18 February 1998
(Weapons of mass destruction must be destroyed) (630) By Jane A. Morse USIA Diplomatic Correspondent Washington -- The United States is determined to destroy Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's chemical and biological weapons via diplomatic or military means, senior U.S. officials made clear in an "international town meeting" that reached vast audiences in the United States and around the world. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Secretary of Defense Bill Cohen, and National Security Advisor Sandy Berger elaborated on U.S. goals in Iraq during an appearance February 18 at Ohio State University. The discussion was broadcast live worldwide by the Cable News Network (CNN) both on television and radio. After brief opening presentations, the three U.S. officials took questions from members of the audience present in the university's St. John Arena, which holds 13,000 people. Listeners from around the United States phoned in their questions as did those from countries as far off as Holland, Israel, and the United Arab Emirates. The 90-minute event was interrupted repeatedly by hecklers. But Albright, Cohen, and Berger seemed to welcome the lively debate and the informed and sharp questions they received. "This really is a tremendous example of what democracy is all about," Cohen said. "The people who are here expressing opposition and criticism would not be allowed to do that in a number of countries including Iraq." The three made clear the U.S. goal in Iraq is to have its leadership comply with its obligations to allow U.N. inspectors unfettered access to any and all suspected chemical and biological weapons sites. "The United States does not challenge Iraq's territorial integrity, nor do we want to see the Iraqi people suffer any further," Albright said. "Our problem and the world's problem is with Iraq's leaders. And today those leaders have a choice. They can allow U.N. inspections to proceed on the world's terms, or they can invite serious military strikes on ours." Cohen emphasized that Americans have a choice to make. "With respect to Saddam Hussein, we can deal with him now or our children and grandchildren will have to deal with the spread of chemical and biological weapons later. I think now is the time that we deal with it and not later," Cohen said. Berger emphasized the U.S. desire for a diplomatic settlement. "We want to resolve this peacefully," Berger said, but "there are some things worth fighting for. And those include fighting aggression, fighting people who threaten their neighbors, and fighting to make this world a safer and more secure place for my children and for yours." What sets Saddam Hussein apart from other brutal dictators, according to Albright, is his demonstrated willingness to use weapons of mass destruction. "In discussing Iraq, we begin by knowing that Saddam Hussein, unlike any other leader, has used weapons of mass destruction, even against his own people," Albright said. "In fact, he is a repeat offender, having used them both in the battle and against his people." The United Nations Special Commission in Iraq (UNSCOM), which is charged with conducting the weapons inspections, has uncovered and destroyed more weapons than were demolished during the entire Gulf War, Albright said. "But the evidence is strong that Iraq continues to hide prohibited weapons and materials. There remains a critical gap between the number of weapons we know Iraq produced and the amount we can confirm were destroyed. "There is only one way to learn the truth: UNSCOM's inspectors must have free, unfettered and unconditional access to people, documents and facilities in Iraq. That is what we're demanding, and that demand has been echoed repeatedly by the U.N. Security Council and by the world," Albright said.