Madeleine K Albright

Policy Speech on Iraq - March 26, 1997

Madeleine K Albright
March 26, 1997— Washington, D.C.
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Father O'Donovan, Dean Goodman, distinguished panelists and friends, I am pleased to be here to participate in your day of discussions regarding United States policy towards Iraq.

I am especially pleased because Georgetown University was long my professional home, and it is the first chance I have had to return since becoming Secretary of State.

I must confess that, as I look around the room and see so many former colleagues, I feel a certain amount of envy.

I am having a wonderful time in my new job, but as I recall my previous life, it occurs to me that there are certain advantages to teaching, as opposed to practicing, diplomacy.

For one thing, you don't have to be as diplomatic.

For another, instead of spending your time with grizzled old foreign ministers, you are surrounded by fresh-faced, quick-witted students who keep you young.

Instead of reciting talking points that have been compressed into little bullets, you get to lecture fifty minutes at a chop.

And instead of going up to Congress to get grilled; you can invite others to seminars and grill them.

So I remember my years here fondly. And I am constantly bumping into former Georgetown students who are now running large chunks of foreign governments. So have faith. Despite our early exit from the basketball tournament, the master plan is still on track -- Georgetown may yet rule the world.

I also want to thank Ambassador Suddarth and Dr. Stowasser. As today's event illustrates, the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies and the Middle East Institute are rich contributors to our public policy debate.

It is in the interests of advancing and clarifying that debate that I was pleased to accept your invitation to speak here today.

My fundamental purpose is to reaffirm United States policy towards Iraq. That policy is part of a broad commitment to protect the security and territory of our friends and allies in the Gulf. We have a vital national interest in the security of the region's oil supplies, and we have forged strong friendships with countries in the area who agree with us that nations should respect international law, refrain from aggression and oppose those who commit or sponsor terror.

Here, as elsewhere, we recognize that stability is not an import; it must be home-grown. But we also know that circumstances may arise in which active American leadership and power are required.

A compelling example was Iraq's invasion of Kuwait six and a half years ago.

The results of that event remain with us now. So before discussing where we go from here in our policy towards Iraq, let me review how we got to where we are.

When President Bush launched Operation Desert Storm, he said that America had two objectives. First, to drive Iraq out of Kuwait. Second, to cause Iraq once again to "live as a peaceful and cooperative member of the family of nations."

Because of the bravery and brilliance of the U.S.-led military coalition, the first objective was quickly achieved.

But despite the lessons of war, continuing international pressure, the impact of tough UN sanctions, and the best interests of the Iraqi people, Iraq's government has continued to defy the will of the international community.

Under resolutions approved by the UN Security Council, Iraq is required to demonstrate its peaceful intentions by meeting a series of obligations. It must end its weapons of mass destruction programs and destroy any such weapons produced. It must cooperate with the inspection and monitoring regime established by the UN Special Commission, or UNSCOM. And it must recognize its border with Kuwait, return stolen property, account for POW/MIAs, end support for terrorism and stop brutalizing its people.

Had Iraq complied with these obligations early on, its economy would have recovered, the oil trade would have resumed, debts would have been paid, the suffering of its people would have been avoided, and it could have resumed its rightful place among the responsible nations of the world.

Instead, from the outset, Iraqi leaders chose denial, delay and deceit. Or to put it even more bluntly, they lied.

They have blocked inspections, concealed documents, falsified evidence and challenged UNSCOM's clear and legitimate authority.

They have refused to account satisfactorily for Kuwaiti missing and prisoners of war.

They have failed to return stolen property and weapons.

They have virtually demolished the marsh Arab community in southern Iraq, waged war on the minorities in the north and accelerated repression in the center to stay in power.

And their agents have crossed borders to gun down or poison Iraqi dissidents.

Throughout, their leader, Saddam Hussein, has bemoaned the unfairness of sanctions and the indignity of inspections.

His complaints remind me of the story about the schoolboy who returned home with his nose bloodied and his shirt torn. When his mother asked him how the fight started, he said "it started when the other guy hit me back."

Since 1991, the task of looking behind Iraqi deceptions to find the truth has fallen to the IAEA and to UNSCOM Chairman Rolf Ekeus and his staff.

For years, they have struggled to discover and destroy Iraq's once extensive arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. Although they have been harassed and threatened by Iraqi officials, they have made steady -- and at times stunning -- progress.

The defection in 1995 of Hussein Kamil, the official who directed many of Iraq's efforts at deception, marked a turning point. It led to major revelations regarding biological weapons and appeared, for a time, as if it would cause Iraq finally to accept the need for full disclosure.

Unfortunately, this has not been the case. The refusal to cooperate fully continued throughout 1996 and to the present time.

This tactic has not and will not work.

Our resolve on this point is unwavering. Hundreds of thousands of American soldiers put their lives on the line in the Gulf war. We will not allow Iraq to regain by stonewalling the Security Council what it forfeited by aggression on the battlefield.

We know from experience that firmness is the only language the Iraqi Government understands. In 1993, when Iraq plotted the assassination of former President Bush, the United States struck back hard.

In 1994, when Iraqi troops again threatened Kuwait, President Clinton's firm military and diplomatic response caused Baghdad not only to pull back its troops, but to recognize -- at long last -- its legal border with Kuwait. Moreover, a new Security Council resolution restricted military activity in southern Iraq.

Last August, Iraqi forces took advantage of intra-Kurdish tensions and attacked the city of Irbil, in northern Iraq. President Clinton responded by expanding the no-fly zone to the southern suburbs of Baghdad. This reduced further the strategic threat posed by Iraq and demonstrated our intention to respond to Iraqi transgressions in a manner of our choosing.

Contrary to some expectations, the attack on Irbil has not restored Saddam Hussein's authority in the north. Iraqi troops have withdrawn from Irbil, and the region's inhabitants, conscious of Baghdad's past repression against them, have resisted efforts by the regime to re-establish control.

The Kurdish parties have been working with us to limit their differences and seek common ground. Although old rivalries remain difficult, we are firmly engaged alongside Turkey and the United Kingdom in helping the inhabitants of the region find stability and work towards a unified and pluralistic Iraq.

Although we oppose the lawless policies of the Iraqi regime, we have never had a quarrel with the Iraqi people. UN sanctions do not prohibit food and medical supplies. But because Saddam Hussein did not use his resources to meet the basic needs of his people, we supported efforts for additional relief.

For five years, Baghdad refused to accept such an arrangement. It was not until late last year that Iraq finally caved in to international pressure and agreed.

The food for oil deal now in place is designed to ease the suffering of civilians throughout Iraq. It is not related to the larger question of when and if the overall sanctions regime will be lifted. Nor is the continuation of this arrangement automatic, however strongly we support its purpose. If we see evidence that the Government of Iraq is not living up to its promises with respect to implementation, the experiment will cease.

All this brings us to the present day. From the beginning of Operation Desert Storm until now, American policy towards Iraq has been consistent, principled and grounded in a realistic and hard-won understanding of the nature of the Iraqi regime. It has been bolstered by bipartisan support at home, and general approval in the region. And it has achieved a great deal.

Iraq's military threat to its neighbors is greatly diminished.

Most of its missiles have been destroyed.

Its biological and chemical warfare production facilities have been dismantled.

Nuclear materials have been removed and an international monitoring regime to prevent the construction of nuclear weapons is in place.

Iraq has been barred from importing weapons and weapons-related materials and technology.

And the area in which Iraqi military forces may operate freely has contracted.

To guard against further miscalculations on Baghdad's part, U.S. forces have been deployed to the region and we have demonstrated our ability to reinforce those troops rapidly if required.

Diplomatically, we have sustained an international consensus that Iraq should not be allowed again to threaten international peace. In statement after statement, and in 36 successive reviews, the Security Council has maintained its support for sanctions and its insistence on compliance.

Meanwhile, six years of sanctions and isolation have taken their toll on the regime in Baghdad. Saddam Hussein has become by far the most divisive force in Iraq, and several coup attempts have been made. Members of his own somewhat dysfunctional family have turned against him. His inner circle of advisors has been purged repeatedly. Today, his power rests on an increasingly narrow foundation of intimidation and terror.

So while Iraq's lawless policies are failing, our policies of law and firmness are working. As long as the apparatus of sanctions, enforcement, inspections and monitoring is in place, Iraq will remain trapped within a strategic box, unable to successfully threaten its neighbors and unable to realize the grandiose ambitions of its ignoble leader.

It is essential, however, that international resolve not weaken. Containment has worked, but -- despite Iraq's present weakness -- the future threat has not been erased. Iraq's behavior and intentions must change before our policies can change. Otherwise, we will allow the scorpion that bit us once to bite us again. That would be a folly impossible to explain to our children, or to the veterans of Desert Storm.

Consider that, under Saddam Hussein, Iraq has started two major wars, used poison gas and committed gross violations of international humanitarian law.

Consider that Iraq admitted producing chemical and biological warfare agents before the Gulf War that were sufficiently lethal to kill every man, woman and child on earth.

Consider that Iraq has yet to provide convincing evidence that it has destroyed all of these weapons.

Consider that Iraq admitted loading many of those agents into missile warheads before the war.

Consider that Iraq retains more than 7500 nuclear scientists and technicians, as well as technical documents related to the production of nuclear weapons.

Consider that Iraq has been caught trying to smuggle in missile guidance instruments.

And consider that, according to Ambassador Ekeus, UNSCOM has not been able to account for all the missiles Iraq acquired over the years. In fact, Ekeus believes it is highly likely that Iraq retains an operational SCUD missile force, probably with chemical or biological weapons to go with it.

If past is prologue, under the current government, an Iraq released from sanctions and scrutiny would pick up where it left off a half dozen years ago -- before the mother of all coalitions stopped it dead in its tracks.

For these reasons, our policy will not change. It is the right policy.

To those who ask how long our determination will last; how long we will oppose Iraqi intransigence; how long we will insist that the international community's standards be met, our answer is -- as long as it takes.

We do not agree with the nations who argue that if Iraq complies with its obligations concerning weapons of mass destruction, sanctions should be lifted. Our view, which is unshakable, is that Iraq must prove its peaceful intentions. It can only do that by complying with all of the Security Council resolutions to which it is subject.

Is it possible to conceive of such a government under Saddam Hussein? When I was a professor, I taught that you have to consider all possibilities. As Secretary of State, I have to deal in the realm of reality and probability. And the evidence is overwhelming that Saddam Hussein's intentions will never be peaceful.

The United States looks forward, nevertheless, to the day when Iraq rejoins the family of nations as a responsible and law abiding member. This is in our interests and in the interests of our allies and partners within the region.

Clearly, a change in Iraq's government could lead to a change in U.S. policy. Should that occur, we would stand ready, in coordination with our allies and friends, to enter rapidly into a dialogue with the successor regime.

That dialogue would have two principal goals.

First, because we are firmly committed to Iraq's territorial integrity, we would want to verify that the new Iraq would be independent, unified and free from undue external influence, for example, from Iran.

Second, we would require improvements in behavior. Is there cooperation with UNSCOM and compliance with UN resolutions? Is there respect for human rights, including the rights of minorities? Is there a convincing repudiation of terrorism? Are its military ambitions limited to those of reasonable defense?

If our concerns were addressed satisfactorily, Iraq would no longer threaten regional Security. Its isolation could end.

The international community, including the United States, would look for ways to ease Iraq's re-integration. A whole range of economic and security matters would be open for discussion in a climate of cooperation and mutual respect. Iraq could begin to reclaim its potential as a nation rich in resources and blessed by a talented and industrious people. And Iraq could become a pillar of peace and stability in the region.

But until that day comes, we must -- and will -- maintain our watch.

We will continue to work closely with our allies and friends to ensure that Iraq does not again attack its neighbors or put them at risk.

We will retain in the region the military capability required to deter Iraqi aggression and to enforce the no-fly and no-drive zones.

We will maintain a firm commitment to the territorial sovereignty of Kuwait and our other friends in the region.

We will lend our full diplomatic support to the work of the UN Special Commission and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

We will insist, with all of the diplomatic tools at our command, that UN sanctions remain in place. Within that context, we will do what we responsibly can to minimize the suffering of Iraqi citizens.

We will continue to support the establishment of a coherent and united Iraqi opposition which represents the country's ethnic and confessional diversity.

And we will continue helping the people of northern Iraq to meet their practical needs, resolve internal tensions, and reject the influence of terrorists.

The Baghdad of 1200 years ago was described as the center of "a properly regulated and well ordered" state, "where schools and colleges abound, (to which) philosophers, students, doctors and priests ... flock ... (and where) the governors and ministers (are) honest."

Clearly, Saddam Hussein has not been an agent of progress.

And clearly, what is now need not always be.

The rip in the fabric of Gulf stability that was created by Iraq's invasion of Kuwait has not fully mended. But the aggression has been rolled back. Iraq's military is contained. And the path for Iraq's re-entry into the community of nations is clearly laid out.

This is not, to borrow Margaret Thatcher's phrase, the time to go wobbly towards Iraq.

The United States is committed -- as are our friends -- to the victory of principle over expediency; and to the evolution in Iraq of a society based on law, exemplified by pluralism and content to live at peace.

These goals may be achieved soon.

They may be achieved not-so-soon.

But they are right; they are necessary; and they will be achieved.

Thank you very much.

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