Remarks Calling for the Ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention and an Exchange With Reporters
The President. Thank you. Thank you very much, Senator Boren, for your words and your presence here today. We were laughing before we came out here. Senator Boren and I started our careers in politics in 1974 together, but he found a presidency that is not term-limited— [laughter]—and I want to congratulate him on it.
Mr. Vice President, Secretary Albright, Secretary Cohen, Secretary Baker, Senator Nancy Kassebaum Baker, General Shalikashvili. Let me thank all of you who have spoken here today for the words you have said, for you have said it all. And let me thank all of you who have come here to be a part of this audience today to send a clear, unambiguous, united message to America and to our Senate.
I thank General Colin Powell and Senator Warren Rudman, former arms negotiators Paul Nitze, Edward Rowny, and Ken Adelman; so many of the Congressmen who have supported us, including Senator Biden and Senator Levin who are here; the truly distinguished array of military leaders, leaders of businesses, religious organizations, human rights groups, scientists, and arms control experts.
Secretary Baker made, I thought, a very telling point, which others made as well. This is, in the beginning, a question of whether we will continue to make America's leadership strong and sure as we chart our course in a new time. We have to do that, and we can only do that if we rise to the challenge of ratifying the Chemical Weapons Convention.
We are closing a 20th century which gives us an opportunity now to forge a widening international commitment to banish poison gas from the Earth in the 21st century. This is a simple issue at bottom, even though the details are somewhat complex. Presidents and legislators from both parties, military leaders, and arms control experts have bound together in common cause because this is simply good for the future of every American.
I received two powerful letters recently, calling for ratification. One has already been mentioned that I received from Senator Nancy Kassebaum Baker, Senator Boren, and former National Security Adviser General Brent Scowcroft. The other came from General Powell, General Jones, General Vessey, General Schwarzkopf, and more than a dozen other retired generals and admirals, all of them saying as one: America needs to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention, and we must do it before it takes effect on April 29th.
Of course, the treaty is not a panacea. No arms control treaty can be absolutely perfect, and none can end the need for vigilance. But no nation acting alone can protect itself from the threat posed by chemical weapons. Trying to stop their spread by ourselves would be like trying to stop the wind that helps carry their poison to its target. We must have an international solution to a global problem.
The convention provides clear and overwhelming benefits for our people. Under a law Congress passed in the 1980's, we were already destroying almost all our chemical weapons. The convention requires other nations to follow our lead, to eliminate their arsenals of poison gas and to give up developing, producing, and acquiring such weapons in the future. By ratifying the Chemical Weapons Convention, as Secretary Cohen said, we can help to shield our soldiers from one of the battlefield's deadliest killers. We can give our children something our parents and grandparents never had, broad protection against the threat of chemical attack. And we can bolster our leadership in the fight against terrorism of proliferation all around the world.
If the Senate fails to ratify the convention before it enters into force, our national security and, I might add, our economic security will suffer. We will be denied use of the treaty's tools against rogue states and terrorists. We will lose the chance to help to enforce the rules we helped to write or to have Americans serve as international inspectors, something that is especially important for those who have raised concerns about the inspection provisions of the treaty.
Ironically, if we are outside this agreement rather than inside, it is our chemical companies, our leading exporters, which will face mandatory trade restrictions that could cost them hundreds of millions of dollars in sales. In short order, America will go from leading the world to joining the company of pariah nations that the Chemical Weapons Convention seeks to isolate. We cannot allow this to happen.
The time has come to pass this treaty, as 70 other nations already have done. Since I sent the Chemical Weapons Convention to the Senate 3 1/2 years ago, there have been more than a dozen hearings, more than 1,500 pages of testimony and reports. During the last 3 months, we have worked very closely with Senate leaders to go the extra mile to resolve remaining questions and areas of concern. I want to thank those in the Senate who have worked with us for their leadership and for their good-faith efforts.
Ratifying the Chemical Weapons Convention, again I say, is important both for what it does and for what it says. It says America is committed to protecting our troops, to fighting terror, to stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction, to setting and enforcing standards for international behavior, and to leading the world in meeting the challenges of the 21st century. I urge the Senate to act in the highest traditions of bipartisanship and in the deepest of our national interest.
And let me again say, the words that I have spoken today are nothing compared to the presence, to the careers, to the experience, to the judgment, to the patriotism of Republicans and Democrats alike and the military leaders who have gathered here and who all across this country have lent their support to this monumentally important effort. We must not fail. We have a lot of work to do, but I leave here today with renewed confidence that together we can get the job done.
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.
[At this point, the President greeted the guests and later took questions from reporters.]
Q. What about King Hussein—that the very terrorists who Secretary Cohen was talking about are the ones who are most likely to get hold of these weapons and who really are not going to be prohibited by this treaty?
The President. But this will require—I have two responses. Number one, this will require other countries to do what we're already doing and destroy their stockpiles, so there won't be as much for them to get ahold of. Number two, it will make it much more difficult for the component parts that make bigger—are used to make chemical weapons to get into the hands of terrorists, because we'll have much stricter controls on them. So those are the two answers there. That's why all these people are for this.
Q. They really are the people, though, who can get these without being regulated. I mean, you know——
The President. Yes, but as Madeleine Albright said, that's the argument you make against drug trafficking. In other words, criminals will always make an effort to evade the law; that's what they do. But if you have—if you destroy the chemical stockpiles, and you make it more difficult for the agents to make the chemical weapons to get into the hands of terrorists, you have dramatically improved the security of the world. Yes, there will still be people who will try to do it. Yes, there will still be people in home laboratories who can make dangerous things. This does not solve every problem in the world, but it will make the world much safer.
Q. Why do you think you had to do this today? Why did you have to come out and do it today?
The President. Because we're going to have to work like crazy to pass the thing.
Q. You don't have the votes right now?
The President. No, but we'll get there. I don't know yet, but we'll get there. I feel very much better because of this broad bipartisan support, but I've been working with Senator Lott since the first of the year on this. He knows how important it is to me, and he's dealt with us in good faith. And we've worked with Senator Helms. We've worked with everybody, and we agreed that we would start the highly public, visible part of this campaign at about this time. So we're getting after it. We've got a month to deliver. We're going to try to do it.
NOTE: The President spoke at 11:01 a.m. on the South Lawn at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to former Senator David L. Boren, president, University of Oklahoma; and retired generals Colin L. Powell, David C. Jones, and John W. Vessey, Jr., former Chairmen, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and H. Norman Schwarzkopf, former Commander in Chief, U.S. Central Command. The exchange portion of this item could not be verified because the tape was incomplete.
William J. Clinton, Remarks Calling for the Ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention and an Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/223632