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Public Statements

News Conference on Iraq

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

SEN. BIDEN: Good afternoon, folks. I have a brief statement regarding Secretary Powell's presentation to the Security Council. And then I'll be happy to take your questions.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to hear, and nor have you I guess, the responses or the comments made by the members of the Security Council. So I am not prepared to comment on what they may have said, because I was on my way here.

I think Secretary Powell made a very powerful, and I think irrefutable, case today before the Security Council. The evidence he produced confirms what I believe and I have known for some time now: Saddam Hussein continues to—he continues to attempt to maintain and garner additional weapons of mass destruction, and he continues to thwart the world's command, through the United Nations, to disarm.

I commend the secretary for taking his case to the Security Council, and I commend him for having convinced the president last fall to go to the Security Council, for going to the United Nations he has made this the world's problem and not just the problem of the United States of America.

The question now is: Will the Security Council live up to its responsibility and enforce its own—its own dictates, its own judgments, its own resolutions? The Security Council, in my view, should make a clear choice between war and peace Saddam's choice. Solidarity at the United Nations Security Council is the absolute best, and I would argue last, reasonable prospect to avoid war. Let me repeat that. Only when Saddam Hussein realizes that there is strong international consensus, a united world, will he stop trying to drive a wedge between the United States and its allies and members of the Security Council. That consensus will finally concentrate Saddam's mind. To paraphrase Ben Jonson, there is nothing like a hanging to focus one's attention. His attention must be focused. And only at that point, that is the only hope I believe for there to be the possibility of avoiding war.

Now that the secretary of State has done his job, the president I think must finish his job. And that is he must engage in a personal diplomacy with—as he already is doing, based on my breakfast with him this morning, with others—with key members of the Security Council to pass a second resolution setting a deadline authorizing the use of force if necessary in order to disarm Saddam Hussein.

While the second resolution isn't a legal requirement in my view, and while we can win the war on our own, we are much better off if we support the United Nations and we move with a broad coalition. The hard part begins after—after, after—after we defeat Saddam Hussein, if that proves to be necessary, for it promises to be a lengthy and costly period of nation-building and occupation—hopefully not with merely U.S. forces. We want as many countries as possible helping us in this decade after Saddam falls. To get their help afterwards, we need to sign them up at the front end of this process, and getting them to sign up will be much easier if we have a second U.N. resolution.

But the most important task in my view for the president now is to inform the American people about everything that may shortly be asked of them. I personally urged the president on more than one occasion to be very straightforward with the American people, if he makes the judgment that we must go to war—be straightforward about the commitment that the American people are being asked to shoulder, for no foreign policy can be sustained, no matter how well informed or well intended, without the informed consent of the American people. And at this point there is no such informed consent. The president has to explain to the public that we are about to embark on a costly and complicated effort which will require not only the risking of thousands of American lives in the undoing of Saddam, if necessary, but will require tens of thousands of American forces to stay in Iraq for an extended period of time.

And the American public, I believe, will, if asked front-end, give their support, but only if they are informed ahead of time. I don't think many Americans understand the scope and magnitude of what the United States will be obliged to do for many years to come if war is a necessity. We owe this not only to the American people to inform them, but we owe it equally to the fighting women and men who may be about to risk their lives in order to fulfill American policy. When I spoke with many of them in Qatar not long ago—about a month ago—the constant question asked of me of the generals assembled—and there were several hundred, over 200 of them—was basically, Where will you all be after we do our job, if asked to do our job? Will you be there when the hard choices are made 18 months from now between giving them all that they need financially, militarily, and in terms of all support when the choice is between another 10 or 20 billion dollars for Iraq and whether or not we deal with an additional tax cut, or we deal with a choice on what kind of prescription drug plan we are going to have, or more money for education—are you going to be there? Every United States senator and every congressman should understand, if they support, as I do—if they support, as I do, the president going to war, if need be, because Saddam fails to cooperate, that they are signing on a long-term commitment to the American military that we will give them all they need, and it will be costly—and, I might add, is not included in the president's budget. It will come from somewhere.

We must assume that the American people and the political leadership will continue to main full support, supplying all the forces, material—including billions of dollars upon which there will be other calls until the job is done. And the job will first be started when we take down Saddam Hussein and defeat him, if need be. But it will not be finished until there is a stable Iraq—a stable Iraq, which is necessary to enhance our security and the security of the region.

War or peace is now Saddam's choice. And the Security Council also has a choice: relevance or irrelevance? It will be an historic moment for the Council to decide which course they choose.

I'll be happy to answer any questions for a few minutes. Yes, ma'am?

Q Senator, you talk about the need to inform the American people. Of course, Colon Powell was also talking to the American public when he spoke this morning. I wonder to what degree do you think he's done the job of informing the American people, and what else the president needs to do before a war with Iraq?

SEN. BIDEN: There are two issues. One, informing the American public, the Security Council and the world about the evidence—the evidence—to allow us to make the conclusion that Saddam Hussein remains a danger because he is not cooperating, he is still harboring and he is still seeking the accumulation of weapons of mass destruction.

That case I believe has been made, and I hope now that the American people will have this regurgitated in a number of venues and fora over the next weeks, that they will be as convinced as I am.

The second issue is whether or not they are informed that now that they are convinced of the evidence, what is going to be asked of them? Many of my constituents, and many of your friends, I believe, think this will be a redo of 1991, which is that we are going to go in, it will be quick, it will be essentially bloodless in terms of American lives, and Johnny will come marching home in a matter of days or weeks, or at the latest months. Johnny will not come marching home. We will be required to stay in-country with tens of thousands of forces for an extended period of time. Initially I predict to you that if war—if Saddam chooses war we will be successful, and we will initially be greeted in the region and in Iraq in a way that is close to being viewed as liberators. But that gets stale. That gets old very quickly. And that's when we really put the second time around our warriors in jeopardy. And this is an administration that said it has no interest in nation-building. This is about nation- building. This is about nation-building by whatever other name you want to call it. So that's what I mean by informed. I mean being informed of what is going to be asked of them; that is, Ladies and gentlemen, my fellow Americans, we are going—we are going to have your sons and daughters in Iraq for an extended period of time. It's going to cost billions of dollars. It will require us to stay the course until this country is stabilized, and it has never, never, never been a democracy. It has never ever been anything much else than a polygot (sic) that was put together initially after 1919, and then World War II. That's a hard job.

Yes?

Q Senator, you've been going to briefings and closed door hearings on the subject of Iraq for months now, if not years, and I wonder, did you hear anything today from Secretary Powell that was new to you, or is this all a restatement of things that you've heard before.

SEN. BIDEN: Restatement.

Q In your meeting this morning at the White House, how likely do you think it is that the Bush administration will seek a second U.N. Security Council resolution?

SEN. BIDEN: I would not want to guess at that. It's my hope that they will, I believe. The case has been compelling enough. I believe that we—Powell has supplied today the kind of—how can I—let me put it this way: I don't think there's a European leader who doubts that Saddam Hussein has these weapons of mass destruction. I don't believe there's a single European leader who doubts it. But at this moment in Europe, like in many democracies around the world, there are fairly even and divided governments. As of last night, the bulk of the populations of Europe, and other countries, was unalterably opposed to going to war in Iraq. The leadership of these countries, with the exception of Great Britain, has not attempted to make the case that I believe they know to be true, that Saddam has these weapons and continues to seek additional weapons. I believe that, and I hope—it is my fervent hope—that today's presentation by Secretary Powell, a man well respected throughout the world, and particularly in Europe—that his presentation will embolden leaders who have been reluctant to risk any political capital in their own countries to make the case as well to their people. I think the most compelling part of that, and I can't—I have no doubt that the reason why there was discussion about terrorist cells in Europe was to remind Europe that it is not just the United States that is a target. It is not just the United States that's a target. So hopefully this will embolden the political leadership in very difficult political circumstances in their home countries to step up to the ball.

I'm of the view—and I know I cannot prove this—some of you remember asking me the question early on, late on in the summer when I was pushing very hard publicly that we should go to the United Nations, and the administration initially said they would not go, and then they went—to their great credit. The president made a powerful speech. I remember standing here, and many of you asking me, Well, can he ever get a resolution? -- and I predicted to you he would get a resolution. I didn't predict 18 to nothing, but he would get a resolution. I predict to you we will get a resolution again. The question is what elements will be contained in that resolution. I believe there is the ability to get a second resolution, and therefore I am of the view that we have a real good chance of staying united. It will be hard sledding. It will be a very difficult negotiation, and hopefully we have emboldened, as I said, some of the leadership to step up to the ball in a way they have been unwilling to do in the --

Q Senator, what's the sentiment for a second resolution up here?

SEN. BIDEN: I don't know. You'll have to ask my colleagues. I don't know.

Q Senator, you said this is a restatement of the evidence you have already seen. So, are you not convinced of a link between Iraq and al Qaeda?

SEN. BIDEN: I think that the secretary laid it out in a way that was as straightforward and as accurate as it could be. He basically said that we have all the following facts. We are not—I cannot—this is I am paraphrasing him—I cannot guarantee you there is a direct connection where weapons of mass destruction had been moved or not moved. But we know these things have happened. We know what has taken place. We know the nature of the relationship as tenuous and as tentative as it has been between the secular dictator and the religious dictator, if you will. And based on the way in which they have acted before, the way Saddam has acted before, we cannot assume that that tie would not grow closer rather than grow weaker. I think that's the essence of what he said today. I think that is the accurate assessment of the relations. He did not say, which others have implied, that there is clear evidence that we have a transfer of weapons of mass destruction to al Qaeda, which was implied; or that there is a writ that has been signed onto between Osama bin Laden and, assuming he's alive, and I do assume that, Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein to work in a coordinated way. He gave incidence of ad hoc examples of cooperation that I think he stated it fairly and straightforwardly. And that is very different than saying—he did not say that 9/11 was a product of cooperation with Saddam Hussein. He said what we know, and I think he said it accurately. He did not exaggerate it.

Yes?

Q A lot of what you are saying—a lot of what you are calling on for success in Iraq is contingent upon a U.N. resolution. In particular, you said, One will --

SEN. BIDEN: Well, it is not contingent on it. We just do better if it is. Let's get this straight. We can go in—and we may have to go in. We have, for example, there's another letter coming today. The following countries have supported us going in without a U.N. resolution: Spain, U.K., Portugal, Italy, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Denmark; today, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Albania, Croatia and Macedonia. Now, the notion that there is not support that exists—are these the heavy hitters in terms of the ability to provide men, materiel and money? The answer is no on the second list I named. But the president and the secretary of State has been correct when he says—and the president has said—if we go without a U.N. resolution, we will still go with a large number of people supporting us.

Look, this is a very close judgement call. This is a balancing act. The question is: How much time is necessary in order to enhance the chance of greater unity within the United Nations for forcibly disarming Saddam if he resists cooperation versus how much initiative is lost if we wait in order to try to generate more support? It is clearly in the best interests of peace—if—I'm going to exaggerate this. If the General Assembly passed a resolution, every country saying, Saddam, you must cooperate, or we are going to authorize the international forces to go and remove you from power—that would exponentially enhance the fact, the prospect of Saddam deciding that he should sue for peace and/or sue for amnesty and get out of there. So in direct proportion to how many nations support this, it makes our job easier.

What I don't want us to do—but we may have to—I do not want us to be in a position where the next two to three years there are 75,000, or whatever the number, of American troops doing what the president acknowledges, the Defense Department acknowledges, the State Department acknowledges and the national security team acknowledges: performing the following functions—at least the following functions: One, protecting the oil field; two, securing the borders; three, reducing the possibility of over overall retribution that results in a civil war; four, supporting an interim government as we get—as the sophisticated bureaucracy of Iraq is able to get up and running, so the water is, when you turn on the faucet water comes out, the lights go on, there's police protection in the streets. All those functions are necessary for stability. All those functions are predicated upon some force being in Iraq guaranteeing those functions. I don't want it to be only United States soldiers there making us the poster boy for every malcontent and terrorist in the world. To the degree to which the world supports it and participates in that, that's the degree to which our security and our responsibility is enhanced and lessened in terms of responsibility.

Yes?

Q Is it useful at this time for the administration to set some kind of deadline?

SEN. BIDEN: I think it's useful for the United States to try to privately negotiate a deadline. This is not the time, in my view—and the reason I think Powell did such a good job beyond the fats that he presented—was he did not engage in recrimination, he did not make any veiled threats, he did not suggest that we don't care what you think about it or not—we are going to do whatever we are going to do. He did it in the way in which, and the spirit in which, I think vastly enhances the prospects of getting the support of the United Nations and the Security Council. I think that should continue to be the mode. When he got the first resolution, along with significant help or work of the president as well, none of this was public. They did this all in hard negotiations behind closed doors. That's the way I would respectfully suggest they should proceed—as they did the first time. This is not the time, in my view, because it will diminish our prospects of success, as I define it, getting more people to take on the responsibility with us, if we sit out there and say there is one day, two weeks, four months—whatever it is. That is not the way to move sovereign nations who have other issues with us that do not relate to Iraq. And so I think it's very important that we continue to follow the example and style set by Saddam Hussein and the president's—and the president's speech last fall.

I'll take a couple more questions. Yes?

Q Senator, you said at the top of your remarks that President Bush is making some phone calls and engaging in personal diplomacy at this moment.

SEN. BIDEN: I don't know who he's calling. All I know is that during the breakfast he said, "I have to get up, and I'm going to make some calls."

Q Including foreign leaders, members of the United Nations Security Council. Did they give you any sense at the meeting this morning about what the objective of that diplomacy effort is? Do you have any thoughts about what he ought to be saying now?

SEN. BIDEN: I would not dare suggest what any president should be saying—wouldn't presume to do that. But I do—and he did not say what the purpose—it was just assumed by all of us—and let me make it very clear who was there. I mean, there were the chairmen and ranking members, to the best of my knowledge, of three committees in the House and the Senate, Intelligence, Foreign Relations, and Armed Services, and then the elected leadership of the House and the Senate, Democrat and Republican, sitting around the Cabinet room, when the president laid out what the purpose of the meeting was, and laid out how it was going to be presented to us, a prelude or a prelim for a—a preview, I should say, for what Colin Powell is going to say. Dr. Rice made the presentation. The vice president was there as well. Took questions—Dr. Rice took questions. The president excused himself as Dr. Rice began to make her presentation to say that he had some—I don't know if he said "important"—but he had phone calls to make. I shouldn't say we all assume—I'll speak for myself. I assumed the calls were the very ones apparently the White House has now said he was making, and I hope he is as successful as he and the secretary were seeking the first resolution.

Anyone who didn't have a question?

Q Senator? Senator?

SEN. BIDEN: Yes?

Q Senator, you said last week that this is an issue of making Saddam live up to his terms and surrender.

SEN. BIDEN: Yes.

Q But there's still the issue hanging over that of preemption which suggests that it's imminent. How imminent do you think -- (inaudible) -- ?

SEN. BIDEN: Let me speak to the preemption piece first, so I am not misunderstood on this. The only solicited as well as unsolicited advice I've given any members of administration or State Department regarding this issue is that we should make crystal clear that we are enforcing essentially the terms of the peace agreement. This is enforcement. Had the last Gulf War occurred in 1939, Saddam would have had to be sitting in Versailles signing a peace agreement in order to stay in power, the conditions of which would have been the equivalent of the U.N. resolutions. Fortunately, we as a world have moved beyond that to an international body that has great respect, and so that fora was the United Nations.

If we go to war with our partners to disarm Saddam, it will be to enforce the U.N. resolutions, which I would argue in terms of international law are the equivalent of a peace agreement. This is not—is not—preemption. There's nothing preemptive about it. If you turned on now and the television showed aircraft striking Baghdad, it would not be a preemptive attack. There is nothing preemptive about it. It's an enforcement. One of the problems I have found is I have spoken in the last week or so with world leaders, heads of state, foreign ministers and their counterparts—and I had the opportunity to do that extensively for five days in Davos, or four days in Davos. One of the things that confuses, and allows those who don't want to step up to the ball and meet their obligation, is when some in the administration have said we have a new doctrine of preemption. And so it allows those who want to drag their feet in doing what they know must be done to say, Oh, we are not going to be involved in a preemption. That's a new doctrine that changes the Treaty of Westphalia of I think 1648, or whatever the year was. That's, you know, we get into all of that. It obfuscates the central point: Is this a bad guy who has violated the terms of an agreement he made to do away with weapons and the capacity to do great harm to his people, the region, and—and—possibly the United States of America? The answer is yes, this is a bad guy, this is a guy who has violated the terms of a peace agreement. This is a guy who continues to do it. This guy has a record of demonstrating he will use those weapons. And there is an emerging pattern that convenience may throw him into the arms of who our most central and most serious enemy is now, non-state actor called al Qaeda. So he must be dealt with. He must be dealt with.

In terms of your second question, on the basis of enforcement, the second part of your question was, Is there an imminent threat? I think that's what you asked. Is that not correct? The question is—my answer to that is we are where we are. By that I mean had I—had the president been taking my advice, which there is no reason why he should have—I am not implying that he should have taken my advice—but I along the way, as some of you know from speaking to me at length over the last year, did not advise that we do it the way we are—the exact way we are doing it, because I think we had more time to increase the prospects there'd be worldwide support for what we did.

I think by moving the ball a little faster we diminish the prospect of getting the kind of full-blown support we could—I think we otherwise would have gotten, but we are at a place now where we have deployed tens of thousands of forces to the region, where the case is overwhelming, where it may be difficult for him to do great damage to us in the very near term, meaning weeks or months, but where we know if we were to cease and desist and leave that it would be—I believe it would be inevitable in the short term that we would see the handiwork of this mad man against the interests of the United States and disrupting the region. So what are you left with? You are left with, as we used to say in undergraduate school, a Hobson's choice. That is, is this the best time? Is this the best way to have gone to this? No. But of the choices that are available now, the only reasonable choice is I think we have no choice but to insist the U.N. move. If the U.N. does not move with us in the relatively near term, in the relative near term move on Saddam, because I cannot picture us being able to sustain up to 150,000 forces in the region for the next 6, 8, 10, 12 months. As I said, I wish we hadn't gotten to this point. I wish we had given the inspectors a little bit more elbow room—not because I expect they'd find anything, because as you saw, I mean, somebody in the deal knows who's coming, somebody in the deal knows this. The legitimate concern that the intelligence people said, Look, we are reluctant to give this information a day or a week ahead of time, because we know from the past it's been compromised—not because Hans Blix is deliberately compromising anything. But based on the intercepts you heard, it's clear somebody knew someone's coming. And so it's very difficult with 110 inspectors, or whatever the number is, to be able to do this very rapidly and very quickly. It'd be different if we had 2,000 inspectors who were trained. It'd be different if they had allowed U.S., German, British experts to be part of this process. That would have been a better way to do it. But given how we got to where we are, it seems to me that the choices are clear: Saddam chooses between war and peace; the United Nations chooses between relevancy and irrelevancy, and we the United States choose to either go and enforce—even though it will be at cost and a price, depending how many people go with us—or cease and desist, and probably cause more damage to our interests around the world than we would if we went.

Thank you all very much. I appreciate it.

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