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Background: The Iraq Debate

September 12, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: President Bush’s challenge to the U.N. over Iraq. Before the President spoke this morning, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan addressed the General Assembly with some remarks of his own about Iraq and the United States.

KOFI ANNAN: Even the most powerful countries know that they need to work with others in multilateral institutions to achieve their aims. That applies even more to the prevention of terrorism. Individual states may defend themselves by striking back at terrorist groups and at the countries that harbor or support them. But only concerted vigilance and cooperation among all states, with constant, systematic exchange of information, offers any real hope of denying the terrorists their opportunities. And among multilateral institutions, this universal organization has a special place.

Any state, if attacked, retains the inherent right of self-defense under Article 51 of the charter. But beyond that, when states decide to use force to deal with broader threats to international peace and security, there is no substitute for the unique legitimacy provided by the United Nations. The leadership of Iraq continues to defy mandatory resolutions adopted by the Security Council under chapter VII of the charter.

I have engaged Iraq in an in-depth discussion on a range of issues, including the need for arms inspectors to return in accordance with the relevant Security Council resolutions. Efforts to obtain Iraq’s compliance with the Council’s resolutions must continue. I appeal to all those who have influence with Iraq’s leaders to impress on them the vital importance of accepting the weapons inspections.

This is the indispensable first step towards assuring the world that all Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction have indeed been eliminated, and let me stress, towards the suspension and eventual ending of the sanctions that are causing so many hardships for the Iraqi people. I urge Iraq to comply with this obligation for the sake of its own people, and for the sake of world order. If Iraq’s defiance continues, the Council must face its responsibilities.

JIM LEHRER: And then the President spoke. Here are major excerpts from what he said.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Our principles and our security are challenged today by outlaw groups, and regimes that accept no law of morality and have no limit to their violent ambitions. In the attacks on America a year ago, we saw the destructive intentions of our enemies.

This threat hides within many nations, including my own. In cells and camps, terrorists are plotting further destruction and building new bases for their war against civilization. And our greatest fear is that terrorists will find a shortcut to their mad ambitions when an outlaw regime supplies them with the technologies to kill on a massive scale. In one place, in one regime, we find all these dangers in their most lethal and aggressive forms, exactly the kind of aggressive threat the United Nations was born to confront.

From 1991 to 1995, the Iraqi regime said it had no biological weapons. After a senior official in its weapons program defected and exposed this lie, the regime admitted to producing tens of thousands of liters of anthrax and other deadly biological agents for use with scud warheads, aerial bombs, and aircraft spray tanks. U.N. inspectors believe Iraq has produced two to four times the amount of biological agents it declared, and has failed to account for more than three metric tons of material that could be used to produce biological weapons.

Right now, Iraq is expanding and improving facilities that were used for the production of biological weapons. United Nations inspections also reveal that Iraq likely maintains stockpiles of VX, mustard, and other chemical agents, and that the regime is rebuilding and expanding facilities capable of producing chemical weapons. And in 1995, after four years of deception, Iraq finally admitted it had a crash nuclear weapons program prior to the Gulf War. We know now, were it not for that war, the regime in Iraq would likely have possessed a nuclear weapon no later than 1993.

Today, Iraq continues to withhold important information about its nuclear program, weapons design, procurement logs, experiment data, and accounting of nuclear materials and documentation of foreign assistance. Iraq employs capable nuclear scientists and technicians. It retains physical infrastructure needed to build a nuclear weapon. Iraq has made several attempts to buy high-strength aluminum tubes used to enrich uranium for a nuclear weapon. Should Iraq acquire fissile material, it would be able to build a nuclear weapon within a year.

We know that Saddam Hussein pursued weapons of mass murder even when inspectors were in his country. Are we to assume that he stopped when they left? The history, the logic, and the facts, lead to one conclusion: Saddam Hussein’s regime is a grave and gathering danger. To suggest otherwise is to hope against the evidence. To assume this regime’s good faith, is to bet the lives of millions and the peace of the world in a reckless gamble. And this is a risk we must not take.

My nation will work with the U.N. Security Council to meet our common challenge. If Iraq’s regime defies us again, the world must move deliberately, decisively, to hold Iraq to account. We will work with the U.N. Security Council for the necessary resolutions, but the purposes of the United States should not be doubted. The Security Council resolutions will be enforced, the just demands of peace and security will be met, or action will be unavoidable and a regime that has lost its legitimacy will also lose its power.

Events can turn in one of two ways. If we fail to act in the face of danger, the people of Iraq will continue to live in brutal submission, the regime will have new power to bully and dominate and conquer its neighbors, condemning the Middle East to more years of bloodshed and fear. The regime will remain unstable– the region will remain unstable with little hope of freedom– and isolated from the progress of our times.

With every step the Iraqi regime takes toward gaining and deploying the most terrible weapons, our own options to confront that regime will narrow. And if an emboldened regime were to supply these weapons to terrorist allies, then the attacks of September the 11th would be a prelude to far greater horrors.

If we meet our responsibilities, if we overcome this danger, we can arrive at a very different future. The people of Iraq can shake off their captivity. They can one day join a democratic Afghanistan and a democratic Palestine, inspiring reforms throughout the Muslim world. These nations can show by their example that honest government and respect for women, and the great Islamic tradition of learning, can triumph in the Middle East and beyond. And we will show that the promise of the United Nations can be fulfilled in our time. Neither of these outcomes are certain. Both have been set before us.

We must choose between a world of fear and a world of progress. We cannot stand by and do nothing while dangers gather. We must stand up for our security and for the permanent rights and the hopes of mankind. By heritage, and by choice, the United States of America will make that stand. And delegates to the United Nations, you have the power to make that stand as well. Thank you very much. (Applause)