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Clinton Gives Saddam New Warning

February 19, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Clinton said today that Saddam Hussein should not be emboldened by raucous dissent at a town hall meeting over possible American airstrikes against Iraq. ``Not if he understands the first thing about America,″ the president said.

Clinton also said he had asked Vice President Al Gore to delay a planned trip to South Africa next week so he can have his full national security team on hand if the United States decides to attack Iraq.

Despite angry protests at Wednesday’s town hall meeting in Columbus, Ohio, about attacking Iraq, Clinton said, ``I believe strongly that most Americans support our policy. They support our resolve.″

Clinton spoke with reporters on the South Lawn of the White House before boarding a helicopter for a speaking engagement in Baltimore. He said he had just spoken with French President Jacques Chirac about Iraq. They both agreed that U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan’s diplomatic mission to Baghdad is ``a critical opportunity to achieve the outcome that all of us would prefer″ _ a peaceful, principled settlement.

To achieve that result, Saddam must give U.N. weapons inspectors free and unfettered access to all suspected weapons sites anywhere in the country, Clinton said. Closing off room for negotiations, Clinton said, ``He simply must adhere to that standard.″

Repeating threats of force, the president said, ``If diplomacy fails, we must be and we are prepared to act. The choice is Saddam Hussein’s.″

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