Washington, 28 January 1998 (RFE/RL) - The controversy surrounding U.S. President Bill Clinton's White House was ignored today as members of the U.S. Congress and other dignitaries gave Clinton an enthusiastic reception to what was probably the most intensely scrutinized speech of his political career.
Members of the House of Representatives and the Senate applauded loudly and Clinton supporters cheered heartily as the president walked through the House chamber to deliver what is called the State of the Union Address.
It's a report every president must make to Congress annually, but Clinton's 1998 address comes as he faces what's being called the gravest crisis of his presidency -- allegations that he told a former White House aide to lie about an extra-marital affair the aide claims she had with the president.
Clinton denies the claim that he had sex with the woman and denies the accusation that he told her to lie. The allegation that Clinton told the woman to lie is being investigated by a special government prosecutor and it could lead to criminal charges against him.
He did not mention the controversy. Instead, Clinton followed the traditional state of the union format and presented his domestic and foreign policy goals for the year. Clinton's speech, which was interrupted several times by applause, took him one hour and 27 minutes to deliver.
One of the bursts of applause came when Clinton delivered a blunt warning to Iraq's President Saddam Hussein. He told Saddam that he cannot defy the will of the world and said Saddam will be denied the capacity to use weapons of mass destruction.
The U.S. president said he was speaking for every member of the U.S. Congress from both major political parties -- Democrats and Republicans -- as well as for his administration.
Clinton did not say specifically what would happen if Saddam Hussein continues to defy United Nations resolutions imposed in the wake of Iraq's defeat in the Gulf War in 1991. Iraq is refusing to permit UN weapons inspectors to monitor the required destruction of its arsenal of weapons of mass destruction and its facilities for building such weapons.
However, to sustained applause, Clinton said the U.S. and the international community "are determined to deny" Saddam Hussein the capacity to use weapons of mass destruction again.
In his 1998 foreign policy agenda, Clinton first called for reinforcement of the International Monetary Fund to enable it to handle financial crises in the world.
Clinton said the American economy is sound and strong, but he said the economic turmoil in Asia will have an impact on all the world's economies. The president said no nation can recover if it does not reform itself. However, he added that, "when nations are willing to undertake serious economic reform, we should help them to do it." The U.S. commitment to the International Monetary Fund is about 18,000 million dollars and Congress must approve the appropriation.
Next, Clinton called for swift action by the 100-member U.S. Senate to approve the expansion of the NATO military alliance into Central and Eastern Europe. NATO has invited the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland to join. The legislatures of NATO's current 16 members must ratify the necessary changes to the NATO treaty. In the U.S., two-thirds of the Senate must approve.
Said Clinton: "For fifty years, NATO contained Communism and kept America and Europe secure. These three formerly Communist countries have said "yes" to democracy. I ask the Senate to say yes to them -- our new allies." Clinton said that by taking in new members and working closely with Russia and Ukraine, "NATO can help to assure that Europe is a stronghold for peace in the 21st Century." Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina) has already promised Clinton he will support ratification of the NATO treaty and work for its approval in the full Senate.
In another policy proposal that has been expected for some time, Clinton said he will ask Congress for continued support for U.S. participation in NATO's mission in the former Yugoslav republic of Bosnia. The mandate for NATO's stabilization force in Bosnia ends in June, but NATO leaders have said that some type of NATO presence will be needed to continue keeping peace and rebuilding a civil society.
Clinton said that in Bosnia, "the progress is unmistakable -- but not yet irreversible." He said "Bosnia's fragile peace still needs the support of American and allied troops when the current NATO mission ends in June."
The president also called for congressional support for a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty. Clinton said that, "by ending nuclear testing, we can help to prevent the development of new and more dangerous weapons and make it more difficult for non-nuclear states to build them."
In addition, he called for Senate approval of amendments to the international Biological Weapons Convention. Clinton said the rules of the treaty are sound, but he said enforcement provisions are weak and must be strengthened with a new international inspection system to detect and deter cheating.
Clinton said as well that the U.S. faces what he called an overriding environmental challenge. He said that what he called the gathering crisis of global warming, "is a worldwide problem requiring worldwide action." Clinton said he is proposing 6,000 million dollars in domestic tax cuts to spur research and development "to encourage innovation, cleaner factories, fuel efficient cars, energy efficient homes."
However, Clinton may face opposition from the Congress on this issue. The scientific community is still divided on the subject of global warming, which holds that man's activities are causing an unnatural heating of the planet. Some scientists say this is not true. Many in Congress believe that an international agreement reached in Japan late last year to curb pollution is unfair to the U.S. and they have said they will not support U.S. participation in the accord.
Finally, Clinton said it is "long past time to make good on our debt to the United Nations." The U.S. owes the world body more than $1 billion in back dues, but many in the Senate believe the UN must reform and trim its bureaucracy before the U.S. pays up.
Clinton, however, said that if the U.S. wants to lead, it must set a good example for other countries. He said that, "in this new era, our freedom and independence are actually enriched, not impoverished, by our increasing interdependence with other nations. "
Clinton said the U.S. must exercise responsibility in its foreign policy.
Said Clinton: "On the eve of a new century, we have the power and the duty to build a new era of peace and security."
He said the U.S., "must stand up for its interests and stand against the poisoned appeals of extreme nationalism." Clinton said the U.S. must combat what he called an unholy axis of new threats: terrorists, international criminals and drug traffickers. He called them 21st Century predators who feed on technology and the free flow of information, ideas and people. To meet these challenges, said Clinton, the U.S. is "helping to write international rules of the road for the 21st Century, protecting those who join the family of nations, isolating those who do not. "