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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
January 10, 2003
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:33 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon, an especially happy Friday, to the White House press corps.
The President began his day early this morning with a phone call, for 15 minutes, with President Jiang Zemin of China, where the two discussed developments on the Korean Peninsula. They both agreed that North Korea's announcement of its withdrawal from the nonproliferation treaty was of concern to the entire international community.
The President told President Jiang that he views this as an issue that binds the United States in a common purpose with China and other nations around the world. The President stressed that the United States has no hostile intentions toward North Korea, and sought a peaceful, multilateral solution to the problems created by Pyonyang's actions.
President Jiang reiterated China's commitment to a non-nuclear Korean Peninsula. The two presidents agreed to continue to work together to help ensure the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula.
After that, the President had an intelligence briefing, then he received a briefing from the FBI. Then he convened a meeting of the National Security Council.
Later this afternoon, the President will meet with a small group of Free Iraqis to discuss the President's hopes and their hopes that the future for Iraq could include a peaceful, democratic Iraq that is unified and respects its neighbors and is not hostile or belligerent toward any.
That is it on the President's schedule today. I want to make one announcement to you concerning some economic news that was released this morning.
This morning, the Department of Labor announced that the unemployment rate has remain unchanged, at 6%, in December. However, they also announced that total payroll employment fell by 101,000 jobs in December. And they also reported that private employment declined by 115,000 jobs in December.
The President views the latest report on unemployment as another reason why it's so important for Congress to pass the President's job-creating economic plan. The President views this morning's announcement as a reason why Democrats and Republicans need to join together so that we can serve the country and pass a program that helps create jobs.
And with that, I'm happy to take your questions. Campbell.
Q Does the administration view North Korea's withdrawal from the nonproliferation treaty as a serious escalation of the crisis?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, given the fact that North Korea had already acknowledged that it was violating the very treaty that it had signed up to, it comes as no surprise, frankly, that they've made this announcement. Nevertheless, it is disappointing. This is an issue that gives serious concern to the international committee and to the United States -- to the international community and to the United States.
Already this morning, North Korea has been condemned by France, by England. They have drawn the statements of very serious concern from Australia, from Japan, from Russia. And North Korea continues to take steps in the wrong direction, steps that only hurt their own cause and the cause of the North Korean people.
Q But why, given this escalation, then, does the administration not think it may be time to change tactics or try something more aggressive?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the real news came when North Korea admitted that it was violating the treaty. The news that it will no longer belong to a treaty that it has violated is secondary to the more important fact and news when North Korea informed the world that in violation of all its agreements it made with the world, it was not in compliance with the very treaty that it had signed.
Q Ari, North Korea also sort of indicated that it might be willing to talk about this. Do you see mixed messages coming from North Korea, and do you think there is any possibility of negotiations?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's always hard to read North Korea's messages. I think that's been true throughout the history of North Korea. The United States message is clear and it's a message that is echoed around the world: that North Korea needs to comply with its international obligations. And that is something that we have said we will talk to North Korea. That's a message that they need to understand and they need to act upon.
Q The North Koreans seem, nonetheless, determined to sort of stick their fingers in the administration's eye. They're talking to a Democrat very deliberatively. The ambassador today made a number of undiplomatic statements in a public news conference. And, yet, you still maintain you can talk to them?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's fair to say that North Korea has decided that it wants to stick its finger in the eye of the world. This is not an action North Korea has taken vis-a-vis the United States, this is an action that North Korea has taken vis-a-vis the world. The world stands united, North Korea stands isolated.
And hence the problem for the people of North Korea. The people of North Korea are the ones who suffer the most when the North Korean government acts in a manner that is so contrary to international agreements and international expectations. It's the people of North Korea who pay the price when the government of North Korea takes these actions. They bring upon themselves a path of further isolation.
Q The North Koreans don't seem to be blaming the rest of the world. They seem to focus their anger entirely on the United States.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's why I said, when you see the fact that North Korea woke up this morning to news that their actions have been condemned by virtually the entire world, this is an issue that North Korea has brought upon itself in its dealings with the world. North Korea may want to isolate it as a matter with the United States, but that's far from reality.
Q Speak of the condemnation of North Korea in strong terms, but the word "disappointing" is pretty mild in the language that's come from this podium, and so forth. Is it because North Korea is so strong, that we wouldn't dare take her on, and so you're using the diplomatic route in that case?
MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, Helen, I used several adjectives. I said it was disappointing, it's serious concern, it's brought upon --
Q "Disappointing" is a mild term.
MR. FLEISCHER: I said, disappointing, serious concern that is brought upon --
Q A slap on the wrist.
MR. FLEISCHER: Only if you ignore the rest of my words. I can repeat them. The administration has said it's a matter of serious concern, and it's brought on the condemnation of the world toward North Korea.
Q Helen's got a point, though. The U.N. Ambassador from North Korea said today that any action by the Security Council to impose sanctions would be seen as an act of war. Is that why the United States -- the administration has not gone to the Security Council? And does North Korea hold the cards here, essentially? Because of their armed forces on the border of South Korea and their potential small nuclear arsenal, are they forestalling tougher action from the administration?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's fair to say that when you look at the history of North Korea and its dealings with multiple nations around the world, their approach is, the worse they act, the more they get. And that's an approach that this administration will not be a party to. And so I think what you do see, in the case of North Korea here, is a nation that has had a pattern of acting out of line with international agreements and then seeking to be rewarded by the rest of the world. And the President's approach to this matter will remain a diplomatic approach, a matter of steady and steely diplomacy.
Q Now, if I could just follow-up. The President has said on several occasions, and he reiterated to President Jiang this morning, that he has no hostile intentions, no intention to invade North Korea. Will he put that in writing?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's not a question of that, Terry. It's a question of North Korea coming into compliance with its obligations around the world. It's not a question of North Korea receiving anything in return for its bad behavior. The President has said what he said. It's a statement of American policy, and I think it's a statement that the nation is understanding.
Q Why not just put, "Dear Kim, we won't invade." What's the difference between saying it and writing it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, put yourself in the position of anybody who is working with a nation that we previously entered into an agreement with. We entered into agreement, that was a quid pro quo. If they did certain things, such as not produce nuclear weapons, the United States would provide them certain things. We provided them those things. We held up our end of the bargain. They walked out on their end of the bargain.
The suggestion that when they walked out on their end of the bargain we should do additional things doesn't seem to make any sense. That's just a formula to reward bad behavior and that's not a good diplomatic policy.
Q Why did they walk out, do you know?
MR. FLEISCHER: Steve.
Q Is China doing enough to exert its influence over North Korea?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is pleased with his cooperation that he has received from China on this topic. This remains an issue that we work regularly with the Chinese on. The President and President Jiang Zemin had a very good discussion about it this morning.
Q Can they do more?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's fair to say that we will continue to work with all nations around the world to see what more can be done. And that is exactly the reason that we're in consultations.
Q Has the administration had a direct report yet from Governor Richardson on his discussions? And, if so, have the North Koreans been saying anything different in private than they have been saying in public?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, at my last report, we have not received anything yet. And I think they were having meetings -- there's a two-hour time lag between here and New Mexico, but I have not heard anything new since I looked into it earlier this morning. I think the communication will come from Governor Richardson to the State Department.
Q Ari, this morning after a meeting with Mohamed Elbaradei and Senator Lugar, Mohamed Elbaradei said -- and Senator Lugar seemed to concur -- that what the U.S. needs to do is not just have talks, but make it clear that there's a light at the end of the tunnel for North Korea, in those talks, that there's a reason that they should come to the table. What do you say to that?
MR. FLEISCHER: There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and that begins with North Korea's immediately dismantling its nuclear weapons programs and coming into compliance with its obligations around the world. The ball is in North Korea's court. And it's important when the ball is in your court not to move backward with it.
And so we hope that North Korea will move forward and take the actions to dismantle its weapons programs and come into compliance.
Q One more thing that Mr. Elbaradei said on Iraq, which is that the U.S. is still not giving enough actionable intelligence information to them to help them with their search in Iraq.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Secretary Powell has made clear the United States will and is providing information to the inspectors to help them to do their job; will continue to be in communication with the inspectors about the exact nature of it. But they're receiving a tremendous amount of information now, and we think it's going to be very helpful to them in doing their jobs.
Q Ari, is there a limit to the President's tolerance for North Korea's bad behavior? In other words, what does it take to trigger a stronger response from the White House?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the response from the world has been strong. But the President has made the decision to pursue this matter in a diplomatic fashion. And one of the essences of good diplomacy is to recognize the fact that good diplomacy occasionally takes time -- it takes time to work in concert with our allies, it takes time to develop positions and to convince the North Koreans of the merits of those positions. Obviously, North Korea has set itself on a path, a path that we urge them to reverse.
But the President has made the decision that this is a diplomatic matter and that, as I indicated, is a matter the President will pursue in a very steady and steely manner.
Q Ari, Elbaradei has made a couple of points that he largely agrees with the U.S., he said that North Korea must take the first step and that they cannot interpret anything as rewarding bad behavior.
On the other hand, he does say that it would be appropriate for the international community to articulate what the North Koreans could expect from good behavior.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, let me put it this way. Before the North Koreans announced that they had violated the treaties they belonged to and began the production of nuclear weapons in violation of the agreements they made with the United States and the rest of the world, the United States had been prepared to offer a bold approach to North Korea. North Korea has been and is on a path of continuing to isolate itself from the rest of the world.
And when you take a look at the fantastic differences between the life of the people of South Korea and North Korea -- who, after all, began at the exact same starting point after the Korean War -- look at the success and the progress and the education that's available, the health care that's available, the food that's available to their neighbors in the South that is denied to the people in the North because of the government of the North.
And so this is an issue where North Korea has chosen a path that has hurt its own people. And the President very much would like to see a North Korea that is able to put itself on a different path, a path that could result in the world doing more to help North Korea.
But the ball is in North Korea's court, and North Korea has to act as a responsible sovereign among the nations of the world.
Q I understand what you're saying. But does the U.S. view a discussion of what the North Koreans could expect from good behavior, what would happen after they come into full compliance? Do you view any such discussion as negotiations, or is that just part of a discussion about what the future might look like?
MR. FLEISCHER: It is very plain that North Korea must comply with international obligations and cease its production of nuclear weapons and dismantle the facilities and honor its obligations. But from the point of view of North Korea, look what they lost, that they may have been on the way to gaining with a nation like Japan. Japan was in the midst of discussions with North Korea about advancements in the relationship between Japan and North Korea that would have been historic in nature, given the histories of Japan and North Korea. And North Korea forfeited for itself, as a result. These are not hard decisions for a nation to make if it's a nation that seeks to advance itself, to be welcomed by the international community and to take care of it's own people.
So North Korea, I think, has to make a -- come to a reckoning about the path that it is putting itself on, if it seeks a bright future for itself and for its people around the world.
Q One other thing, if I may. The January 27th report, the update from the inspectors on Iraq, what does the U.S. regard as the significance of that report?
MR. FLEISCHER: We view this as an important reporting date. This will give the inspectors a certain amount of time that they can look back and make assessments about Iraqi compliance and Iraqi cooperation. And we view it as an important reporting date.
Q Some officials have suggested privately that that would be a decision point at which we would have to determine whether or not to go to war. What is the White House view?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President views this as an important reporting date.
Q Ari, you mentioned North Korea's history of erratic behavior, and the present is a case of it. There was a famous diplomatic incident in 1950 in which the Secretary of State at the time, Dean Atchison, gave a speech defining America as what he regarded as America's security perimeter in Asia, did not include South Korea. And most historians now view that as a major blunder that falsely conveyed a message to the North Koreans that they could invade South Korea without -- with impunity. And in fact they did, within a few days, I believe, of that speech.
Is it possible, given the kind of disconnect that often exists between North Korea and the rest of the world, is there a danger that the North Koreans are misinterpreting the kind of forbearance that the administration has expressed, the relatively -- the diplomatic language which you've used in a way that is incorrect, and yet may lead them to take actions that --
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know how to possibly answer a question about what North Korea may or may not do in the future. I can tell you that the United States will continue, as it has, in concert with the other nations in the region. What you really have here is a case of one nation pursuing a very unilateral path and the United States working shoulder-to-shoulder with the rest of the world.
Q You seem to have taken care -- the whole administration seems to have taken care not to have laid down any red lines in this. My question is, is there a danger in doing that, that the North Koreans may misinterpret what's going on? Or are you privately trying to communicate something a little tougher to lay down some --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think the message has been made very publicly and very plainly to North Korea, that they need to come into compliance with their obligations. And I don't think that's a hard message for anybody around the world to either accept or to understand.
Q Thank you, Ari. On North Korea, did you ever clarify whether the North is allowed to develop any nuclear energy -- not nuclear weapons, but energy? Is this situation now elevated to a crisis level? And are the U.S. troops obligated by treaty to stay there? Could they be pulled out?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, on the question of energy, belonging to the nonproliferation treaty does not deny any nation the ability to generate electricity, including nuclear energy. But you don't have to withdraw from the nonproliferation treaty in order to generate electricity. One-hundred-eighty-eight nations belong to the NPT, all of them generate electricity. So the withdrawal from the treaty has nothing to do with the seeking or the desire to generate electricity.
Q But nuclear energy is all right --
MR. FLEISCHER: The NPT does not prohibit the use of nuclear reactors for energy production.
Q What about the troops?
MR. FLEISCHER: The question on the troops was?
Q Are they obligated by law or by treaty to stay on the DMZ?
MR. FLEISCHER: In terms of treaty, I couldn't speak to that. It's a legal question, or by law -- I don't know the legalities of it. But the position, the policy of the United States is that the troops are there -- the cooperation we have with the United States and South Korea, a history of cooperation that we enjoy between the United States and South Korea, and they're there to protect the interests of the Americans and the Koreans and the stability and peace of the region.
Q And is this now a crisis, this situation?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President continues to view this as a situation that needs to be worked through in a diplomatic fashion.
MR. FLEISCHER: Holly.
Q Thank you. On the stimulus, you said yesterday you can't judge initial reaction by the Democrats to what's ultimately going to happen, because in 2001 the Democrats initially opposed it and then there were 12 that voted for it in the Senate. I'm wondering other than Senator Bayh, who you mentioned yesterday, are there any other Democrats that have shown any positive signs, in your mind? And what is the President doing specifically to gain Democratic support?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, the President has, number one, just proposed an announcement. And, of course, the President proposed it and now Congress will be leaving for a two-week recess. This is the congressional calendar, the congressional schedule that we all are used to working with. And so when Congress comes back and throughout the course of their hearings that will turn into action led by the House of Representatives, the President anticipates a building case for the program he announced.
Particularly given the economic news this morning about the lack of job creation in the private sector, it becomes even more important for Congress to take this up early and to pass the President's proposal. So, just as happened in 2001, the process will begin in the House and move to the Senate and the President is confident that support will pick up as the process goes along.
Q During that two-week break you just mentioned and that congressional calendar, when do you realistically think a plan could be on the President's desk?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I worked on Capitol Hill for a great many years, I've worked here for several, and I'm not sure I ever met anybody wise enough in either place who could tell you what the exact timing of congressional action will be on almost anything. It's impossible to make an accurate guess about it.
From the President's point of view, the sooner the better for the economy and for those who are looking for work.
Q Ari, you, I think, mentioned to the pool earlier this week on the stimulus plan that the President was going to be doing some travel to promote the plan. Could you describe that, the rough outlines, if you will, of the administration game plan here?
MR. FLEISCHER: Sure. The President -- let me put it this way, as much as there is going on in the world -- with Iraq and with North Korea -- the President's priorities begin with America's economy. As we protect the United States and the American people from threats abroad, the President is determined to make certain that the economy grows and recovers to protect -- to provide jobs for the American people.
So the domestic agenda is at the forefront of the President's time and attention. And the President looks forward as he gives the State of the Union address at the end of this month, to traveling around the country to promote the domestic initiatives that will be a part of the President's agenda for the year. The President wants to focus on a wide variety of domestic issues, led by getting the economy to grow faster, to create more jobs and opportunities for the American people.
But there will remain a number of other initiatives, not all of which I'll get into now, but they include getting prescription drugs to seniors as part of the modernized Medicare program; helping make America more energy independent; helping people who are principally low income Americans to have a better shot at economic opportunity through its faith-based initiative. So there will be a series of items that are actual legislative matters that the President looks forward to traveling around the country to build support for.
Q I'm specifically thinking about the tax plan. Last time around, in 2001, the President did some pretty aggressive travel -- as a matter of fact, as I recall, to some states where Democratic senators who were in some jeopardy on that issue. Does he -- is he going to do that again this time?
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll keep you filled in. Obviously, the Vice President made a series of remarks this morning about the importance of passing the economic plan, and we'll keep you posted on the President's travels.
Q Thank you. And happy -- (laughter.) Ari, there are published reports that Russia is sharing intelligence with Iraq. Is this why the President is not releasing that what he says is evidence of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have anything on confirming or any indication of that report. I have not been provided any information on that.
MR. FLEISCHER: Lester.
Q Much of big media, including the New York Times, has refused to report Senator Patty Murray's tribute to Osama bin Laden, which Sean Hennedy (phonetic) has on tape and broadcast yesterday on hundreds of stations. And my question is, does the President believe that Senator Lott's 100th birthday tribute to Senator Thurmond was really worse than Senator Murray's tribute to Osama bin Laden?
MR. FLEISCHER: Lester, the President spoke out about the matter and I'm going to --
Q Did he speak on Senator Murray?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm going to take a pass on that, because I haven't seen exactly what she said.
Q Two members of the Bush administration -- Michael Powell and Raul Compos -- are scheduled on January 16th to make appearances at Jesse Jackson's annual Wall Street fundraiser, even though Mr. Jackson announced that Secretary of State Powell "is not on our side," and he also defended Harry Belafonte for calling Secretary Powell "a house slave." And my question, does the President believe that Niger Ennis of the Congress of Racial Equality is wrong in his statement, certain members of the Bush administration are being duped, the good efforts of the Bush administration are being manipulated.
MR. FLEISCHER: Lester, I think it's fair to say the President doesn't focus on the same things that you do. (Laughter.) So I have not heard the President's answers on those topics.
Q Come on, Ari. That is a monstrous evasion. (Laughter.)
Q Back to Korea for a second, Ari, has the White House or State Department asked that any particular message be delivered by Governor Richardson?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I was asked that yesterday. And the only thing that was expressed to Governor Richardson is that North Korea should hear from Governor Richardson in private just what the United States position has been repeatedly said here in public. So yesterday I said that the message is that North Korea needs to come back into compliance with all its international obligations.
Q Is the White House pleased with the performance of Governor Richardson so far?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, the meetings are underway and the governor will make a report back to the State Department. And I leave it at that.
Q You've talked a lot about regime change with regards to Iraq. At what point would the situation with North Korea lead the administration to call for a policy of regime change there?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has continued to say that he sees this as a matter to be handled through diplomatic channels, and that's how he's handling it.
Q Ari, can you explain how what was a $102 billion stimulus in '03 earlier in the week became a $59 billion stimulus when the President talked about it yesterday?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not familiar with the facts on those numbers.
Q I think he said it would inject $59 billion in funding into the economy this year. And your numbers, originally earlier in the week, said --
MR. FLEISCHER: Are you sure you're not referring, when you said $59 billion, to the one year impact of the dividend, or one of the different provisions in there?
Q I don't think, I think it was --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll have to go back to the actual -- as you know, there are very detailed tables for all the tax provisions. And you can take a look at the breakdown of tax component by tax component in '03 compared to '04, et cetera. And it's all readily available. If you had told me ahead of time, I would have brought my tax tables with me to the briefing, and I'd be happy to look through them. I'll be happy to answer that as soon as I have the tables.
Q I don't have his words in front of me. Also, do you -- given that the Democrats have also come out with a substantial stimulus, even, I think, a little bit greater than yours for this calendar year, would the White House be willing to add more to its stimulus proposal for the '03 calendar year?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, what we want to do is continue to work closely with the Congress to get something passed that provides a boost to the economy. And that's exactly what we're going to do. This is nothing new or unusual. Congress is just beginning. The President has begun the year and launched the domestic agenda with a major new proposal to create jobs and opportunities. Now it's Congress' business to receive it, and they will.
And the President is very confident, particularly given the fact that we have a new Senate, that the Congress will move forward and take quick action. The President will fight for the proposal that he made. He understands it's Congress' prerogative to take a look at it, to consider new ideas or different ideas, and they will. But we've all seen this before. The Congress is just beginning, the year is just beginning, and the process is underway.
Q Ari, how long, exactly, was the discussion with President Jiang? And does the United States have any new initiatives with regard to Venezuela other than the express support for the OSI?
MR. FLEISCHER: It was a 17-minute conversation.
And on Venezuela, let me give you a statement about some of the recent developments in Venezuela. "The United States remains deeply concerned about the deteriorating situation in Venezuela. The severe damage being caused to Venezuela's economy, as well as the increasing likelihood of violence and civil conflict requires a solution. U.S. policy continues to support Secretary General Gavaria's efforts in Caracas to facilitate a dialogue between both sides that leads to a peaceful, democratic, constitutional and electoral solution to Venezuela's crisis.
"Secretary General Gavaria has been quietly consulting with OAS members on other possible initiatives, including the idea of a Friend's of Venezuela group, which might serve to strengthen his central efforts to help Venezuela to find a solution to this problem.
"We have been and are working closely with Secretary General Gaviria and hemispheric partners to engage diplomatically under the OAS umbrella and support of Gaviria."
Q Ari, the words out of the White House seem to be much softer as it relates to North Korea. You talk about the ball is in North Korea's court and you're saying it's a matter that can be handled through diplomatic channels. But North Korea right now is warning that there could be a third world war. What is the White House's opinion of that? Could it actually escalate to that point?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I indicated earlier, I think that if you take a look at the history of North Korea's approach to diplomacy, it's to gin-up as much of a possible crisis atmosphere as they can possibly gin-up in the expectation of receiving something in return for spiraling down what really is their rhetoric. And they have abandoned their commitments to very important international agreements that help protect against proliferation concerns as their tactic to do it. And the United States has made the determination, along with the rest of the world, the best response to deal with this is for steady diplomacy.
Q Ari, on another question somewhat on that. If the United States were to go to war with Iraq and possibly North Korea at the same time, could the United States military handle both of those issues?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has said that this is going to be pursued in a diplomatic way, not a military way vis-a-vis North Korea. So I don't even think it's germane. But Secretary Rumsfeld has already spoken out about that matter and, as you know, the position of the United States government to have the ability to fight two wars at one time, that's a longstanding policy and that's nothing new and I don't say that in regard to any one or other place around the world, that's a generic statement.
Q Ari, should the current diplomatic avenues that are being pursued by the administration be exhausted without any sort of resolution regarding North Korea? Is the U.N. Security Council an appropriate forum for that matter to be taken up?
MR. FLEISCHER: The United Nations Security Council is, indeed, an appropriate form for many, many issues around the world, that could possibly include North Korea. And so diplomacy is underway, consultations are underway. The President has not ruled out any such diplomatic step. And so events will determine what the next courses of action are.
Q Even in light of the North Korean ambassador's strong words about potential sanctions from that body, the Security Council, that the White House would welcome that?
MR. FLEISCHER: The United States will continue to work in concert with our allies around the world to determine what the appropriate next step should be.
Q Ari, there has been a lot of anecdotal evidence in the last couple of weeks about rising anti-Americanism in South Korea. This is a country being protected by 37,000 American troops. A war was fought there, 50 years -- 60 years of American protection. How do you explain that? What is causing that and is this a matter of much concern to the administration?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, number one, I think it shows, first, some of the major differences between what freedom can bring to people and the difference between North Korea and South Korea. As much as no nation likes to be on the receiving end of any protests, it is a welcome fact that the people of South Korea are free and have the ability to exercise their right to free speech. And that's a sign of the strength of South Korea's democracy. It would be beneficial if those democratic values were spread throughout the Peninsula. The world and the Korean people would be better off.
But there are going to be times around the world -- we've seen it repeatedly in Europe and in other nations -- where people are free to exercise their rights to protest. It doesn't change the fundamental relationship and strength between the United States and South Korea. The President continues to view it as a very important relationship and a very good relationship.
Q But isn't it important to ask ourselves where this feeling is coming from?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think we always work very closely to understand the thoughts of the South Korean people. And of course there have been other protests, far smaller, that were in favor of the United States. And so the President views this as an exercise of the democratic right to free speech of the South Korean people. He doesn't believe it's reflective of all the people of South Korea, by any means. And we will continue to work very closely with our friends, the people of South Korea, and the government there.
Q Can I just go back to Iraq? You said that the U.S. is proving some information to the inspectors, but they did say publicly today that it's not enough, that they need more. Why withhold anything?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, the amount of information being given, as Secretary Powell has said, is quite substantial, and we believe it is very beneficial and it is increasing. It increases also with the ability of the inspectors to receive more of it. The more secure their ability is to maintain the information as new equipment arrives to help them to do so, the more information they receive.
Q But they're saying today that they want more of it, they're ready for more of this information --
MR. FLEISCHER: And we will always continue to have open channels of communication direct between the United States and the inspectors to help them to receive information.
Q But there -- are you not, in effect, delaying their ability to do their jobs by withholding any information from them?
MR. FLEISCHER: Their ability, I think they will also tell you, is growing, to receive information as a result of their acquiring additional information on the ground to help them to do their jobs. You always have to be mindful that when you put anybody in Iraq, you are putting them in a position where the Iraqi regime would like to listen in and find out everything they possibly can about what any visitor to Iraq is up to. As every visitor of Iraq will tell you, they have to have the tools and the resources to make certain that they -- their communications can be secure. And the inspectors are doing their job, receiving additional resources as they, themselves, ramp up.
Q Can you tell us a little bit more about this meeting with Iraqi opposition leaders? Who is going to be there, and what's he going to talk about? Is he going to talk about the level of U.S. support for these groups? And is there any change anticipated in the support we're giving these groups?
MR. FLEISCHER: Okay, the meeting -- number one, this is a group of Iraqis. It's three Iraqis, three leading intellectuals who have met before with Dr. Condoleezza Rice. Their names are Kanan Makaya, Rend Franke and Hatem Muchlis. We'll give you the spellings on those. And they are all people who have a real concern about the future direction of Iraq, to make certain that Iraq can be free again, that Iraq can be democratic. And they all see a different future for an Iraq that is whole and that is transformed from the current tyranny of the Iraqi regime.
Q This will not be -- this will be sort of general talk about the post-regime-change Iraq, rather than specific things that some of these opposition groups can do?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. This will be a generalized conversation with the President of the United States.
Q I haven't heard anybody from the administration lately refer to North Korea's place in the axis of evil. And some diplomats have suggested that this confrontation might have been postponed or lessened if the President hadn't chose to brand them that way.
MR. FLEISCHER: We dismiss that entirely. Given the fact that North Korea committed the most serious act of all, which was the abandonment of its treaty commitments to the United States and its actual actions to develop nuclear weapons in the late '90s, years before President Bush said "axis of evil," it's rather impossible to connect those dots. North Korea took the action before the President was even in office.
Q So you would argue with the notion advanced by some that the North Koreans feel threatened because of the United States' attitude?
MR. FLEISCHER: North Korea did this in the late '90s because North Korea didn't keep its word to the world. I think only North Koreans can explain why they have done this. They took this action in the late 1990s, and North Korea has to explain it. They took it at that time, not at this time. It only got revealed at this time.
Q What's our analysis of why they broke the trust?
Q The week ahead?
MR. FLEISCHER: It will come out in writing later today.
Q What's our analysis of why they moved in that direction, broke their agreements and so forth?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I indicated, one of the ways that North Korea has previously negotiated with the world was to gin-up what they've tried to create into a crisis atmosphere, in an effort to get more concessions from the world.
Q Thank you.
END 1:10 P.M. EST
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