Amid rising tensions with Iraq, President Clinton on Friday ordered the USS George Washington to the Persian Gulf in a major buildup of military force. The aircraft carrier is expected to join the USS Nimitz in a week.
"It's too dangerous an issue, it would set too powerful a precedent about the impotence of the United Nations if we didn't proceed on this," the president said, dramatically raising the stakes in the showdown with Saddam Hussein.He said the world community had to act "in the face of what I consider to be one of three or four most significant security threats that all of our people will face in the next whole generation, this weapons of mass destruction proliferation. We've got to stop it."
Clinton refused to speculate about options but declared, "We have to steel ourselves and be determined that the will of the international community, expressed in the United Nations Security Council resolutions, will have to prevail."
U.S. arms inspectors expelled from Iraq reached the Jordanian capital of Amman Friday after a dreary night drive across the desert. Their 68 colleagues were allowed to fly to Bahrain.
Clinton spoke during a meeting in the Oval Office with Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo. They were joined by Vice President Al Gore and Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin.
Clinton said the Iraq crisis "is not just a replay of the gulf war" when Saddam was forced out of Kuwait after Iraq's 1990 invasion. "This is about the security of the 21st century and the problems everybody is going to have to face, dealing with chemical weapons," he said.
He said the United Nations made the correct decision in withdrawing international weapons inspectors after Saddam expelled six American members of the team. "The real issue is how to stop Saddam Hussein from reconstituting weapons of mass destruction."
Saddam has used chemical weapons against his enemies and against his own people, the president said.
Clinton said the United States supports the U.N. decision to send a U-2 spy plane over Iraq this weekend. "Because if we're not on the ground, it's important to be in the air," the president said.
Asked whether the withdrawal of the U.N. inspectors meant Saddam got his way, Clinton said it would be a mistake to say that. "If his objective is to lift the sanctions, he has undermined that objective. The sanctions will never be lifted as long as he does not comply" with the U.N. resolutions.
"We have a job to do, and we hope to return soon to carry out the task," said Alan Dacey, one of those on the flight from Baghdad that took the non-American inspectors to Bahrain.
The six Americans from the inspection teams in Iraq, some wearing baseball caps and jeans, pulled into Amman early Friday in a convoy of three U.N. station wagons, ending a roughly 10-hour drive from Baghdad.
Laden with suitcases and gear, they drove through the hilly city's largely deserted streets to a downtown hotel. Two Australian and British U.N. workers accompanied the Americans.
Some smiled, but none spoke to the reporters and camera crews waiting in their hotel lobby. Four inspectors bought souvenirs from a gift shop.
The addition of a second carrier doubles the number of Navy warplanes available, putting some 100 combat aircraft and another 50 support aircraft in the gulf waters.
Iraq's neighbors have been reluctant to permit air attacks from their territories if there is a military strike.
In another development, Israel - which refrained from retaliating against Iraq for Scud missile attacks during the Persian Gulf War - warned today that it will respond militarily to any new Iraqi aggression.
Britain, a staunch U.S. ally throughout the crisis, ordered a carrier, The Invincible with six Harrier jets aboard, to proceed to Gilbraltar from the Caribbean as a precautionary move, a British Embassy spokesman said Friday.
Additionally, eight attack Harriers will be sent next week to Gibraltar, arriving at about the same time, and will be put aboard the Invincible, thereby increasing its firepower.