Clinton wants peaceful resolutionNov. 20, 1997
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- The United States wants a peaceful solution in its standoff with Iraq but is preparing to take whatever steps are necessary to end the impasse over weapons inspection, President Clinton said today.
Pentagon officials, meanwhile, say Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has his air defense forces on a heightened state of alert, stirring U.S. concern that he may set surface-to-air missile 'traps' for American pilots.
'I prefer to resolve this situation peacefully with our friends and allies,' Clinton said at a bill signing ceremony today.
Weapons inspectors must be able to resume work in Iraq 'without interference.'
'That's our top line, that's our bottom line,' the president said. 'I want to achieve it diplomatically. But we're taking every step to make sure we are prepared to pursue whatever options are necessary.'
Officials at the State Department, without mentioning Iraq, today warned Americans in all parts of the world 'to exercise greater than usual caution' because of a growing threat of anti-U.S. violence.
The security of U.S. citizens, business operations and military installations overseas could be affected by several recent developments, including convictions in the murder of CIA employees and the World Trade Center bombing, a department statement said.
Of Saddam's strategy on the ground in Iraq, Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said Tuesday, 'The air defense system is actually on a higher state of alert today than it was before he invaded Kuwait in 1990.'
Bacon cited concern over Iraq's heightened state of alert as one reason Clinton decided to expand U.S. air power in the Persian Gulf region by dispatching six F-117 stealth fighters, six B-52 strategic bombers and nine refueling aircraft.
The F-117s departed Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., this morning en route to Langley Air Force Base, Va., where they were to spend
the night before departing Thursday for Kuwait. Also, the Air Force
said nine refueling aircraft from Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash.,
and other bases would go to the gulf instead of the four announced
The B-52s, from Barksdale Air Force Base, La., are to deploy to
Diego Garcia, a British territory in the Indian Ocean that is
within convenient range of Iraq.
``Given what we have seen _ the active redeployment of his air
defenses, the high state of alert _ we think that he is interested
in much more than diplomacy,'' Bacon said of the Iraqi leader. ``He
has ulterior motives ... and we need to be prepared.''
Bacon acknowledged that Iraqi air defenses have been on extra
alert for at least several days. ``It's their determination to
remain at the highest possible state of alert,'' combined with U.S.
commanders' desire for more firepower, that led Clinton to dispatch
additional planes, Bacon said.
The president also authorized Gen. Anthony Zinni, commander of
U.S. Central Command, which operates all U.S. forces in the Gulf
area, to send 32 other Air Force warplanes to Bahrain if he decides
they are needed.
Air Force officials today said these would be two B-1 bombers
from Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D.; 12 F-15 Eagle strike fighters
from Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and 18 F-16 fighters. Six of the
F-16s would go from Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., and 12 would go from
Moody Air Force Base, Ga., officials said.
Clinton's national security adviser, Sandy Berger, said the
addition of U.S. aircraft, pushing the total to more than 300 in
the Gulf region, was a precautionary step.
``This is part of our effort to be prepared in a prudent way for
any contingency that may arise in the region,'' Berger said Tuesday
at the White House.
The United States already has about 120 Air Force planes in the
Gulf plus a combined 150 planes aboard two aircraft carriers in the
Bacon said Zinni was particularly concerned that Iraq might set
air defense traps for the American pilots patrolling a ``no-fly''
zone over southern Iraq. He said Iraq could use a mixture of
surface-to-air missile targeting systems to lure a U.S. plane into
a position where it could get shot down.
Even as the Clinton administration prepared for possible
military action, there were signs that progress was being made on
the diplomatic front.
In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov told
reporters Tuesday that President Boris Yeltsin and Iraqi Deputy
Prime Minister Tariq Aziz had reached an understanding on an
unspecified proposed solution to the showdown over U.N. weapons
inspections in Iraq.
``In the course of the talks, a certain program has been worked
out that allows us, we think, to avoid a confrontation, to avoid
the use of force and achieve a settlement,'' Primakov said.
White House spokesman Michael McCurry said today that U.S.
officials still had not yet learned details of the Russian
initiative. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was headed today
to Geneva, Switzerland for a meeting with her French, British and
Russian counterparts on the crisis. The meeting was set for 2 a.m.,
local time, Thursday. Albright spokesman James Rubin said it was
not clear whether the hastily arranged meeting signals a
breakthrough in the three-week-old crisis.
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