year alone, the
Iraqi military has fired upon American and British pilots more
than 750 times.
After eleven years during which we have tried containment,
sanctions, inspections, even selected military action, the end
result is that Saddam Hussein still has chemical and biological
weapons and is increasing his capabilities to make more. And he is
moving ever closer to developing a nuclear weapon.
Clearly, to actually work, any new inspections, sanctions or
enforcement mechanisms will have to be very different. America
wants the U.N. to be an effective organization that helps keep the
peace. And that is why we are urging the Security Council to adopt
a new resolution setting out tough, immediate requirements. Among
those requirements: the Iraqi regime must reveal and destroy,
under U.N. supervision, all existing weapons of mass destruction.
To ensure that we learn the truth, the regime must allow witnesses
to its illegal activities to be interviewed outside the country --
and these witnesses must be free to bring their families with them
so they all beyond the reach of Saddam Hussein's terror and
murder. And inspectors must have access to any site, at any time,
without pre-clearance, without delay, without exceptions.
The time for denying, deceiving, and delaying has come to an
end. Saddam Hussein must disarm himself -- or, for the sake of
peace, we will lead a coalition to disarm him.
Many nations are joining us in insisting that Saddam Hussein's
regime be held accountable. They are committed to defending the
international security that protects the lives of both our
citizens and theirs. And that's why America is challenging all
nations to take the resolutions of the U.N. Security Council
And these resolutions are clear. In addition to declaring and
destroying all of its weapons of mass destruction, Iraq must end
its support for terrorism. It must cease the persecution of its
civilian population. It must stop all illicit trade outside the
Oil For Food program. It must release or account for all Gulf War
personnel, including an American pilot, whose fate is still
By taking these steps, and by only taking these steps, the
Iraqi regime has an opportunity to avoid conflict. Taking these
steps would also change the nature of the Iraqi regime itself.
America hopes the regime will make that choice. Unfortunately, at
least so far, we have little reason to expect it. And that's why
two administrations -- mine and President Clinton's -- have stated
that regime change in Iraq is the only certain means of removing a
great danger to our nation.
I hope this will not require military action, but it may. And
military conflict could be difficult. An Iraqi regime faced with
its own demise may attempt cruel and desperate measures. If Saddam
Hussein orders such measures, his generals would be well advised
to refuse those orders. If they do not refuse, they must
understand that all war criminals will be pursued and punished. If
we have to act, we will take every precaution that is possible. We
will plan carefully; we will act with the full power of the United
States military; we will act with allies at our side, and we will
There is no easy or risk-free course of action. Some have
argued we should wait -- and that's an option. In my view, it's
the riskiest of all options, because the longer we wait, the
stronger and bolder Saddam Hussein will become. We could wait and
hope that Saddam does not give weapons to terrorists, or develop a
nuclear weapon to blackmail the world. But I'm convinced that is a
hope against all evidence. As Americans, we want peace -- we work
and sacrifice for peace. But there can be no peace if our security
depends on the will and whims of a ruthless and aggressive
dictator. I'm not willing to stake one American life on trusting
Failure to act would embolden other tyrants, allow terrorists
access to new weapons and new resources, and make blackmail a
permanent feature of world events. The United Nations would betray
the purpose of its founding, and prove irrelevant to the problems
of our time. And through its inaction, the United States would
resign itself to a future of fear.
That is not the America I know. That is not the America I
serve. We refuse to live in fear. (Applause.) This nation, in
world war and in Cold War, has never permitted the brutal and
lawless to set history's course. Now, as before, we will secure
our nation, protect our freedom, and help others to find freedom
of their own.
Some worry that a change of leadership in Iraq could create
instability and make the situation worse. The situation could
hardly get worse, for world security and for the people of Iraq.
The lives of Iraqi citizens would improve dramatically if Saddam
Hussein were no longer in power, just as the lives of
Afghanistan's citizens improved after the Taliban. The dictator of
Iraq is a student of Stalin, using murder as a tool of terror and
control, within his own cabinet, within his own army, and even
within his own family.
On Saddam Hussein's orders, opponents have been decapitated,
wives and mothers of political opponents have been systematically
raped as a method of intimidation, and political prisoners have
been forced to watch their own children being tortured.
America believes that all people are entitled to hope and human
rights, to the non-negotiable demands of human dignity. People
everywhere prefer freedom to slavery; prosperity to squalor;
self-government to the rule of terror and torture. America is a
friend to the people of Iraq. Our demands are directed only at the
regime that enslaves them and threatens us. When these demands are
met, the first and greatest benefit will come to Iraqi men, women
and children. The oppression of Kurds, Assyrians, Turkomans,
Shi'a, Sunnis and others will be lifted. The long captivity of
Iraq will end, and an era of new hope will begin.
Iraq is a land rich in culture, resources, and talent. Freed
from the weight of oppression, Iraq's people will be able to share
in the progress and prosperity of our time. If military action is
necessary, the United States and our allies will help the Iraqi
people rebuild their economy, and create the institutions of
liberty in a unified Iraq at peace with its neighbors.
Later this week, the United States Congress will vote on this
matter. I have asked Congress to authorize the use of America's
military, if it proves necessary, to enforce U.N. Security Council
demands. Approving this resolution does not mean that military
action is imminent or unavoidable. The resolution will tell the
United Nations, and all nations, that America speaks with one
voice and is determined to make the demands of the civilized world
mean something. Congress will also be sending a message to the
dictator in Iraq: that his only chance -- his only choice is full
compliance, and the time remaining for that choice is limited.
Members of Congress are nearing an historic vote. I'm confident
they will fully consider the facts, and their duties.
The attacks of September the 11th showed our country that vast
oceans no longer protect us from danger. Before that tragic date,
we had only hints of al Qaeda's plans and designs. Today in Iraq,
we see a threat whose outlines are far more clearly defined, and
whose consequences could be far more deadly. Saddam Hussein's
actions have put us on notice, and there is no refuge from our
We did not ask for this present challenge, but we accept it.
Like other generations of Americans, we will meet the
responsibility of defending human liberty against violence and
aggression. By our resolve, we will give strength to others. By
our courage, we will give hope to others. And by our actions, we
will secure the peace, and lead the world to a better day.
May God bless America. (Applause.)