Clinton Gets Ready For Action

Return to Showdown in the Gulf
On the eve of a high-stakes U.N. diplomatic mission to Baghdad, President Clinton ordered his national security team to postpone overseas travel Thursday while he considers a possible military strike.

Clinton said he had made no decision on setting a deadline for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to bow to United Nations demands for access to suspected weapons sites. "I feel that time is on our side," he told reporters.

Meanwhile, CBS News correspondent Barry Peterson reports that the U.S. is still beefing up its forces in the Gulf. Four thousand troops were on the ground in Kuwait, Thursday, with 6,000 more reinforcements on the way. The buildup is reportedly intended to deter Saddam from striking Kuwait in the event of a U.S. attack.

Clinton said Vice President Al Gore would put off his trip to South Africa, and Pentagon officials said Defense Secretary William Cohen would delay a planned journey to South Africa and South America that was to have begun next Tuesday.

"In coming days I want my full national security team on hand to take part in our deliberations and decisions on this vitally important issue," Clinton said.

With U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan headed to Baghdad for talks with Saddam, Clinton said he had spoken with French President Jacques Chirac and they agreed that Annan's mission was a "critical opportunity to achieve the outcome that all of us would prefer a peaceful and principled end to this crisis."

"We hope the secretary-general's mission will succeed, but let me be clear: If diplomacy fails, we must be and we are prepared to act," the president said.

After speaking by telephone with Chirac, Clinton said the U.N. Security Council was unanimous in believing Iraq must give U.N. weapons inspectors "full, free and unfettered access to all suspected sites anywhere in Iraq."

"The choice is Saddam Hussein's," the president said.

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