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Public Papers - 1990

Remarks at a White House Briefing for Members of Congress on the Persian Gulf Crisis


Let me just start off by thanking all of the Members of Congress who were able to get back here to discuss this situation of deep concern to every American. What we will do is, I'll make a few remarks here and then we'll go into executive session. And I will be glad to respond to your questions as best I can, backed up ably by the team that's here with me.

But meeting the challenge in the Persian Gulf is not something that I or this administration can do by ourselves. We can only succeed if all of us -- executive and legislative, Republican and Democrats -- work together. And that was one of the reasons I wanted you to come here today. Let no one at home doubt my commitment to work with the Congress, and let no one abroad doubt our national unity or our staying power.

Let me begin by providing some background to the unfolding drama in the Gulf; and then later, I want to hear from you and, as I say, respond to questions.

First, the background. When this administration began, we sought to strengthen the cease-fire between Iran and Iraq and to improve relations with Iraq. We held no illusions about that. We hoped, along with many in the Congress, that Iraqi behavior might be moderated. But even before the current crisis, though, Iraq was moving at odds to our interests and to the interests of many around the world. So, we suspended the provisions of the CCC [Commodity Credit Corporation] agricultural credits, stopped the export of furnaces that had the potential to contribute to Iraq's nuclear capabilities.

You all know the events of the last several weeks. Iraq threatened Kuwait, lied about its intentions, and finally invaded. In 3 days, Iraq had 120,000 troops and 850 tanks in Kuwait, moving south toward the Saudi border. And it was this clear and rapidly escalating threat that led King Fahd of Saudi Arabia to ask for our assistance. We knew that an Iraq that had the most powerful military machine in the Gulf and controlled 20 percent of the world's proven reserves of oil would pose a threat to the Persian Gulf, to the Middle East, and to the entire world. We responded to this quickly, without hesitation. Our objectives were obvious from the start: the immediate, complete, and unconditional withdrawal of all Iraqi forces from Kuwait; the restoration of Kuwait's legitimate government; security and stability of Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf; and the protection of American citizens abroad.

Our actions to achieve these objectives have been equally clear. Within hours of the assault, the United States moved to freeze Iraq's assets in this country and to protect those of Kuwait. I asked Dick Cheney, Secretary Cheney, to go to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Morocco to arrange for military cooperation between us and key Arab States. And I asked Jim Baker, Secretary Baker, to go to Turkey and to Brussels to rally the support of our NATO allies. Both of these missions were extraordinarily successful. The world response to Iraq was a near-unanimous chorus of condemnation.

With great speed, the United Nations Security Council passed five resolutions. These resolutions condemned Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, demanded Iraq's immediate and unconditional withdrawal, and rejected Iraq's annexation of Kuwait. The U.N. has also mandated sanctions against Iraq, those chapter VII sanctions, and endorsed all measures that may be necessary to enforce these sanctions. And the United Nations has demanded that Iraq release all foreign nationals being held against their will without delay.

The United Nations sanctions are in effect and have been working remarkably well, even on a voluntary basis. Iraqi oil no longer flows through pipelines to ports in Turkey and Saudi Arabia. And again, I want to thank both the Saudis and the Turks for their lead role in all of this. And today reports indicate that traffic through Aqaba has come virtually to a halt.

U.S. military forces stand shoulder to shoulder with forces of many Arab and European States to deter and, if need be, defend Saudi Arabia against attack. And U.S. naval forces sail with the navies of many other states to make the sanctions as watertight as possible. This is not, as Saddam Hussein claims, the United States against Iraq. It is truly Iraq against the majority in the Arab world, Iraq against the rest of the world.

And so, the basic elements of our strategy are now in place. And where do we want to go? Well, our intention, and indeed the intention of almost every country in the world, is to persuade Iraq to withdraw, that it cannot benefit from this illegal occupation, that it will pay a stiff price by trying to hold on and an even stiffer price by widening the conflict. And of course, we seek to achieve these goals without further violence. The United States supports the U.N. Secretary-General and other leaders working to promote a peaceful resolution of this crisis on the basis of Security Council Resolution 660.

I also remain deeply concerned about the American and other foreign nationals held hostage by Iraq. As I've said before, when it comes to the safety and well-being of American citizens held against their will, I will hold Baghdad responsible.

That's the general comments I wanted to make for public consumption. And then I'd now like to suggest that we all remain, if we could, and excuse our friends from the press and go into executive session here so I can just make one or two more comments and then respond to the questions that may come to me or any of the others here. But thank you all very much for attending.

Note: The President spoke at 3:19 p.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building. In his remarks, he referred to President Saddam Hussein of Iraq and United Nations Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar de la Guerra. Prior to the briefing, he met in the Cabinet Room at the White House with congressional leaders to discuss the Persian Gulf crisis.

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