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Remarks on the Missile Strikes on Iraq and an Exchange With Reporters

September 04, 1996

The President. Good afternoon. I am pleased to report that according to the information I have received from Secretary Perry today, the air strikes, the missile strikes that were conducted over the last 2 days have been successful. The targets were either destroyed or sufficiently damaged so that we can say that our mission has been achieved. That made it possible for us to implement the expanded no-fly zone today. And I want to commend the military once again for the exceptional job they have done in carrying out this mission.

Now, what has happened is that this has changed the strategic situation, particularly in the southern part of Iraq, which Saddam used as a staging ground for his invasion of Kuwait and then in 1994 for the massing of his troops near the Kuwaiti border. He is strategically worse off than he was before these strikes began, and I am satisfied that this was an appropriate measured response.

Obviously, we can't predict entirely what Saddam Hussein will do, but now he knows that there is a price to be paid for stepping over the line that the United Nations resolutions imposed.

The Vice President and I are about to start our weekly lunch, and we'll be discussing this further, but I did want to make this report. I'm very pleased by the results this morning that we have.

Q. Mr. President, there are reports of explosions in Baghdad. Are you aware of anything going on, or——

The President. I have received the reports of the explosions; I do not know anything about them. I can tell you that they are not the product of any action that we have taken.

Q. Are you disappointed, Mr. President, with the lack of public support from the former coalition partners, and does that mean that the coalition is dead?

The President. I don't think it's dead; I think quite to the contrary. We have received good support from the British. The Prime Minister of Canada called me last night. The German Chancellor issued a strong statement. I think that our Arab partners clearly understand what we were doing and what the risks are, and we're still flying the no-fly zone out of bases in Saudi Arabia. So I think things are on track, and I feel good about it.

This was an action that I thought we had to take. It was a measured, strong, appropriate action, and I believe we did the right thing.

Q. Mr. President, after twin missile strikes yesterday, there were two challenges today by Saddam's forces against the United States. Does this raise questions about whether you've really knocked out his ability to hit American planes or allied planes?

The President. There was a fixing on one of our planes that occurred from a site north of the 33d parallel, but it does not. We believe we can fly this expanded no-fly zone now. It gives us an attempt to measure—or it gives us the capacity to measure what he's doing all the way up to the southern suburbs of Baghdad. So I think we're in good shape there.

Now, we will do whatever we have to do in the future to protect our pilots and to protect their ability to fly the no-fly zone in safety. We will do whatever we have to do. But I'm satisfied that this mission has achieved the objectives we set out for it. And our defense advisers, from the Secretary of Defense to General Shalikashvili to our commander in the area, all believe that we did what was necessary, and they feel good about where we are now.

Q. Has the situation in northern Iraq changed, though? That's the key question, isn't it?

The President. No. The key question is—well, first of all, the situation in northern Iraq seems to have changed. There has been a withdrawal of the forces, a dispersal of the forces. But it's too soon to say that this is permanent or that further action will not be taken.

What we have done is to show that we are prepared to change the strategic realities that Saddam Hussein faces if he violates the United Nations prohibitions on either threatening his neighbors or repressing his own people. And I believe that we did the right thing. I think we had the right response, and I think it will have good results. If it doesn't, we'll take the facts as they come.

NOTE: The President spoke at 1:41 p.m. in the Oval Office at the White House, prior to a meeting with the Vice President. A tape was not available for verification of the content of these remarks.

William J. Clinton, Remarks on the Missile Strikes on Iraq and an Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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