[EXCERPTS] REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT TO THE ANNUAL MEETING
THE AMERICAN SOCIETY OF NEWSPAPER EDITORS
THE WHITE HOUSE April 11, 1997 Washington, D.C.
Our leadership also faces two other pressing tests now and in the
coming months: first, immediately ratifying the Chemical Weapons
Convention; and then, giving the United States the means we need to
continue our growth by making trade more open and fair in the global
Let me deal with the first issue. For the last 50 years, Americans
have lived under the hair-trigger threat of mass destruction. Our
leadership has been essential to lifting that global peril, thanks in
large measure to the efforts of my predecessors, and during the last
four years also when we have remarkable progress.
The collapse of the Soviet Union left 3,400 nuclear warheads in
Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus. Today, there are none. North Korea
was accumulating material for nuclear weapons when I became President.
Now its nuclear program is frozen, under international supervision,
and eventually will be dismantled.
We helped to win the indefinite extension of the Nuclear
Nonproliferation Treaty, a powerful global barrier to the spread of
nuclear weapons and their technology. We led in concluding the
Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which will bring to life a decades-old
dream of ending nuclear weapons testing.
President Yeltsin and I agreed in Helsinki to a roadmap through the
START treaties to cut our nuclear arsenals over the next decade by 80
percent from their Cold War peaks, and actually to destroy the
warheads so they can never be used for destructive ends.
Now America must rise to the challenge of ratifying the Chemical
Weapons Convention, and doing it before it takes effect on April 29th,
less than three weeks from today.
This century opened with the horror of chemical warfare in the
trenches of World War I. Today, at the dawn of a new century, we have
the opportunity to forge a widening international commitment to begin
banishing poison gas from the earth, even as we know it remains a
grave, grave threat in the hands of rogue states or terrorist groups.
The Chemical Weapons Convention requires other nations to do what we
decided to do more than a decade ago -- get rid of all chemical
weapons. In other words, the treaty is about other nations destroying
their chemical weapons. As they do so and renounce the development,
production, acquisition, or use of chemical arms, and pledge not to
help others acquire them or produce them, our troops will be less
likely to face one of the battlefields most lethal threats. As
stockpiles are eliminated and the transfer of dangerous chemicals is
controlled, rogue states and terrorists will have a harder time
getting the ingredients for weapons. And that will protect not only
military forces, but also innocent civilians.
By giving us new tools for verification, enabling us to tap a global
network for intelligence and information, and strengthening our own
law enforcement, the treaty will make it easier for us to prevent and
to punish those who seek to violate its rules.
The Chemical Weapons Convention reflects the best of American
bipartisanship -- negotiated under President Reagan and President
Bush, supported by a broad and growing number of Americans, including
every chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff since the Carter
administration. Last week at the White House, I was proud to welcome a
remarkable cross-section of these supporters, including former
Secretary of State James Baker, General Colin Powell, other military
leaders, legislators, arms control experts and representatives from
small and large businesses, religious groups, and scientists.
I urge the Senate to do what is right and ratify this convention. If
we fail to do it, we won't be there to enforce a treaty that we helped
to write, leaving our military and our people more vulnerable to a
silent and sudden killer. We will put ourselves in the same column
with rogue nations like Libya and Iraq that reject this treaty,
instead of in the company of those that set the norms for civilized
behavior in this world. We will subject our chemical companies, among
our leading exporters, to severe trade restrictions that could cost
them hundreds of millions of dollars in sales, and cost many Americans
good jobs. And perhaps most important, we will send a clear signal of
retreat to the rest of the world at the very time when we ought to be
sending the opposite signal.
America has led the effort to establish an international ban against
chemical weapons. Now we have to ratify it and remain on the right
side of history. If we do, there will be new momentum and moral
authority to our leadership in reducing even more the dangers of
weapons of mass destruction.
Within my lifetime we've made enormous strides. Stepping back from the
nuclear precipice, from the bleak time of fallout shelters and air
raid drills. But we have so much more to do. We have to strengthen the
world's ability to stop the use of deadly diseases as biological
weapons of war. We have to freeze the production of raw materials used
for nuclear bombs. We must give greater bite to the global watchdogs
responsible for detecting hidden weapons systems and programs.
Continuing this progress demands constant work, nonstop vigilance, and
Q: Mr. President, my county of 70,000 people is at risk from 7 percent
of the nation's stockpile of aging chemical weapons, the nerve agents
it's referred to. We don't have the highways to evacuate -- we need
to; we don't have the civil defense infrastructure. The disposal plan
is behind the time line.
Two questions. As a political matter, wouldn't it make sense to bring
even more intensive scrutiny to these sites? There are eight sites
scattered across the country; our whole nation is at risk from the
downside of the old chemical warfare. And as a moral matter, doesn't
it make sense for your administration to step up the disposal and make
sure that the highway infrastructure is in place for escape routes and
THE PRESIDENT: You've asked me a question no one's ever asked me
before, but I can tell you the answer to the first question is, does
it make more sense to bring more attention to the country about it --
the answer to that is yes -- if, for no other reason, not just because
of what your people may be exposed to, but because one of the reasons
we decided to destroy all this before I ever came along -- my
predecessors made that decision, it was the right one --is that you
don't want even small amounts of these kinds of chemicals in the wrong
hands -- can be used for very bad things.
And let me also say -- now, on the second question, I will have to go
back and see what the facts are and see what we can do to accelerate
it. I don't know enough now to give you a sensible answer, but you've
asked a good question and I will get an answer and I'll get back to
you. And let me just make one other point on this. Some of the
opponents of the Chemical Weapons Convention say, well, you know, you
can't protect everybody against everything. Well, if that were the
standard, we'd never have any treaties and we wouldn't pass any laws.
You know, still, some people may be able to cook up chemical weapons
in laboratories in their garages. But if you look at what happened to
the Japanese people, for example, when the extremist sect unleashed
the sarin gas in the Tokyo subway, it was a devastating thing.
Now, maybe they could or could not do that once the chemical weapons
regime is fully in force and we have much tighter restrictions on what
can cross national lines. But one thing we know for sure: Japan has
already ratified this treaty because they have suffered through this
and they know even if somebody who has got a half-cocked idea and a
home-baked laboratory can go out and do something terrible like this,
there will be fewer incidents like this if we pass the Chemical
And I think it's very interesting -- a lot of the objections that have
been raised to this convention in America were totally dismissed out
of hand in Japan, a country that has genuinely suffered from chemicals
like this in the hands of terrorists. But that goes back to the
question the gentleman from Alabama asked and it's one of the reasons
we want to destroy our stockpiles as quickly as possible, because, in
addition to the risks that people in the area are exposed to, we want
to minimize the chances that anybody ever can get their hands on any
of this for mischievous, evil purposes.
Q: Mr. President, some opponents of the Chemical Weapons Convention
are arguing that, indeed, it would let the fox into the henhouse; that
is to say, a country, perhaps Iran, a signatory, would gain access to
our development techniques for making chemical weapons, which are
relatively simple, but more importantly, to those regarding defenses
against chemical weapons in the fields. What is your response to that
argument? And are you in any position to negotiate a change of any
sort in the document if that were necessary to get the votes for
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, it is -- let me answer the second
question first, and then I'll go back. In general, obviously no one
country can change the body of a treaty which has already been
ratified by other countries; we can't do that, and lots of other
countries have ratified it.
But every country is empowered to, in effect, attach a set of
understandings as to what the treaty means, and as long as they're not
plainly inconsistent with the thrust of the document and don't vitiate
it, they can go forward. And one of the things we've been doing with a
lot of the opponents and the skeptics of the treaty -- Senator Helms,
for example, and others raised, I think, 30 different questions in the
beginning, and we have reached agreement, I believe, in 20 of those 30
areas, and we've offered alternatives that we believe are reasonable
in the other areas.
Let me just say for those of you who may not understand this, Iran is
a signatory of the -- they have ratified the Chemical Weapons
Convention. Iraq and Libya have not and will not. The concern is that
if a country is attacked by chemical weapons and they are part of the
treaty, that all the rest of us have pledged to do something to help
them. And the concern would be -- well, what if Iran is attacked by
Iraq and the United States and Germany, for example, give them a lot
of sophisticated defense technology on chemical weapons and they turn
around and use the chemical weapons against someone else. In other
words, if they turned out to have lied about their promise in the
treaty. That's the argument.
We have made it clear that, as regards other countries, we will not do
anything to give them our technology -- not Iran, not anybody -- and
that what our response will be -- will be limited to helping them deal
with the health effects of the attack. We will help people in medical
ways and with other things having to do with the health consequences.
So I believe that the compromise we have reached on that, once it
becomes fully public and the language is dealt with, will be
acceptable to at least most of those who have opposed the treaty on