U.S. Forces on Hold in Gulf
By Paul Stone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 27, 1998 U.N. weapons inspectors may soon be returning to Iraq, but that doesn't mean U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf should begin packing their bags.
President Clinton has ordered U.S. forces to remain in the region at least until Iraq demonstrates compliance with the latest agreement reached Feb. 24 between Saddam Hussein and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Under the terms of the agreement, Iraq has agreed to provide immediate, unrestricted and unconditional access for U.N. weapons inspectors to all suspected sites in Iraq. This includes eight presidential palaces Saddam Hussein had declared off limits.
In announcing his acceptance of the general terms of the agreement, the president praised Annan's efforts, as well as the dedication of military forces.
"I want to commend each and every one of our men and women in uniform, and our coalition partners for their steadfastness," Clinton said. "Once again, we have seen that diplomacy must be backed by strength and resolve."
Although details of the plan are still being worked out, Clinton and members of his national security team expressed cautious optimism the agreement can work.
If the agreement holds, the president said, U.N. inspectors can achieve three crucial goals: find and destroy all of Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons; find and destroy the missiles to deliver those weapons; and institute a system for long-term monitoring to ensure Iraq doesn't build more weapons of mass destruction.
"If the inspectors are allowed to inspect where and when they want, then they are the most effective tool we have to monitor Iraq's compliance with the commitment it made at the end of the Gulf War," Clinton said. He also warned Iraq U.S. patience is growing thin.
"After two crises in the last four months, Iraq's failure to allow UNSCOM [U.N. Special Command] to do its job would be a serious, serious matter," Clinton said. "If Iraq fails to comply this time to provide immediate, unrestricted, unconditional access to the weapons inspectors, there will be serious consequences. The United States remains resolved and ready to secure by whatever means necessary Iraq's full compliance with its commitment to destroy its weapons of mass destruction."
U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf now number more than 30,000, including the recently arrived USS Guam Amphibious Readiness Group carrying 3,000 Marines. About 500 National Guardsmen and reservists may soon join the force there. President Clinton has approved Defense Secretary William Cohen's plan to call up the Guard and Reserve to help provide logistical and combat support services in the region.