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Iraq: Clinton Warns Baghdad Against Defying UN

Washington, 3 November 1998 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton is warning Iraq that its refusal to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors is "totally unacceptable" and suggesting a military response is one option under consideration.

Clinton said at the White House on Monday that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's decision to cut off cooperation with the inspectors will backfire.

Said Clinton: "Far from dividing the international community and achieving concessions, his obstructionism was immediately and unanimously condemned by the United Nations Security Council. It has only served to deepen the international community's resolve."

The president met with his national security team to review the situation and discuss what to do next. The meeting was attended by Secretary of Defense William Cohen, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, White House National Security Adviser Sandy Berger and the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, George Tenet.

Clinton directed Cohen to go to Europe and the Gulf region to consult with America's allies.

In his White House remarks, Clinton said: "Iraq must let the inspectors finish the job they started seven years ago, a job Iraq promised to let them do repeatedly. What is that job? Making sure Iraq accounts for and destroys all its chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons capability and the missiles to deliver such weapons. "

He said the only path for Iraq to have U.N. sanctions imposed against it following its invasion of Kuwait removed is through complete cooperation with the weapons inspectors.

In a reference to possible U.S. military action, Clinton said pointedly: "Until the inspectors are back on the job, N-O options are off the table."

At the State Department, spokesman James Rubin said the U.S. regards the latest Iraqi action as a very serious matter.

Rubin told reporters: "Iraq has confronted the international community with an escalation by refusing to cooperate. It flies in the face of the offer the Council made on Friday to allow for a comprehensive review if, and only if, Iraq returns into compliance. This flouting of the Security Council and the international community and the world was unanimously condemned, and I think the Council acted with great speed and great clarity in making clear that this is a flagrant violation of the Security Council's decisions."

The spokesman said if the U.S. determined that Saddam Hussein "is reconstituting his weapons of mass destruction, we would act."

The United States maintains a large military presence in the Gulf region, including an aircraft carrier, troops and planes.

More than 400 aircraft, 19 ships and some 35,000 troops were in the Gulf early for months earlier this year when Iraq last interfered with the inspection teams. During that time, the U.S. also warned Iraq of possible military action.

Iraq on Saturday suspended all cooperation with U.N. inspection teams after the Security Council renewed its refusal to lift economic sanctions. The council then demanded unanimously that Iraq reverse the ban.