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Remarks on the Nomination of the Secretary of Labor and the Persian Gulf Crisis and a Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters

December 14, 1990

The President. I have two brief statements that I'd like to make this afternoon.

First, I have today asked a distinguished public servant and a cherished friend to become Secretary of the Department of Labor. Lynn Martin, a former Congresswoman from Illinois, has agreed to assume the direction of this very important Cabinet office. She and I have known each other for many years. She was an outstanding Member of Congress and an unofficial adviser to me. She has shared with me her wisdom on any number of legislative issues. And I am delighted to have her working at my side on labor matters as we enter the decade of the nineties.

She's a mother who knows the need for child care. She's a professional who understands the business-labor relationship. And as a Congresswoman, she's spent years dealing with the concerns and aspirations of the working Americans from every walk of life. And I know that she will serve with great distinction in our Cabinet.

Lynn was in Illinois this afternoon when I called her, and she will be in Washington on Monday. And I look forward to meeting her here in the White House to talk about her direction of the Department of Labor.

And now I'd like to take up another subject, a second one. On November 30th, in offering direct meetings between the United States and Iraq, I offered to go the extra mile for a peaceful solution to the Gulf question. And I wanted to make clear to Saddam Hussein the absolute determination of the coalition that he comply fully with the Security Council resolutions. Iraqi aggression cannot be rewarded.

And so, I have asked the Secretary of State to be available to go to Baghdad anytime, up to and including January 3d, which is over 5 months after the invasion of Kuwait and only 12 days before the United Nations deadline for withdrawal. That deadline is real.

To show flexibility, I have offered any one of 15 dates for Secretary Baker to go to Baghdad, and the Iraqis have offered only one date. In offering to go the extra mile for peace, however, I did not offer to be a party to Saddam Hussein's manipulation.

Saddam Hussein is not too busy to see on short notice Kurt Waldheim, Willy Brandt, Muhammad Ali, Ted Heath, John Connally, Ramsey Clark, and many, many others on very short notice. It simply is not credible that he cannot, over a 2-week period, make a couple of hours available for the Secretary of State on an issue of this importance -- unless, of course, he is seeking to circumvent the United Nations deadline.

Look, I want a peaceful solution to this crisis. But I will not be a party to circumventing or diluting the United Nations deadline which I think offers the very best chance for a peaceful solution. So, I wanted to get out my feeling about these proposed meetings.

Persian Gulf Crisis

Q. What's wrong with the January 12th date that he set? Why would that dilute it unless you're afraid that he might come up with some offer or something?

The President. In the first place, the United Nations resolutions that pertain say that he has to be out of Kuwait. I wish now that I had been a little more explicit in my first announcement of what I mean by mutually convenient dates. But I was not then, and am not now, prepared to have this man manipulate the purpose of the Secretary of State's visit. So, we've made an offer of many, many dates. But remember, the United Nations resolution calls for total withdrawal by this date.

Q. Does your statement today indicate that you would not accept January 5th or 7th or 9th?

The President. Yes, we've offered 15 days, and he ought to get moving and do something reasonable, if he really wants to move for peace.

Q. Mr. President, is there a date at which you would withdraw the offer to meet? The Senators this morning say you're willing to forgo talks now.

The President. We're not going to do them on terms that would appear to the world to be an effort to circumvent the United Nations resolution. I mean, he's got a massive force there, and that force has to be out on the 15th day of January under the United Nations resolutions. So, we'll see, we'll see how it goes.

I would say that we've given so many alternatives here that he ought to accept one of these if he's serious. Now, if it's simply that he's trying to manipulate, that is what I will have no part of.

Q. Are you telling him there is -- --

The President. I'll be right there, Helen. [Helen Thomas, United Press International]. We've just got to take what they call a follow-on here.

Q. Is there a deadline for him to accept your offer?

The President. No, we're not putting deadlines on it. The `Aziz meeting is on hold, I guess. But I say "I guess" because we've made clear to them that it's kind of a home-and-home arrangement here.

Q. You said the deadline is real. Does that mean you think you have carte blanche to start a war after January 15th, or on January 15th?

The President. I'm saying that the United Nations resolution is very clear as it regards January 15th. And I will continue now to work for a peaceful solution.

Q. You do think you can go to war after that, is that right?

The President. What do you mean, "can go to war"?

Q. You can start a war.

The President. I think that the United Nations resolutions should be fully implemented.

Q. Mr. President, when Congress comes back in January, will you ask Congress for specific authority to take offensive action?

The President. We're talking about that, and I'm very pleased with the support we've had in Congress. And I'm very pleased with the level of support from the American people. You see, as these hostages have come home, I think the people have understood -- the American people -- much more clearly what's at stake. As they've seen the testimony about the brutality to the Kuwaiti people that was so compelling at the United Nations, I think people have said: Wait a minute, this policy deserves support. So, I'm pleased with the support. I think that's being manifested in more support by the Congress.

But I will be talking to the leaders, continuing to consult. What I told the leaders in the Cabinet Room a few weeks ago: If you want to come in here and strongly endorse what I'm doing or endorse the United Nations resolution, I welcome that because I think it would send a very strong, clear signal to the world.

Q. Sir, why are you afraid to go before Congress and consult with them and get their advice and get their approval?

The President. Hey, listen, Sarah [Sarah McClendon, McClendon News], I was consulting with them as recently as this morning -- five Members of Congress. And we will continue to consult with them.

Q. That's not 535.

The President. We're doing it all the time. I'm on the phone almost every day to them. We've had leadership meeting after leadership meeting. Oh, listen, I explained this to you in the press room a while back, this same question. Come on.

Q. Yes, sir. You should see my mail.

The President. You ought to see mine.

Q. My mail is against war.

Q. Are you saying that if Saddam Hussein won't meet by January 3d, there simply will be no meeting?

The President. I'm saying that we've given him 15 dates, and he ought to take one of them. I don't like to draw deadlines in the sand here. But there would have to be some compelling reason for me to change it because I don't want to move this up against the United Nations deadline. If you'll read the U.N. resolutions, you'll see that he should be totally out, totally out of Kuwait by January 15th. That's a massive undertaking.

Q. Mr. President, if I may follow up. You're saying maybe January 4th or 5th, but -- --

The President. I'm not saying that; you're saying that. I've put it as clearly as I can. I hope there's no obfuscation.

Q. Mr. President, what is your thinking today about Saddam Hussein's nuclear and chemical capability? Will international safeguards be enough to control it, or -- --

The President. I am very much concerned about it. I think that Congress and the American people are getting increasingly concerned about his -- it's not just nuclear, which concerns me, but it's other unconventional war capabilities. I'm talking about, for example in this context, chemical weapons that he has used on his own people already. So, yes, I am very concerned about it. And any arrangement that is going to keep the rest of the world happy will have to address itself to this unconventional war capability of Saddam Hussein. Anybody that will take the reckless action he has taken militarily against a neighbor, must be contained in this era when we're all concerned about nuclear proliferation.

So I'm glad you brought it up, because this morning I met with a group of people who were supportive of our policy. And they are emphasizing to me as they go across the country the concern by the American people, on the part of the American people, about his possession of these unconventional weapons and his desire to acquire nuclear weapons. And I told, I believe it was, a press conference with most of you present -- I said if I got to err on the side how long -- I've addressed myself to the question, how long will it take for him to get weapons -- I will err on the cautious side, on the conservative side. And I am concerned that he could acquire weapons in a very short period of time -- a weapon in a very short period of time. And that is a factor that is serious as I contemplate how he is compelled to live up to the United Nations resolution.

Minority Scholarships

Q. Mr. President, do you support the Department of Education regulations barring race-based scholarships, or do you plan to rescind them?

The President. We're looking at it right now. The man that had something do with them -- I was looking at his background today -- is an extraordinarily sensitive, very intelligent person. So, I've asked our staff here to give me a quick readout on that so we can make a determination. But I don't think in this case anybody would accuse the person that promulgated those resolutions of doing it on a racist basis. That's one thing I'm very pleased about.

I've got time for one more, and then I really do have to go.

Persian Gulf Crisis

Q. Mr. President, right now the issue of chemical possession of weapons and nuclear weapons is not part of a United Nations resolution. Will you go back to the U.N. and get that made part of one of the requirements for Saddam Hussein? And will you move on that unilaterally?

The President. I don't think it's unilateral because I think all our coalition partners share my concerns about his possession of unconventional weapons and his attempt to get more. But I don't have plans at this moment to take this to the United Nations. But believe me, it is very much in my thinking as I contemplate what action to take to enforce the United Nations resolutions.

Thank you all, and have a great weekend.

Secretary of Education Nomination

Q. Mr. President, have you got an Education Secretary?

The President. Getting close.

Thank you, Marlin. Well done. Thank you for your assistance, fellows.

Note: President Bush spoke at 2:30 p.m. on the South Lawn of the White House, prior to leaving for Camp David, MD. In his remarks, he referred to President Saddam Hussein and Foreign Minister Tariq `Aziz of Iraq and Marlin Fitzwater, Press Secretary to the President.

George Bush, Remarks on the Nomination of the Secretary of Labor and the Persian Gulf Crisis and a Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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