Good morning. Today I know the thoughts and prayers of every American are with our men and women in uniform serving in the Persian Gulf, standing up for America's interests. I want to speak with you about why 10 days ago I ordered our Armed Forces to strike Iraq, what we have accomplished, and where we go from here.
America's vital interests in the Persian Gulf are constant and clear: to help protect our friends in the region against aggression, to work with others in the fight against terrorism, to preserve the free flow of oil, and to build support for a comprehensive Middle East peace. Any group or nation that threatens the stability of the region threatens those interests.
For the past 5 years, Saddam Hussein has repeatedly threatened the stability of the Persian Gulf and our allies Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Time and again, he has lashed out recklessly against his neighbors and against his own people. America's policy has been to contain Saddam, to reduce the threat he poses to the region, and to do it in a way that makes him pay a price when he acts recklessly. That is why when Saddam sent his troops into the Kurdish city of Irbil in northern Iraq 2 weeks ago, we responded strongly, immediately, and strategically.
If we had failed to answer Saddam's provocation, he would have been emboldened to act even more recklessly and in a manner more dangerous to our interests. That is why we did respond and why we did so in a way that made our interests more secure. We acted in southern Iraq, where our interests are the most vital and where we had the capacity to increase the international community's ability to deter aggression by Saddam against his neighbors.
I ordered the attacks in order to extend the no-fly zone in Iraq, the air space through which Iraq's military is not allowed to fly. Now we control the skies over Iraq from the border of Kuwait to the southern suburbs of Baghdad. This action tightened the strategic straitjacket on Saddam, making it harder for him to threaten Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and easier for us to stop him if he does. In so doing, we advanced America's fundamental interests in the region.
Of course, our interests also must include protecting the safety of our own pilots who are patrolling the expanded no-fly zone. That is why our cruise missiles struck the bulk of Saddam's air defense system in southern Iraq. The United States will take whatever steps are necessary to protect our pilots as they enforce the expanded no-fly zone and to defend our strategic interests. I have ordered sufficient forces to the region to give us that capability.
On another note, let me say that I deeply regret the very week our Armed Forces advanced America's interests halfway around the world, here at home, the Senate missed an historic opportunity to make our soldiers and citizens safer by failing to vote on the Chemical Weapons Convention. The fact that our troops are facing off against Saddam Hussein, who once amassed stockpiles of chemical weapons and still seeks to develop them, should have underscored the importance of this treaty. But the treaty seems to have gotten caught up in electionyear politicking.
It's been nearly 4 years since the Bush administration signed the Chemical Weapons Convention and 3 years since I submitted it to the Congress. We've been at this a long time, and I have no intention of letting this treaty die. Our military supports it; leaders of our Nation's foreign policy, both Democrats and Republicans, including President Bush, General Colin Powell, and Senator Dick Lugar, support it.
We all agree that we should be sending a strong message as a united country that America will do its part to banish poison gas from the Earth. And meanwhile, we must do everything we can to protect our soldiers and to keep such weapons out of the hands of terrorists. The Chemical Weapons Convention will clearly help us to do that.
So I want the American people to know that I will work with the Senate to pass the Chemical Weapons Convention when a calmer political climate prevails. We cannot afford to play partisan politics with America's security. Our troops who are doing such an outstanding job in the Gulf and all around the world and all the American people deserve better than that.
Thanks for listening.