Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Daily Press Briefing


1-2,4-5Opposition Groups: US Position / Funding Authorization / Next Steps / Groups' Abilities to Effect Change / Situation in Iraq / Secretary's Talks With Egypt & Saudi Arabia / Some Groups Turn Down US Offer
3-4Nuclear Capability and Ambitions / IAEA Monitoring & Verification
2-3Internal Stability in Jordan / Orderly Succession to King Hussein / US Military Acts Against Iraqi Threats / Message to Saddam Hussein re Jordan

DPB #13
THURSDAY, JANUARY 28, 1999, 1:10 P.M.


QUESTION: Did you see the remarks by General Zinni this morning, to the effect that he doesn't see an opposition group in Iraq that has the viability to overthrow Saddam Hussein?

MR. FOLEY: I've not seen those remarks. I was informed briefly and orally about those remarks. I think we've reached a turning point on our policy on Iraq, following passage by the US Congress of the Iraq Liberation Act. The Administration is determined to redouble its efforts to work closely with the members of the Iraqi opposition in order to promote regime change in Iraq.

We designated a number of groups that we're going to be working with and who would be eligible for US assistance. We will be reviewing the possibility of different ways of working with them in the coming weeks and months in terms of the specific authorization provided by Congress under that act to make use of draw-down authority for DOD arms and materials. That is something that will be subject to ongoing review.

We've made no decisions in that regard. But I would fully endorse General Zinni's conclusion that we believe that this is not going to be an easy or short-term effort. Given the nature of the regime in Iraq, its brutality and the fact that it does have totalitarian control over much of the country, this will be inevitably a difficult and long-term effort. I think the important point is that we have begun this effort; we have accelerated our outreach with members of the Iraqi opposition - credible groups who have support inside Iraq and who can work, if they work together, towards hastening the day of the advent of a democratic regime in Iraq. But we have no illusions and I think based on past experience, we've made clear that we don't want to rush into any kind of solutions that might end up becoming counterproductive and leading to the loss of the lives of those who are seeking to promote change in Iraq.

So we're going to take this step by step. We've been in consultation with Congress on this. I think the Congress understands (a) that we are committed to this initiative and (b) that it is a long-term initiative. So we are hopeful about the long-term, but realistic about the short-term.

QUESTION: When you talk about solutions that might be short-sighted, are you referring to 1991 and the abortive uprisings of the Shiites and the Kurds?

MR. FOLEY: I'm referring to the fact that it could be dangerous to overestimate the ability of some of these groups to effect change in the short term inside Iraq. We want to be sure that our support is designed to achieve demonstrable results and does not result in the loss of life of those who are seeking to promote change inside Iraq.

QUESTION: As has happened in 1991; is that what you're saying?

MR. FOLEY: Well, I think there's been a long-standing historical experience on the part of Iraqi opposition groups who have sought to counter Saddam Hussein, going back to the early years of his rule, or misrule, in Iraq. I think it's not just one incident or one period, but it's been, obviously, a very difficult situation for the Iraqi opposition.

But what I think has changed is the sense that inside of Iraq, there is manifest alienation with the regime. Obviously, when you're dealing with a totalitarian regime, it's difficult for independent media, international media to have access to the real opinions of people inside Iraq. But just simply, judging by the obvious desperation that Saddam Hussein has shown in recent weeks in lashing out against other governments in the Middle East, calling for their overthrow, questioning the previous recognition of Kuwait, bemoaning the lack of support in the Arab world, obviously - and we've had also anecdotal reports, following Operation Desert Fox, of executions inside Iraq, of a growing sense of unease on the part of the regime. We believe that Saddam's days are numbered. But again, this is not something that can be measured in the short-term. We regard it as something that we can help promote over the medium to long term.

QUESTION: Could you bring us up to date - where does the Iraq Liberation money stand? Is it now freed by Congress; is it now available for use? And we're talking about, what, $98 million?

MR. FOLEY: I believe it's $97 million. This enables the Administration to avail itself of this draw-down authority. But to my knowledge, no decisions have been made yet in that regard.

QUESTION: A related issue - are you concerned that Iraq could try to take advantage of any change of government or change of leadership in Jordan? The second question, related, is, is the United States committed to come to the defense of Jordan if it was attacked by Iraq?

MR. FOLEY: Well, I think that Mr. Rubin, yesterday in the region traveling with Secretary Albright, indicated that the United States Government has confidence in the stability of Jordan. We believe that Jordan has a history of institutional stability. King Hussein has now made provision for an orderly succession. We certainly wish him a recovery in his current illness, but it is reassuring that he has provided for such an orderly succession. We remain confident in Jordan's stability and in Jordan's security.

I would say in a general way that the United States has made it crystal-clear that we would act again militarily if Saddam Hussein moved to threaten his neighbors, and that remains the case. We demonstrated just last month our capability of acting in that regard.

QUESTION: What is the message that you have for Saddam Hussein regarding Jordan? Because there are many ways that Saddam Hussein could interfere in Jordan - not just a direct attack, but through internal destabilization. There's a lot of Iraqi nationals that live in Jordan. Do you have a message for Saddam Hussein regarding this?

MR. FOLEY: Our message to Saddam Hussein is, obey the Security Council; comply with your obligations under Security Council resolutions. Saddam Hussein invaded his neighbor. He was defeated militarily, and the terms of the conclusion of that obliged him to meet certain obligations in the area of disarmament. He has yet to do so; so he is in violation of his international obligations.

As a result of that, we have made it clear, as I said a minute ago, that we will continue to act militarily if Saddam either attempts to reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction programs or threatens his neighbors. Again, we acted on that basis last month; we will continue to act on that basis in the future if he crosses any of those lines.

QUESTION: Could you clarify what - there seems to be information coming out of the party that the US is going to try to force a political settlement on the parties in Kosovo.

QUESTION: There was a report on TV last night where some analysts in Washington were saying that Saddam Hussein was several months to a year from having nuclear capability. What is the US feeling about that?

MR. FOLEY: Well, the United States remains concerned about Saddam's nuclear weapons ambitions. We have not lost sight of Saddam's continued desire to acquire nuclear weapons. While the IAEA has destroyed all known elements of Iraq's nuclear program, it continues to have concerns about the possibility of ongoing research and development activities. The IAEA has also stated that Iraq's lack of transparency over discussing the details of its past programs is cause for concern, and that Iraq has not supplied all of the answers to the questions put to it by the IAEA.

On May 14 of last year, the Security Council took note of these remaining disarmament issues in a presidential statement. The Council's statement made clear that only when Iraq supplies answers to all remaining questions and concerns, will it - the Security Council - endorse a transition to ongoing monitoring. The IAEA's future ongoing monitoring and verification regime under UN Security Council Resolution 715 is intrusive, requiring no-notice inspections, interviews with key personnel and the use of various technologies to support its efforts in the field.

The US and other member nations continue to actively support the IAEA's efforts to build and strengthen its long-term monitoring regime. The resumption of inspections and monitoring under relevant UN Security Council resolutions and continued international vigilance will be key to ensuring Saddam does not realize his ambitions to acquire nuclear weapons.

QUESTION: Do you have any indication here as to how far, today, Saddam would be from having such nuclear capability?

MR. FOLEY: Well, I'd refer you to the IAEA for their judgment in that regard. We believe that the IAEA has done a very good job in terms of accounting for all elements of Iraq's nuclear program. But the relevant point is, we believe Iraq retains ambitions in this area, that Iraq refuses to come clean totally with the IAEA on a number of outstanding issues. So there's every reason for ongoing concern and continued vigilance.

QUESTION: Staying on Iraq, going back to the opposition groups again, from the Secretary's meetings with the Egyptians and the Saudi Arabians, did she get any support? Did they state any support for these opposition groups? Are they willing to give money, weapons, any kind of support for these groups?

MR. FOLEY: Well, Kelly, you're new to this briefing room, and I should tell you, that we don't normally comment on the Secretary's trips before she has returned because Mr. Rubin, in particular, will be able to address some of those questions since he's been with her. But certainly I'm not aware of any important member of the region that has stood up and stated that it favors Saddam's remaining in power in Iraq. I think it's universally recognized that he's an impediment to Iraq's return to the international community and to a better life for the people of Iraq. But those discussions just took place in the last day or so with Secretary Albright. I understand they were positive discussions, but I have nothing to report on them until Mr. Rubin returns.

QUESTION: May I ask one more quick one about the opposition - you addressed this very briefly the other day, but at least two - and I think three - of these opposition groups that have been designated say that they are not interested in getting any US aid. What's the response?

MR. FOLEY: I think we've addressed that in previous briefings. We made these designations without having been contacted by any of the groups, in terms of whether they would seek such a designation. It's their right not to take such assistance as we may offer. We understand, though, that all of the groups that we designated intend to work together and that they share common aims. Although these groups hail from different parts of Iraq, in some cases, although some of the groups do represent a membership that covers the different ethnic components of Iraq and religious components, but that all of them are committed to a democratic, pluralistic Iraq, to the respect for human rights and to the territorial integrity of Iraq.

We believe that we'll be able to work with all of those groups and we respect all of them and we respect the decisions that the two you mentioned have made.


(The briefing concluded at 1:40 P.M.)

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