The President's News Conference on the Persian Gulf Crisis
The President. I have a brief statement, and then I'll be glad to take some questions.
The United States is engaged in a collective effort, involving the overwhelming majority of the member states of the United Nations, to reverse the consequences of Iraqi aggression. Our goals, enshrined in five Security Council resolutions, are clear: the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait, the restoration of Kuwait's legitimate government, the stability of Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf, and the protection of American citizens.
What is at stake here is truly significant: the dependability of America's commitments to its friends and allies, the shape of the post-postwar world, opposition to aggression, the potential domination of the energy resources that are crucial to the entire world. This effort has been truly international from the very outset. Many other countries are contributing. At last count, 22 countries have either responded to a request from Saudi Arabia to help deter further aggression or are contributing maritime forces pursuant to United Nations Security Council Resolution 665. Still others are providing other forms of financial and material support to these defense efforts or to countries whose economies are affected adversely by sanctions or by higher oil prices. Still others are paying a heavy economic price at home for complying with the United Nations sanctions. It is important that the considerable burden of the effort be shared by those being defended and those who benefit from the free flow of oil. Indeed, anyone with a stake in international order has an interest in ensuring that all of us succeed.
The United States has large interests in the balance and has undertaken commitments commensurate with them. We're more than willing to bear our fair share of the burden. This includes, above all, the thousands of men and women in our Armed Forces who are now in the Gulf. But we also expect others to bear their fair share.
A number of countries already have announced their willingness to help those adversely affected economically by this endeavor. It's essential, though, that this be a concerted and coordinated one and that all affected countries participate. It is important to get the priorities right and make sure that those most deserving of assistance receive it and that those most able to contribute do so.
For that reason, I directed an interagency effort to develop a strategy to accomplish this objective. The group's report was presented at yesterday's National Security Council meeting here, and this morning I approved an action plan. Our approach calls for substantial economic assistance to those states -- in particular I'd single out Turkey and Egypt -- who are bearing a great part of the burden of sanctions and higher oil prices. The plan also targets additional countries, including Jordan, the countries of Eastern Europe, and others, for special assistance. The United States will also seek burden-sharing for part of our own effort.
At the same time, we will be asking other governments, including Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Federal Republic of Germany, Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, free Kuwait, and others, to join us in making available financial and, where appropriate, energy resources to countries that have been most affected by the current situation. To facilitate this undertaking, I've asked Secretary of State Jim Baker and Secretary of the Treasury Nick Brady to lead high-level delegations to the Persian Gulf, Europe, and Asia. And I'll be getting directly in touch with the leaders of these countries before Secretaries Baker and Brady arrive to spell out our general objectives.
Let me close by repeating what I said the other day in meeting with the congressional leaders. The basic pieces of our policy are in place. The Iraqi regime stands in opposition to the entire world and to the interest of the Iraqi people. It is truly Iraq against the world. But I want to make this point clear: We have no argument with the people of Iraq.
The sanctions are beginning to take hold. In the meantime, we want to ensure that countries contributing to this unprecedented collective response do not suffer for doing so. And what I've announced today and what I expect will be implemented in the coming days should help create a context in which sanctions against Iraq can be sustained with the intended effect.
Another area where there has been unprecedented international solidarity is OPEC's willingness to take up the slack in oil production created by the embargo on Iraqi and Kuwait's oil. In this connection, I met this morning with our energy advisers, who are watching the oil production situation very, very closely. And we are pleased with OPEC's decision to help take up the slack in crude oil production.
And although we're in what I would see as a transition period, the situation appears manageable. At the present time, we don't anticipate major imbalances in the oil market, but we do have the strategic petroleum reserve tested and available if it is truly needed. Our energy policy is resulting in increased oil production and fuel switching to natural gas and to other fuels.
I also repeat my previous request for Americans to conserve and for all parties to act responsibly. Right now the situation, I would say, is relatively stable, and I am very pleased by the coordination that is taking place with so many countries in maintaining adequate fuel levels.
And now I would be glad to take some questions. Who's first? Terry [Terence Hunt, Associated Press]?
Q. Mr. President, Saddam Hussein [President of Iraq] has rejected demands that he pull his troops out of Kuwait, and he's holding several thousand foreigners hostage to keep the world at bay. You say you don't see much chance for diplomacy to work. How long can the West allow this impasse to go on? And would you take any action that might endanger the lives of those hostages?
The President. It will go on as long as it takes to have these United Nations sanctions fully implemented. And I'm glad that these diplomatic efforts are taking place. Perhaps one will hit pay dirt. But as of now, I must say I'm not optimistic because the man keeps reiterating terms that simply fly in the face of the United Nations action.
And on the second question, look, I feel very concerned about Americans that are held against their will. But we cannot permit hostage-taking to shape the foreign policy of this country, and I won't permit it to do that.
Q. Sir, does that mean that their lives would be expendable if you judge in the national interest -- --
The President. That's too hypothetical a question. It means I will not change the policy of the United States -- and I don't think other leaders whose foreign nationals are in the same predicament will change their policies -- to pay homage or to give credibility to this brutal move of staking out citizens and a brutal move of holding people against their will.
Q. Mr. President, there are reports that there's a split in your administration -- some who want to expand the goals to include the eventual ouster of Saddam. And also, there are many, many suggestions for a Middle East conference that would include in what you would call the post-postwar shape of the world, the perennial problems of the Middle East. What do you think on both -- --
The President. Well, I think on the second part of the question that we ought to get on with the business at hand, the shorter run business, which is the solution to this question: the making right the situation in Kuwait, meaning the pulling out of forces, obviously, and the restoration of the rulers. As I look at the countries that are chipping in here now, I think we do have a chance at a new world order, and I'd like to think that out of this dreary performance by Saddam Hussein there could be now an opportunity for peace all through the Middle East. But we have to be sure that what's been undertaken so far is successful before we can move to that other agenda, it seems to me.
Q. Well, would you support then a conference afterwards? I mean, this may be premature, but the question is: Are you shooting for that?
The President. I haven't -- that's not an objective, a conference. Peace through the Middle East is an objective. And as you know, we have never ruled out a conference of any nature. In fact, it was part of our diplomacy just several years ago. But I don't want to get out ahead of where we are right now on this. The question right now is: What do we do to get Saddam Hussein to comply with international law?
I left out -- you had another part of it.
Q. And you want to get him out of his job? You want to get him out of -- --
The President. Well, it wouldn't disappoint me if the Iraqis got up and said, look, this man is our problem. I've said right here the problem is not with the people in Iraq -- simply isn't. But I've spelled out our objectives here, and I've stopped short of adding to them what -- the answer that you were seeking from me on the President -- --
Q. Mr. President, some have expressed the fear that Saddam Hussein might seek to inflame the Arab world against the United States by drawing Israel into the conflict here, perhaps by a strike against Jordan. Can you tell us if you're prepared for such a contingency, and if so, how?
The President. Well, that's, again, hypothetical. I can't predict what he's going to do. But I can tell you that we are continuing to implement our forces and we are continuing to take all the diplomatic moves that are necessary to prepare for any eventuality.
Q. Let me just follow up by asking a question about Jordan's participation in the U.N. sanctions. There are numerous reports coming out of the East, some quoting Israeli intelligence, to the effect that Jordan is a highway, really, for supplies still reaching Iraq. Are you aware of those reports, and what do you -- --
The President. I'm aware of some. But, Brit [Brit Hume, ABC News], it is my view, based on what I've seen most recently, that commerce has come down to a bit of a trickle there. There are reports of enormous numbers of trucks being laid up with no goods to transport. So, I don't know how effective it is right now. I do know that King Hussein [of Jordan] told me, looking me right in the eye, that they were going to comply with the sanctions. But I've seen reports that indicate there's some leakage there, but I just can't give you the quantity. I just don't know.
It's my feeling that commerce through Aqaba, the port of Aqaba, and, indeed, through Jordan going to Iraq and vice versa has slowed down. Regrettably, there's a lot of refugee traffic, and I think that's hurting the Saddam Hussein image because people see the humblest being brutalized the most. And they see a lot of refugees out there, and I think that's sending not a very good signal as far as he's concerned.
Q. Sir, you're going to return to Kennebunkport this afternoon. May I ask how bothered you may have been by the opinion of many Americans, many of whom think you're doing a great job in this crisis, who nonetheless are bothered by you going out and fishing and golfing while in command of the troops in the Gulf?
The President. No, I'm not bothered by it. I've expressed myself on that. If I were bothered, I wouldn't be going back there for the Labor Day weekend with my family. And I think the American people are supporting strongly what I'm doing. And I would repeat: I am in very close touch, done a lot of the diplomatic work that has gone into this project from my house there, received a couple of foreign visitors there, have had many briefings there. And I think the American people are fundamentally fair, and I think they see that. So, I'm not troubled by it. If I were, I expect I wouldn't be going back again.
Q. Marlin Fitzwater at one point said that you were pretty adamant or stubborn about it, saying to him at one point that you needed the rest. [Laughter] Is that what it boiled down to? [Laughter]
Mr. Fitzwater. I beg your pardon. [Laughter]
The President. I need to rest, and I haven't gotten as much as I'd like. But I wouldn't call it adamant or stubborn because I refuse to -- --
Mr. Fitzwater. Neither would I. [Laughter]
The President. He better not have, either. [Laughter] Marlin's going through kind of a downer, though, because the Iraqi spokesman has the matching tie and hankie, you know, so he's been a little -- [laughter] -- --
Q. You were about to answer the question about the rest.
The President. No, I think I do. I'm getting some -- not as much as I'd like. But it's been very pleasant there, and yet I've managed to accomplish my objectives in terms of work, too.
Q. Mr. President, on the question of burden-sharing, since you're sending your envoys out, it sounds like you have not gotten the voluntary contributions you might have liked to have gotten. Can you give us a sense of how much you're looking for and where you expect to find it?
The President. No, I don't think it's a question of doing this because we haven't gotten what we think is fair for other countries and for burden-sharing generally.
What we're talking about here, Charles [Charles Bierbauer, Cable News Network], is a consulting and coordinating effort, and we've had strong indications of support. But now we're moving up a little bit and trying to take the lead here -- leadership in helping sort out who should help whom. Somebody has to do that. And we've made a significant commitment in various ways. And so, it seemed appropriate that we take the lead in working with our friends and allies.
But look, Prime Minister Kaifu [of Japan] called me last night -- no, he didn't need a mission for this -- and made a significant contribution and then pledged to do more in terms of support for other countries. Now, that is very good, and that was voluntary. But it needs to be coordinated. Somebody needs to take the lead on saying: Look, we don't put all the money to this one country. Several countries are involved here, and let's see that these generous responses are fairly allocated.
Q. If I could follow up: There have been concerns expressed about the Japanese not making any military contribution. They could send minesweepers or something like that. Is money not enough in the Japanese case? And what has happened to your good friend Helmut Kohl [Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany], who seems extraordinarily silent?
The President. I wouldn't say money is not enough. I'm fully aware of the constraints on the Japanese, and I've not pressed him to go beyond what his Constitution provides. Helmut Kohl -- I think they'll be very responsive. And part of what we're talking about here is to follow up on comments like the ones Helmut Kohl made to me about, we want to be a part of this -- we want to help. So, I have no argument with the Germans at all.
Q. Is the United States doing anything to help the Kuwaiti underground, the Kuwaiti rebels, in training, supplies -- anything?
The President. One, I wouldn't comment on it. Two, but in a broad way, I support the Kuwaiti underground. I support anybody that can add a hand in restoring legitimacy there to Kuwait and to getting the Iraqis out of Kuwait.
Q. How do you justify it legally under the U.N. resolution -- for any support activity for the underground?
The President. I'm just encouraging people who are patriots and feel that their country has been pillaged and aggressed against.
Q. Would you draw the line at sending the Green Berets or some sort of American military force in cross-border raids? And do you -- --
The President. That's too hypothetical. I've given you the principle. If there were some quiet support, which I wouldn't ever confirm or deny -- we never comment on those matters -- I would simply leave it out there. But you say, well, am I supportive of -- I think what you said was resistance. And I'd be supportive of anybody that wants to try to fulfill the statements that the world has made through the United Nations.
Q. You didn't rule out cross-border raids by American military personnel either.
The President. Well, if they're going to happen -- let me be clear on this -- if it were going to happen, I wouldn't comment on it. It would be the dumbest thing I could possibly do, in my view, to tip your hat. But I have no plans for that right now.
Q. Mr. President, a related question about this. There are some Iraqi opposition groups in London and elsewhere, and the Kurds, and they have all said in recent weeks they've heard nothing from your administration. If anything, they've been encouraged just to -- that the United States only wants covert contacts with them. Why not, if, as you say, you want the Iraqi people to rise up, why has this administration not done anything with the opposition groups?
The President. We've got a plan, and the plan is to work diplomatically, and the plan is to put on the ground a significant military force. And if these comments I made today about anybody who wants to help the United Nations and those of us who want to see Iraq out of Kuwait succeed, so much the better.
Q. If I could just follow up: You said also today, you don't want to hurt the Iraqi people. But isn't this embargo and these sanctions only hurting them and hurting them first before they hurt Saddam?
The President. There's nothing that's painless, David [David Hoffman, Washington Post], when you get into a situation like this and when you have a leader that could brutalize his own people. There's nothing that's painless in all of this.
Q. On the question of negotiations, Mr. President, are all channels still open? Specifically, have there been any back-channel contact or proposals to White House officials that are worth pursuing?
The President. None that I know of.
Q. If I could follow on that, sir: Saddam Hussein has suggested that you and he and Margaret Thatcher [Prime Minister of the United Kingdom] go on TV to debate this. What do you say to that?
The President. I say he can put an empty chair there as far as I'm concerned. [Laughter]
Q. Mr. President, in your peptalk to the armed services yesterday, you mentioned the difficulty of the mission, citing the weather. Isn't boredom even a bigger factor as weeks slip into months over in the desert?
The President. Well, I would hope not, but I'm not sure it's the world's most exciting assignment, if that's what you mean. But I think there will be programs to keep morale high. Right now it's extraordinarily high.
Q. A suggestion has been made that some reduction in the troops might be made in the days ahead to give a more international tinge to the force over there. Would you entertain such -- or support such a move?
The President. I'm more interested in seeing the fulfillment of commitments made.
Q. Mr. President, you're about to begin a new round of budget negotiations. Federal employees are facing furloughs because of the Gramm-Rudman law. And this operation is costing over $1 billion a month. How do you assess the impact of the cost of Operation Desert Shield on your budget problem?
The President. It's difficult at this juncture to know fully what the impact will be. Clearly, it will have some budget implication. I have not moved off of my view that we must get a budget agreement with Congress as soon as they get back, and I'll have more to say about that in the weeks ahead. But I really haven't changed my view on that. And I think it will be very clear to Members of Congress that the deficit problem has gotten worse as a result of the action that we have had to take.
Q. If I could follow that up: Senator Leahy has suggested a sort of war tax to pay for this. How do you feel about that concept?
The President. I don't feel that the answer is a war tax.
Q. Mr. President, do you have any problem with the live TV coverage of Saddam Hussein's media events, which a lot of people complain just gives him a propaganda platform?
The President. No, I have no complaints about it. I think that it hasn't helped him very much with world opinion. I don't know what it's done at home; maybe it's been reassuring to the people there. But I don't think that it is cutting into the desire to see the U.N. sanctions fulfilled. I must say, I haven't seen the last couple of interviews with the man, but I think the one with the -- what he calls guests and what we call hostages was really so brutal and so totally unacceptable that it worked against him -- was manipulative and cynical. So, I haven't been concerned that he's got a shot there. He's had a real opportunity to present his case to the American people. I'd like to have a similar opportunity to present our case to the people in Iraq. But I have no complaints about that at all, Rita [Rita Beamish, Associated Press].
Q. Mr. President, could you accept a situation where Iraq withdraws from Kuwait but keeps its military power intact, regardless of who's in charge?
The President. Well, again, that's too hypothetical. I want to see the goals that I stated fulfilled. And of course, I think part of that would be -- I think the world would demand that there be no chance of another invasion the minute this ended.
Q. If I could follow, sir: Senator Lugar and some others have said that this is something that we should discuss now.
The President. Well, we are discussing it now. I had dinner with him last night, as a matter of fact, because I knew he felt that way. It was a very good evening, as a matter of fact. I had about 11, 12 Members of Congress over there, and it was helpful to me to get these diverse views. I got some of the feeling of that from briefing the Congress. But I have great respect for Dick Lugar, and so we'll be talking more. But I have not changed the objectives, you'll notice, in the publicly stated objectives here.
Q. What is the total amount of money you are expecting from the allies?
The President. There is no total price tag that I have in mind.
I do have to go, in a couple of questions -- after two.
Q. Has Israel served as a strategic ally in this crisis? And is there anything you can do to help protect Israel and Saudi Arabia against a chemical attack as was threatened today?
The President. Israel has behaved very well, and Israel has never had difficulty defending itself. In terms of Saudi Arabia, we are committed to the defense of Saudi Arabia, and I believe that we have a major stake in protecting them against that kind of further aggression.
Q. May I follow? Of the countries you're asking for assistance, have you asked South Africa to contribute anything to this?
The President. I don't think we've asked any of these -- well, we may have asked some of them so far, but I don't know that there's been a request made of South Africa or not.
Q. Mr. President, some of the Members of Congress who attended the meeting with you the other day left here with the feeling that the longer the situation drags on, the less the chance there is of outright fighting involving U.S. troops. At the moment, what is your assessment of the risk of fighting involving our forces?
The President. Well, it's so hard to answer that question because of the unpredictable nature of Saddam Hussein himself. And so, I think it's almost impossible. I've had meetings today with some of our top analysts and specialists on the Arab world. I don't want to put words in their mouth, but that was one of the questions that I asked. It's very hard to predict; it's very hard to measure intentions. But I think the answer is to have the forces in place to be ready. I would think that the defense of Saudi Arabia is far more assured today than it was 2 weeks ago because the United States and others have moved substantial forces there. And they're ready, and they're strong, and they're able, and their morale is high. Similarly, there's a lot of naval power and, of course, air power that's there. I would think that that would be a deterrent to anybody with any degree of rationality. Having said that, I don't know what is in this man's mind.
Q. To follow on, sir: What actions by Iraq, sir, would trigger a U.S. response?
The President. That is too broad a question to get a response from. But we're ready, and if there's some provocative action, why, then we'd have to make a determination at that time. But I just can't help you. Your question is too broad.
Last one from Texas. Cragg [Cragg Hines, Houston Chronicle]? And then I've got to go. I really do.
Q. Mr. President, are you concerned that this burden-sharing, as you call it, is going to make American forces look like mercenaries in the Middle East?
The President. I wouldn't want to have anything done that would make them look like mercenaries. But I don't think so. In fact, we would be very careful that that conclusion could not be drawn.
I raised that question -- one of the Members of Congress asked me that -- said I don't want mercenary forces. But there are ways that burden-sharing can be accomplished without making the forces mercenary. And I'm thinking of the enormous fuel bills that are involved and transportation and these kinds of things that are involved in moves of this nature.
But I'm glad you raised it, because U.S. forces should never appear to be mercenary forces. And that will not be the outcome of this, I can guarantee you.
Thank you all very much. Thank you so much.
Note: The President's 59th news conference began at 2:02 p.m. in the Briefing Room at the White House. Marlin Fitzwater was Press Secretary to the President.
George Bush, The President's News Conference on the Persian Gulf Crisis Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/264235