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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 18, 2002
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:50 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. The President began today with his usual round of intelligence briefings, followed by FBI briefing. Then he convened a meeting of the National Security Council. He also met with the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.
Following their meeting with the President, the FDA Commissioner and the Secretary of HHS announced that, in an effort to improve the health of the American people, the FDA will be moving to provide more information and more accurate information on foods and dietary supplements that will provide people with tools they need to have better health from the point of view of the foods they eat or the dietary supplements that they take.
And then following that, the President met with the Prime Minister and President of Spain. They are currently still having lunch. At the session in the Oval Office they talked about regional issues including the situation vis-a-vis Iraq and the prospects of making progress toward peace in the Middle East. As I say, they are currently having lunch. And those are the events for the President for the day.
I'm happy to take your questions.
Q Can you now tell us, does the President believe that Iraq has once again defied the international community with its declaration? And is he prepared to make that case now publicly and in the United Nations?
MR. FLEISCHER: Iraq recently submitted to the world a voluminous document that it purported to be its final, its full, its accurate and complete listing of all its programs involving weapons of mass destruction. The United States is continuing to review what is in that document but, even before our total review is complete, we have made certain assessments of it.
And the President is concerned about Iraq's failure to list information in this document. The President is concerned with omissions in this document and the President is concerned with problems in this document. I leave it at that.
Q Does that mean that Saddam Hussein has defied the international community and is this, in the President's estimation, a material breach of United Nations resolutions?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, in terms of what's going to come next given the problems in the Iraqi declaration and the omissions in the Iraqi declaration. Tomorrow, Hans Blix of the United Nations will go before the Security Council in New York to discuss the findings and the facts that the United Nations inspectors have found in this declaration.
Following that, I think you will see the United States move in a very deliberative and thoughtful way about what the implications of this are.
We want the inspectors to have the tools they need to do their job. We want them to be able to fully use every asset given to them in the United Nations Security Council resolution. And that will be the deliberative path that the United States proceeds. As people start to discuss what is indeed in this declaration and what is indeed not in this declaration.
Q Can I just do one more on this? Because you're obviously making it clear that the President doesn't think Iraq has come clean. There are problems, there are omissions. The President, in Prague, was crystal-clear. He said if Iraq does not totally come clean, then Saddam Hussein will face his own demise and the severest of consequences. Have we arrived at that point?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's fair to say again the United States will continue to be deliberative in this matter, but this was Saddam Hussein's last chance. And it is important now to listen to the world, to listen to the United Nations, to listen to allies, to listen to other countries as they, too, have their chance to look at this declaration and evaluate it just as the United States looks forward to doing.
Q Does that mean that the White House, including possibly the President, is prepared to say that Iraq is in material breach because of these concerns?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, the United States is going to pursue a deliberative approach to this. The process of this final test begins tomorrow in New York, as Hans Blix discusses with the United Nations what the United Nations inspectors have found or not found in this declaration. We will be interested to hear what Mr. Blix said. We will be interested to hear what other nations say. And we will, as the United States government, share information, as well tomorrow.
Q But this deliberative approach mean that you're not read to go as far as to say there is material breach?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I just repeated -- it will be a deliberative approach. And any statements will be made by the appropriate authorities. And they'll be made over the approach time table that the President and others judge is appropriate.
Q Can I ask a Lott question briefly? Does Senator Chafee's statement today that Senator Lott should go, should resign as Majority leader, does that change the White House position in wanting to say publicly whether he should remain or not?
MR. FLEISCHER: Just as a indicated yesterday, any of the events, any of the comments that lead up to this potential January 6th meeting, the White House will not comment on.
Q As you know, the Brits have once again gotten out a little bit ahead of us. They've declared this morning in a statement out on the floor of the House of Commons that the Iraqi declaration is -- to use Jack Straw's words, an obvious falsehood.
Is this a case of the U.S. going first, the U.S. to follow to make the same point in tandem? And do we expect to hear from the President on this tomorrow?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, all -- all nations -- all nations have it within their right to evaluate the declaration themselves and to share their thoughts with the world. And I think that's part of the healthy process that the President launched when he went to the United Nations and said the United Nations needs to re-enter this debate and make certain this time Saddam Hussein does what he promised to do, disarm.
Q Is this a concerted effort?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think people are all looking at the same document and aware of the fact that tomorrow Hans Blix is going to be talking about it. So it's kind of a natural event that many nations are going to be reflecting on it. So we welcome the comments of other nations.
Q Do we expect to hear from the President?
MR. FLEISCHER: As always, if there is anything from the President, I'll let you know.
Q So you haven't made that decision?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct
Q A quick Lott question. He says he talked to the President today. Can you characterize that --
MR. FLEISCHER: He did not say that, Bill. He said he talked to the White House today. He did not talk to the President.
Q Who'd he talk to?
Q Yes, who'd he talk to?
MR. FLEISCHER: He talked to other officials in the White House on a staff level. He did not talk to the President.
Q Did he talk to Karl Rove, maybe?
MR. FLEISCHER: Go ahead, Terry.
Q But on Iraq, if Iraq is lying, why shouldn't that be grounds for war, given everything that the President has been saying for months?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, because the President has said that he wants to work with the international community. The President, having gone to the United Nations, has made the decision that the United States will work with our partners around the world in both the diplomatic areas and in all areas to do everything we can to put the pressure on Saddam Hussein to preserve the peace by disarmament.
The President said he would do it. You are watching the President do exactly what he said he would do. So the President has said that this is Saddam Hussein's last chance. The United Nations has made it clear in passing 16 resolutions that Saddam Hussein disobeyed that they, too, have reached the point where they want Saddam Hussein to at this point finally do what he pledged and disarm. And this is the President's decision, this is the President's approach.
Q Great powers can't bluff, it's often said. Is this an admission that the United States doesn't have international support right now to go to war, even if this declaration is an obvious falsehood?
MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, two points again. The President is going to pursue this in a thoughtful, deliberative way, in consultation, as he promised, with our allies. And I assure you this President does not bluff. When he said that Saddam Hussein must disarm and that he wants Saddam Hussein to disarm so peace can be preserved or Saddam Hussein will be disarmed, it is not a bluff. He hopes Saddam Hussein will do it, still.
Q Ari, before the Iraqis submitted this declaration you said from this podium several times that omissions would constitute a material breach under Section 4 of the U.N. resolution. You've just told us now for the first time that, in fact, you now believe there are omissions in the report.
The way we would do the math, we would think omissions equal material breach. You're not saying that now. Is there a political advantage in delaying a declaration of material breach? Are we only discussing a question of timing here or a question of substance?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's important to allow a process that the President asked to begin, to take its course. The President went to the United Nations Security Council and asked for the inspectors to go back into Iraq, and the resolution authorizing the return of the inspectors. It created a process for the inspectors to come back to the United Nations Security Council to make reports on what they are finding.
And so what you are seeing is the President doing just what he said. And so, tomorrow, Hans Blix will go to the Security Council and the pace and the timing will be measured and be deliberative.
Q Ari, you're conflating two issues. There is a question of what the inspectors go out and do and find -- those reports. And then there is Iraq's separate obligation to provide a report, which they have done, of their weapons of mass destruction. We're discussing here just an assessment of that report, not of what the inspectors have found.
If there are omissions in that report, it seems fairly clear, unless I'm reading 1441 incorrectly, that that alone would constitute a material breach. Am I wrong?
MR. FLEISCHER: And as I indicated on the timing, given the fact that the President asked the United Nations to proceed in this manner, it's appropriate to allow Hans Blix to make his statement tomorrow. And then we'll see what the future course takes after that.
Q I have two questions. One, according to the U.N. report, Afghanistan still is not free of Taliban rule and especially women are in trouble, and they are still facing the -- Taliban rule there. And what is the President doing about the future of Afghanistan?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, when it comes to the future of Afghanistan, the future is indeed far, far brighter than it was until the United States was able to move in and help the people of Afghanistan to shed themselves from the oppression of the Taliban. There is now question that there are still pockets of resistance in isolated portions of Afghanistan. The situation in Afghanistan remains a situation where the United States remains deeply concerned and deeply involved.
But when you take a look at the food shortages that were taking place in Afghanistan, when you look at the health care needs of the people of Afghanistan, where their health care needs have been improved now, or their health care has been improved, the situation, clearly, has improved.
But this is not a short-term endeavor. And the United States is going to continue to play its role to help the people of Afghanistan.
Q Just to follow. Yesterday, Governor Ridge was talking to his future employees of Homeland Security about security of the future, how to protect the homeland of the United States. The question is here, that the India Globe carried a report that over 700 al Qaeda -- are still in the United States, where they are, who they, where they live --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry, who -- who are you attributing -- who said 700 al Qaeda are in the United States?
Q According to the reports -- the India Globe carried the report also.
MR. FLEISCHER: But whom did these reports say said that 700 al Qaeda are in the United States?
Q Different -- intelligence reports.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not aware -- I'm not aware of anybody in the United States government who said that there are 700 al Qaeda in the United States.
Now, the President has said that we have concerns about al Qaeda operating around the world, including the possibility of them having sleeper cells in the United States. It remains a concern, and the United States continues -- through its efforts, through the Justice Department, through state and local law enforcement, as well as through other agencies of the federal government -- to take every action possible to protect the country, to prevent potential terrorists from coming into the country, and to ascertain whether, indeed, there are terrorists operating inside the United States. And if there are, every lever of the federal government is involved in making certain that we can find them and catch them.
Q One on Iraq and one on Senate Lott. First on Iraq, has Hans Blix -- as you know who -- as you know, will deliver his report tomorrow to Security Council -- has he characterized to anyone in the United States government what he is prepared to tell the Security Council? And is the -- are you withholding judgment -- to David's point about whether -- saying publicly an omission equals material breach, to wait to see if Hans Blix does that first? Whether he is prepared to say there is a breach?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. Because first of all, as I said to you this morning, it is the job of the member states to declare whether or not there is or is not a material breach and decide the timing for whether to declare a material breach.
The inspectors are there to report facts, not to make conclusive judgments of that nature. So I would not expect that to be the case.
Q So he cannot report that in his view Iraq's document has omissions?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think -- we'll all wait to hear what he says. And of course, there is some level of contact with all nations of the world as they review this document. After all, the United Nations Security Council came together as one body. And they frequently consult. But we do not know every detail of what's going to be said tomorrow.
Q Senator Lott this morning said that he has been in almost daily contact with the White House. And he said that in one of those conversations -- at least one of those conversations, he had been told that it was the view of whoever he was talking to here at the White House that he was being treated unfairly, and that, yes, it was conveyed to him by the White House that it was important that he take a lead role in trying to clear all this up, but that the White House also viewed it important that he do so because it wanted him to be there to help advance the very important agenda. Is that not taking sides in a senate leadership --
MR. FLEISCHER: John, I want to be very careful here. I saw about half of the tape of what Senator Lott said, and I did not hear him say any of that second portion of what you said. So I want to be precise. I mean, already, some -- it was suggested that Senator Lott said he spoke to the President when Senator Lott never said that. So I want to be precise if anybody is describing Senator Lott's words, and I think everybody needs to work off of a transcript to make certain that the information is accurate.
Let me say this about where the White House is. And I want to repeat what the President said when he went to Philadelphia because, in the President's approach, he views his job is to elevate the nation and continue to focus on the issues involving race and racial healing and racial progress in America. And that's where the President is on this matter. I've indicated to you that in terms of any election or possible election, if there is one, the White House will have no comment.
I want to make very plain where the White House stands on this and I think it's important. In all potential leadership races on Capitol Hill, if there is a leadership race, the White House plays no role and will play no role and offers no thoughts and opinions and proffers no advice about this matter. It is a congressional matter if it gets to that point.
Q Did someone tell Senator Lott that they think he's being treated unfairly?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that there is a sense that you can't help but pick up a newspaper and read things and you see that things are being said that are wrongly -- wrongly -- being sourced and attributed to people in the White House. And I think there is a sense here that, obviously, people read those stories and they want to know, is the White House saying these things, yes or no. And I call on you with respect.
This is a very sensitive matter, of course. It's a matter of people having strong opinions, people presenting what they hope will be a conclusion on one side or another, and then being willing to influence the debate so that their conclusion can be reached. This is a very difficult issue for all concerned to discern, whether or not when somebody comes to you and says, I heard such-and-so say, whether or not they're really representing what actually was said or not.
I have never seen an issue where the White House seems to have so many advisors that we now read about in the press, none of whom seem to have any names, none of whom seem to have any responsibility. And that's why I've said to you what I have said on the record about the White House position. And I think you're all in a very difficult spot if you have to evaluate information you've heard that his third-hand and fourth-hand, that allegedly applies to what is being said in the White House, recognizing there are people who have pre-formed opinions about what the final result may be, and they may be shared their pre-formed opinion with you that is removed, far removed, from what the White House is saying.
Q Did you just get to --
Q So then, if somebody in this building told Senator Lott he was being treated unfairly, it was about quotes anonymously attributed to White House officials or White House advisors, not that it was unfair for fellow Republican senators to challenge his hold on the leadership?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. As I've made plain, the White House has no comment on any potential leadership race, and the White House will offer no advice or opinions or judgments to people who may or may not be involved in this. And that is, I think, something that everybody in Washington is well familiar with in terms of the typical White House approach to any leadership race, if there is in this case a leadership race. Because I think that, too, is something where nobody knows with certainty whether it will or it won't be.
Q Ari, if there are omissions in the Iraq declaration, can the American people be confident that proof will be forthcoming to show what those omissions are?
MR. FLEISCHER: I've said this before and I will say this again -- and I think it's very important. We are a democracy. Democracies are extraordinarily reluctant, and particularly the American democracy, to go to war.
In the event that the President reaches the conclusion that what he has determined is his last choice and his last option becomes the only option to protect and to save American lives, you can be assured the President will repeatedly talk to the American people about this. He will continue his deliberative and his thoughtful approach. That will be the approach that the President takes over the passage of time. And so, you will hear from the President when the President deems it appropriate, and I would reach no conclusions about when that would be, whether it's this week or some other time.
But you will hear, of course, from the President. It's his job in our democracy.
Q With respect to my colleague, John, there are a couple of other points I think I'd like to attempt to clear up about Senator Lott's dealings with the White House. He says he's in contact with the White House a couple of times a day. I'd like to know if that's true. He says he's talked with the President about this issue more than once. Is that true? And he says, most importantly, the President supports him. Is that true?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I want to go back and look at the transcript to make certain that what is being presented here -- because, again, I saw half of the tape, and so I have a remaining half of the tape to watch. But I did not hear any of those points made in the half of the tape that I saw. So let's all review the transcript to make sure that these are all accurate presentations.
Q I can read it to you, if you'd like.
MR. FLEISCHER: The whole thing? I understand it was lengthy.
Q The part that I was referring to, yes.
MR. FLEISCHER: My position is, as you know -- and I have said this repeatedly on behalf of the President -- that the President does not think Senator Lott needs to resign. We will have no comment on any events leading up to a potential race, if there is a race, on January 6th. And as I indicated earlier, the White House plays no role and will not play a role, and offers no thoughts or opinions about any potential candidacies.
Q You could tell us, however, if Senator Lott is speaking accurately when he says the President supports him. Is that true?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I want to wait until I can read a transcript before I comment on something that I have not seen or heard myself.
Q You know that independent of what Senator Lott is saying.
MR. FLEISCHER: I made it very plain what the President's point of view is.
Q Is it really true to say the White House plays no role?
MR. FLEISCHER: Greg.
Q How can you stand there and say that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Greg.
Q Most of us believe otherwise.
MR. FLEISCHER: Bill, you're in a position where you're not naming who is saying these things to you. You have to evaluate whether somebody says something to you and presents it to you as, I was talking to somebody in the White House and this person in the White House says --
Q That's not what I asked you.
MR. FLEISCHER: You're one step removed, I present.
Q How can you stand there and say that the White House plays no role in this when it is widely understood in this town that the White House has certain concerns, possibly choices about what is going on?
MR. FLEISCHER: "Widely understood in this town" is not precise reporting. "Widely understood in this town" is often the repeating of a rumor mill.
Q Still not the question --
MR. FLEISCHER: That is not accurate.
Q Aren't you choosing sides when you say he doesn't have to resign? Aren't you choosing sides?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, this is about potential leadership race, and the White House does not choose sides in a potential leadership race if there is one.
Q You don't think he should resign, so I guess you want him to stay as --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President does not think he should resign.
Q On Iraq, you had said -- I believe I got it -- that the United States government would share some information tomorrow on the report. Can you sketch sort of how that would -- will take place and who's involved?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me finalize that and I'll be able to provide you that information, I think, shortly thereafter this briefing. You'll know who it will be and we'll just put that out shortly.
Q Yesterday when you were talking about missile defense and the decision to deploy it, you noted that there had been predictions that doing that would cause relations with Russia to go very sour, and in fact quite the opposite had happened. I think your words were something to the effect that relations with Russia had never been better.
Today, the Russian Foreign Ministry put out a fairly lengthy statement responding to the decision to deploy missile defense, expressing deep regret and saying that it would trigger a new arms race and basically saying that they strongly disagreed with the decision.
Does that cause you to reassess your assessment of the U.S.-Russian relations?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think there is no question that in a relationship that is probably the best in modern times between the United States and Russia, there are areas where there are disagreements and those disagreements have been handled through very patient and quiet diplomacy that has been effective.
But the fact of the matter is that there is a remarkable and historic lowering of the level of offensive weapons that President Bush and President Putin have agreed to. And the President will hope that the Congress and the Senate will make one of its priorities in the next Congress ratification of the Treaty of Moscow, which will prove to the world that at a time when the United States is moving forward with missile defense, we are actually lowering the number of offensive weapons around the world to historic lows.
Q So you don't see this rather negative reaction out of Moscow as problematic for the relationship?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. As I acknowledge, there are going to be differences in the relationship between nations that are becoming increasingly friendlier, but the facts about whether or not this has led to a buildup of weapons, but just the opposite, as is well known. There actually is an historic reduction of weapons.
Q One more about Russia, if I may -- Russia and Iraq. Last week, the Iraqis canceled a very lucrative contract that it had with the state-owned Russian oil company, Lukoil. Do we take that to be any kind of signal or strong wind about where Russian-Iraqi relations are going and Russia's attitude toward --
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I have no information on that beyond the reports that we've all seen. That's a matter between Iraq and Russia.
Q It seems to me, Ari, that you should be able to, even without reviewing Senator Lott's most recent comments, clarify whether or not the President has spoken to him. Have they talked Since December 5th when Senator Lott made his comments?
MR. FLEISCHER: The last time I'm aware that the President and Senator Lott spoke was after the President returned to the White House from his speech in Philadelphia.
Q They've not spoken since?
MR. FLEISCHER: I said that's the last time I'm aware that they spoke.
Q Ari, on Iraq, earlier you said that you're not aware of everything that Mr. Blix may or may not say tomorrow to the Security Council. Does that mean that he has at least in part briefed the White House to a certain extent on what he will say?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, that Hans Blix works per the Security Council, and we, the United States being a member of the Security Council and the Security Council voted 15 to nothing, we always consult. This is what you would expect in a multilateralist endeavor like this.
It's not as if there are bridges that have to be crossed between the United Nations, the United Nations Security Council, the member-states of the Security Council and the inspectors; it is designed to be a collaborative process. So, of course, there are going to be communications. You're well aware of the fact that Hans Blix has visited many capitals around the world, including Washington, where me met with Dr. Rice, where he's met with numerous American officials. He went to Paris and met with the French government, went to Russia and met with the Russian government, went to Beijing, met with the Chinese government. He's doing his job.
Q Governor Jeb Bush just recently made the following comments to The Miami Herald regarding Lott. "Something's going to have to change. This can't be the topic of conversation over the next week." Did the Governor make these comments without consulting his brother at all?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not aware of any conversation between his brother and the President about that. Obviously, people make statements. And the White House still will not comment.
Q So there was no --
MR. FLEISCHER: I said I'm not aware of any.
Q Can you look into it?
Q Ari, forgive me for coming back to this, but having gotten the verbatim myself, I've got to ask it, played the tape -- tape was played for me, Senator Lott, saying, after describing these plans to hang in there -- he says -- that he believes the President and his aides, "support what I'm trying to do here and will continue to do so." Is he wrong?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, you know I have a longstanding policy that if there's information that I have not seen myself from the transcript, I will reserve the right to review the transcript.
Q You didn't hear him say that?
MR. FLEISCHER: I did not. I will review the transcript.
Q Ari, when you say the President says Senator Lott does not have to resign, is that referring to his position as majority leader?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q Ari, two questions on Iraq. The first one, you say that the United States is going to share information tomorrow. Presumably that will be to the Security Council and will involve some security -- some intelligence information. Will that also be made --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I'm indicating that the United States will have something to say publicly about this matter. Of course, Ambassador Negroponte will be at the United Nations when Mr. Blix makes his report. Ambassadors to the Security Council will be speaking in the session at the United Nations. I've given no indication about any -- any content of that.
Q Will he point out what we consider to be omissions and our proof that those are omissions? That things are maybe being held back and not being disclosed?
MR. FLEISCHER: I would just urge you to wait until tomorrow and then you'll hear from the appropriate officials.
Q Quick question, the President way back in September said, weeks rather than months, that this is a very pressing issue, that the danger is growing.
Here we are, we're more than three months out from that time of his speech. Iraq continues to fire on our aircraft in the no-fly zones. Is there any concern that American action has been co-opted by this whole U.N. process, that maybe there might be some slackening of support among the American people as this thing drags on and on and on?
MR. FLEISCHER: And what was it exactly that the President said should take weeks, not months?
Q On acting against Iraq.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, that's not precise. The President said -- if you recall his words -- the President said that the vote that the United Nations needed to cast after his September speech to the United Nations urging them to vote on a new resolution had to take weeks, not months. That's precisely what took place at the U.N. Again, this is why words are important and the precision in which you quote government officials is important. That's what the President said should take weeks, not months. It did take weeks, not months.
Q Fair enough. Meanwhile, we're quite a ways down the line and this just seems to be dragging on. There doesn't seem to be any end in sight.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President does not hold that view. The President holds the view that when it comes to matters of war and peace, it is important to be deliberative, to be thoughtful and to be wise. And that is exactly the course that the President will take.
Q Ari, Senator Lott seems to have made some sort of conversion to embrace affirmative action. At least that's he said -- indicated in the -- I think it was the BET interview. Where does the administration stand on this? Does it agree with him on that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Exactly where I said yesterday when I was asked the question yesterday. The President supports affirmative access. And yesterday I gave a very lengthy description of what that entails. So you'll be able to find that.
Q Ari, I have two questions. First, one on Iraq. I wanted to clarify, does the President believe that every day that the weapons inspectors are in Iraq is effectively containing Saddam Hussein and Baghdad's program of weapons of mass destruction? Or does the world continue to be, in his view, at risk as long as the inspectors are on the ground?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President's view is that the inspectors are a means to an end. And that the end is the disarmament of Iraq, and that the inspectors can be a tool in determining whether Iraq has, indeed, disarmed. And especially their role can be a helpful tool if Iraq cooperates with the inspectors. That's the President's view.
Q So, in effect, he does not believe that Saddam Hussein and the program in Baghdad could possibly be contained, no matter how many weapons inspectors you have there?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it all depends on whether Iraq cooperates. And one way to measure whether Iraq is sincere in its desire to cooperate is to evaluate their declaration and to see whether it is, indeed, truthful and complete and full.
Q I wanted to follow up, then, on Lott. I want to just clarify in my own mind -- if the President -- if it's important for us to understand the President's thinking about Senator Lott, and he reached this decision that it is not necessary -- the words are that Senator Lott does not need to resign as majority leader, what is in the President's mind that made him conclude that that was not necessary?
MR. FLEISCHER: For the exact reasons that the President gave in Philadelphia. He said that Senator Lott apologized, and rightly so.
Q In the President's mind the apology was sufficient and that Senator Lott could ably continue to be the majority leader in the Senate?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President said that he apologized, and rightly so, and he did not think he needed to resign.
Q And that's all that is needed at this point?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's the President's statement. That's just exactly what he said, correct.
Q Ari, with respect to affirmative access, I understand the example that you gave yesterday with respect to a fixed percentage in college admissions at the University of Texas. But could you give an example of how affirmative access would work in the workplace with respect to recruitment, hiring and promotion?
MR. FLEISCHER: That was not something that came up in the context of Texas. And so I think that still remains the best example. The President has said that as part of the federal procurement process -- just what I said yesterday -- the President thinks it is a constructive and helpful way to provide opportunities by having a portion, making certain that the federal contractors provide a portion of their contracts to make certain that the minority communities that apply for contracts are included in the procurement process.
This often has been an issue where the people who get the contracts with the federal government are sometimes the biggest businesses, and the President would like to see more of a distribution of that.
Q But as far as affirmative action and private employment, workplace, EEO requirements --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes in affirmative access and he does not support quotas or numerical goals.
Q Ari, you just mentioned earlier that it's the job of the member states, not the inspectors, to determine a material breach. But I believe the French said quite the opposite, that it's the inspectors' jobs. Are we at odds with some of our other UN members, and what's the consequence of that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I wouldn't speak for the French on this, or I wouldn't speak for any other nation; I think you have to ask them about their positions. I can simply assert to you what the American position -- who it is who would declare that.
Q Is there any concern that they might try to hide behind inspectors in declaring material breach, that they may say if the inspectors don't do it, we can't do it?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that we all will learn more tomorrow as member states start to comment on the declaration. The declaration has been provided to all states. All states are within their rights to review it and make their positions known. And we'll know a lot more tomorrow.
Q Just to try to clarify one more time on Iraq, what will the United States and Great Britain do if both nations find Saddam Hussein to be in material breach -- if the U.S. concludes differently? And if the allies go it alone, do you expect that they could strike from bases from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, you've put together two things that I don't comment on: one hypothetical and the other operational. So there is no way I can answer a question like that. You're asking about potential series of hypothetical events, and anything dealing with operations, as you know, the Department of Defense would brief that.
Q We still don't know this key question, whether the U.S. and Britain are willing to go it alone in violation of what the U.N. --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has said repeatedly on that question that the United States will assemble a coalition of the willing.
Q And that still stands?
MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely.
Q Ari, two oil companies are asking the administration to open up the Strategic Petroleum Reserve because of concerns that supply disruptions are -- in Venezuela are going to raise oil prices. Is that something the President is considering? And under what circumstances would he consider opening up the reserve?
MR. FLEISCHER: The Strategic Petroleum Reserve is, by design, to be used for severe disruptions of the market. That is a type that has not occurred. Obviously, we're going to continue to monitor the situation very closely. The Department of Energy -- as I indicated yesterday, the Department of Energy last week made the determination not to proceed or to temporarily defer some of the increases that were taking place into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve as a way of providing more energy into the marketplace for consumers. So we'll continue to monitor it. But at this time we do not think the release is necessary.
Q Ari, one on Iraq. Some members of the Security Council are very upset that they received an edited version of the declaration of Iraq. I'm talking about Colombia and Mexico, for example. Why is that, if the United States wants to share with all the nations all information about Iraq, some members -- non-permanent members received an edited version of the document?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the procedures for which the document -- the declaration was distributed were decided by the United Nations and the President of the Security Council. So I think that's the appropriate place to get the answer. But it's not an uncommon procedure for the P-5 and the E-10 to be covered by the procedures of the Security Council in a way that's reflective of the various expertise of the P-5 and the E-10.
Q Quick follow-up. The President spoke with Prime Minister of Spain on the issue of Venezuela?
MR. FLEISCHER: It did not come up during the session in the Oval Office. I do yet know if it came up during the lunch, because I'm in here. But we'll try, if there's any additional information from the lunch, to brief it out if there's a desire for any type of additional briefings on it.
Q And I don't understand the term you used, a last chance. Because I thought that last chance for Saddam Hussein was to produce a full, complete, accurate declaration -- which he didn't. So he missed this last chance. So what is the next last chance now? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I indicated the President has made clear that this is the last chance. And the evaluations of the declaration continue. The President in this evaluation process will be, as I indicated, deliberative, thoughtful, and wise. And he will continue to consult.
Q I want to go back to the question we were talking about on Lott earlier that you didn't answer. Aside from the transcript, who did he talk to at the White House and what was he commenting --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll be happy to try to find out. I'll be happy to try to find out. I know it was not the President; that's where I start my endeavors. It's a big building --
Q You'll try to find out?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, I'll try to find out.
Q -- staff level --
MR. FLEISCHER: Right, because it's not the President.
Q But if you know that, then you should be able to tell us who it was.
MR. FLEISCHER: I said I'll try to find out. But just because I can go to the President, or the President's staff and say, did the President get a phone call, and they say no, how would that advise me who, indeed, did? It's a big building.
Q So you will get back to us on it.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's what I indicated.
Q In this last campaign, the White House, the President, Karl Rove, hand-picked candidates all over the country. Why is the President so reluctant to make his views known on this much more important leadership question?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because of the reasons I gave previously. There is, indeed, a tradition of White Houses, on occasion, getting involved in races across the country. But there is also a longstanding tradition, and this White House believes that this is the most appropriate way to proceed, that in the event of any potential leadership races, that the White House does not get involved in potential leadership races.
Q Ari, on the last chance question, as this debate now moves forward in the Security Council, the expected reaction of some of the members already talking about -- that if the United States and Great Britain believe there are omissions, then someone should go back to Iraq and say, where is this, where is that. Am I correct in saying it is the view of the United States government -- view that as a waste of time? Did Saddam have one chance to do this?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. It's the view of the United States government that inspections need to continue, that this is a process the President called for and asked for, and that the inspectors need to have every tool at their disposal so they are capable of doing their job to the very best degree possible.
Q So there can be a give and take about supplementing the report or filing additional information or a question-and-answer period of time -- so he didn't get one shot to file --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's a different question, and I'm not aware of any thinking on that, other than the fact that Saddam Hussein has already been given his chance to provide a last and complete report. But the inspections, in the President's judgment, are important to continue, and he wants to make certain that the inspectors have every tool at their disposal so they can carry out their job.
Q So it's a long last chance?
MR. FLEISCHER: I've said that the process is continuing.
Q But I think what we're all struggling with a little bit is two things. One is that the President made very, very clear when he talked -- when he lays things out, and he frankly has been more clear than you're being with us today in terms of leaving room for other things to happen. The second issue is, inspections need to continue. I thought that you and the President were also very clear in saying that the burden is not on the inspectors to unearth information, that it's on Saddam Hussein.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q So Saddam Hussein has issued a declaration that has problems and omissions. So why isn't the ball game over?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because the President, as I indicated, has said that we will continue to consult and work with our allies. As you know, that was all part of the discussions with the United Nations Security Council and the run-up to the passage of the resolution that passed 15-nothing.
You're very well aware that the President said that he would consult with our allies -- the consultative process is underway.
Q So we're correct --
MR. FLEISCHER: Just as you were told and promised.
Q We're correct, then, in reporting that the President is now beginning the process convincing his allies in the Security Council that Iraq is in material breach of this resolution and, therefore, serious consequences must follow?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I urge you to await tomorrow and await what Hans Blix says, and not to jump into --
Q Why do we need to wait for tomorrow? You have told us the President's -- omissions and problems?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because your job is to cover the news; the news will get made tomorrow.
Q You said I was asking you two different questions. But isn't it the same thing that if the United States -- what we're being told is that Iraq had confessed in the previous regime that it had these mustard gas shells, and we're being told that there's nothing in here in this documentation to prove that they destroyed them, as they promised -- so if Hans Blix then goes to Iraq and says, hey, did you destroy these mustard gas shells, where is the evidence, show us -- is that not giving Saddam another chance to amend his filing?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, this is the process that the President called for at the United Nations, and you are seeing it unfold.
Q But he said he had to tell the truth, he had one chance to tell the full truth -- complete and accurate truth. If you then go back and say, hey, you forgot this, and Iraq gets a chance to say, oh, you're right, and show something else, is that not --
MR. FLEISCHER: John, I appreciate your rush to war, but the -- (laughter) -- fact of the matter is, this President will do just what he told the world he would do. He promised -- and this was part of our consultations in the multilateral course that this President pursued -- to consult with his allies and to be deliberative. You are watching the process.
Q It seems to be the term "last chance" that's giving everybody a little difficulty here.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that you all seem to be in a rush for the last chance to happen maybe on tomorrow's news deadline. I urge you not to look at it that way.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:30 P.M. EST
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