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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 9, 2003
Press Briefing with Ari Fleischer
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:32 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. Let me give you a report on the President's day, and I'm happy to take your questions. The President this morning began his day with a breakfast with the congressional leaders. It was with the Speaker of the House, the Majority Leader of the Senate, Minority Leader of the House, Minority Leader of the Senate and the Majority Leader of the House. The President talked to them about the latest developments in the war and continued the bipartisan consultations that he committed to.
He had an intelligence briefing, followed by an FBI briefing, convened a meeting of the National Security Council, and met with the Secretary of Defense. He had a meeting with the President of the Slovak Republic, where he discussed the importance of the strong ties the United States has to Slovakia. He thanked the President of the Slovak Republic for their strong support in the war on terror and in the operation to disarm the Iraqi regime.
And let me also address a question I was getting from many people earlier this morning about whether the President watched the events on TV that the nation has watched. At 10:45 a.m. this morning, the President watched live television coverage of the attempts in Baghdad to topple the statue of Saddam Hussein. At the time he was also briefed on what transpired earlier on TV where the Iraqis climbing on top of the statue, the arrival of the U.S. vehicle, and prior to that, the Iraqis celebrating in the streets.
He watched this briefly from the outer office of the Oval. He had previously been in a meeting of the National Security Council in the Situation Room, and also in a meeting in the Oval Office with the Secretary of Defense, so he had not yet had an opportunity to see this. After his meeting with the President of Slovakia, at approximately 11:20 a.m., the President returned to the area right outside the Oval Office, where the statue had already come down and he watched it dragged through the streets of Baghdad. He walked out, saw it on the ground, and exclaimed, "They got it down."
He watched with interest for a few moments, and his reaction, I think is fair to say, is one of both caution -- a measure of caution, but also an expression of the power of freedom that we are seeing in the streets of Baghdad, with the Iraqi people who yearn to be free.
One announcement for you. The President will meet with President Roh of the Republic of Korea on May 14th. The President looks forward to welcoming President Roh to the White House to reaffirm the enduring strength of our 50-year alliance with the Republican of Korea, and to discuss how our two nations can cooperate as full partners to bring about a peaceful resolution of the North Korea nuclear issue, the reinforcement and development of the United States-Korean alliance, and the promotion of bilateral economic ties.
And with that, I'm happy to take your questions.
Q A lot of people are going to watch these events and assume that the war is over.
MR. FLEISCHER: The war is not over.
Q Can you tell us what one, two, three, four, five, six things that need to happen before the President can address the country and say the war is over?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, first of all, it's much too premature to even speculate about that. From the President's point of view --
Q You've already said it's not over. I'm asking you what is it that would have to happen for him to be able to declare the war is over?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President urges all Americans to remember -- there are two reactions the President had to this morning's wonderful news and the signs of Iraqis in the streets celebrating freedom and toppling the statue of Saddam Hussein. The President's reaction is twofold and you cannot separate one from other.
The first is a message to the American people that we still need to be cautious because we still have our Armed Forces in harm's way; there still is fighting ahead of us; that there remain cities, particularly in northern Iraq, that are not in the same position as cities in southern Iraq or portions of Baghdad. And so, therefore, the President remains very cautious, to protect the lives of the men and women in our Armed Forces who remain in the middle of a military mission, where fighting can still break out at any moment and where not everyone has surrendered.
The President's second message is something that he's talked to the American people about repeatedly, and that is that the long-suffering Iraqi people yearn to be free, and that this is an operation of liberation. And until the military situation is brought to an end -- and it is not, it still is underway -- and until the other aspects that the President laid out involving liberation have taken place, I would make no predictions about what the President might say or when.
Q I'm not asking you what time, and I'm not asking you when, and I'm not saying that the war is over. I'm not looking for a reaction to his events today. You already said that very articulately. What I want to know is, what specifically -- what other goals will have to be accomplished before he would declare that the war is over?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I think it goes back to what I said at the very beginning, Ron. The President has said that this is a military mission, that the military remains in harm's way, and until the military mission is accomplished, I don't think the President is going to be at that point in his own mind.
Q What is the military mission that has to be accomplished?
MR. FLEISCHER: There still is fighting that could lay ahead.
Q The Vice President said today in his speech that there would be a meeting on Saturday of the Iraqi exiles in Nasiriyah, a town in southern Iraq. Does this signal the beginning of the interim government authority?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it does not. It does not. And I think the Vice President has subsequently updated his statement to indicate that it will be sometime after Saturday, not on Saturday. There will be, as you know, a whole series of plans that have been in place, and meetings and discussions have been taking place about the future of the government of Iraq, to be based on work by the Iraqi people from both inside and outside Iraq. A meeting of free Iraqis will take place very soon, and the time of the meeting will depend on a number of factors, including the security situation on the ground.
Q But you're sending a political signal if you bring them into Iraq to meet, right?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I don't dispute that. I think that when the meeting takes place, it will be a very powerful signal about the future of Iraq, that there are people from both inside and outside Iraq who care about their country and who will be able leaders of their country. And we don't know all the names of all those people yet. Certainly, not everybody who will be at this meeting will represent all of those who will eventually be a part of Iraq.
Q That's the question -- who goes?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, as I indicated, we can't -- we don't know all the names of all the people yet. The invitations to the meeting will be sent by General Franks. As you know, there have been a carefully-laid series of plans made for the reconstruction of Iraq with General Garner on the ground in the region. He reports to General Franks.
Q Ari, how will we know when the regime is really toppled? In other words -- I mean, this may seem obvious, but is it a simple matter of geography? Is it a matter of, we may not be able to find Saddam Hussein, but we know -- the people we trust have control of all their weapons? How do we judge that?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think from the President's point of view, one, he will be guided very much by the military analysis provided to him by General Franks, General Myers, and Secretary Rumsfeld. And by that, I mean the President will be looking toward what indications do we have of resistance left in the country. And as I indicated, the President this morning cautioned that there are cities in the north that are not like the cities in the south, where there still are pockets of resistance. We don't know how organized that resistance is. It may be organized.
And so, one, I think the President will be guided by the military advice he gets, about operational facts on the ground dealing with the capability of Iraqis to resist. That will be a crucial factor.
And then I think it will also be something along the lines of as we start to see Iraqis emerge -- which we're starting to see in a rolling way in different parts of Iraq. As security is perceived as being increased, as the threat of Saddam Hussein returning diminishes, we start to see increasing numbers of Iraqis turn out on the ground to start helping in civilian affairs and administrative affairs. So I think it's a combination of those two, principally.
Q It's clear that this government would like to kill Saddam Hussein, and we've tried on a couple of occasions. We don't know the status of that. If it can be determined by commanders on the ground that he no longer has a command and control function or authority, is he an irrelevancy at that point, even if he's a war criminal in the estimations of this government?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think that if you put yourself in the place of an Iraqi citizen, they would like to see closure. I think that would be helpful to the people of Iraq. Certainly, we would like to have certain knowledge about Saddam Hussein's fate.
In a bigger point of view, though, I think there is a larger point here outside literally is what is Saddam Hussein's fate, which is a relevant matter. But the bigger point is the Iraqi people can already see it and taste it; their day of freedom has arrived and it is coming. And they make that judgment under their view of whether or not the regime, whether it's typified by Saddam Hussein or is broader in the security forces, have gone and evaporated. That's, I think, how they approach it.
Q If I can just return to this question -- is it a measure of success of the campaign that he's either captured or killed?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I think it lends clarity to matters, but it alone will not determine the success of the campaign. I think you're starting to see the success of the campaign on the streets of Baghdad.
Q Do you not declare victory until he's captured or killed?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President will declare victory when the President thinks it's appropriate time.
Q The International Red Cross says that the hospitals are horrific with -- filled with casualties. And I wondered whether we're going to bring any of the wounded, especially the children, here for hospitalization, medical care?
MR. FLEISCHER: With all respect, that still is an operational issue. I think when you talk to DOD, they will tell you they have taken care of many wounded Iraqis. They're in facilities of the United States military or --
Q Being taken care of now?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes.
Q A couple questions. First, the mood, overall, here in the West Wing -- there's been a lot of criticism and sniping from this room and elsewhere since the war began of the war plan, of the expectations before the war, and what administration officials are saying. Any feeling of vindication, or "I told you so"-ness?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, from a personal point of view, all I can say is I'm always glad to be embedded with you.
MR. FLEISCHER: What's wrong with that?
No, Terry, I think -- again, my job is to speak for the President. And when I talked to him very early this morning, even before the statue came down, and the President was aware of the scenes of jubilation as people were dancing in the streets of Baghdad, and then as the statue came down, the President has shared his two points of view. And, again, it's the caution on the one hand; but it is for the President a real revelation that when he says -- and he said this repeatedly leading up to war -- that mankind wants to be free and that includes the Iraqi people, that that is a doctrine that is not the Bush doctrine, it is not an American doctrine, it is a God-given doctrine, and that all people everywhere, if given the ability to throw off a repressive government, would want to do so.
And the President is heartened by what he is seeing on the streets of Baghdad because he knows it means that people are becoming free and that the Iraq people deserve their place in freedom, just like everybody else.
Q On another issue, the Secretary of Defense said today -- cautioned Syria once again for what he said were indications that they were accepting high-ranking Iraqi officials and perhaps contraband. We've heard cautions against Iran. In other words, first, is Syria next? And if not, what is the message that your President wants the regime change in Baghdad to send to countries like Syria and Iran?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think this is something that Secretary Rumsfeld addressed at his briefing today, and the message is rather simple, and that is that, whether or not the United States is at war or is not at war, Iraq has been under sanctions. And the message to all nations, whether it's Syria or anybody else, is that it's important to obey the sanctions -- not to provide military equipment or anything that is banned to the government of Iraq. That is made even worse by the fact that the United States is at war with Iraq for them to engage in that type of behavior. And under any circumstance, it is behavior that is wrong and ought to be stopped.
Q Ari, the administration has been saying that it's demanding unconditional surrender from Iraq. But at this point, who do you accept surrender from? And is it beyond that point of a formal sort of surrender?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, there still is -- are military efforts underway. There can be fighting ahead. And so, again, I don't want to get drawn too far down that road. I couldn't tell you from a legal point of view whom that party must be. I think that, as I indicated earlier, the President will be guided by the advice he gets from his military planners about what the military situation is on the ground, whether or not there still are days ahead when there will be fighting, or whether or not the country has been pacified.
Q So you're still seeking a surrender, an Iraqi surrender?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President's terms are exactly what he laid out when he went to CENTCOM and spoke about nothing less than total victory. Because total victory means total freedom for the Iraqi people everywhere in Iraq; not just in some cities, not just in certain religious areas in the Shiite communities, but everywhere, in all communities for the Iraqi people. That's what the President is focused on in this mission. That also will enable us to make certain that the regime is fully disarmed everywhere, in all their hiding places anywhere.
Q Okay, secondly, Ahmed Chalabi seems to be emerging as the public face of an Iraqi interim leadership. He's talking to news outlets, and so forth. Is that a role the U.S. is comfortable with? Do you see him that way, as an interim leader?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think there are going to be any number of people who emerge as playing different leadership roles, and I'm not prepared to start naming names of one or another. There will be, literally, hundreds, if not thousands, of names of Iraqis who emerge in all regions of the country to take leadership into their own hands. And that's a good sign.
Q So he's not designated, or likely in your view?
MR. FLEISCHER: He is one name of many people who yearn for a free Iraq and are prepared to help make it happen.
Q Ari, so we are going to expect, we should expect a statement or a speech from the President declaring that the war is won?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I was asked about a speech by the President. I said I can't speculate about whether there would be a speech by the President or not.
Q That's not a yes or a no. It's a maybe?
MR. FLEISCHER: Just the President's reminder is that we're still in the middle of a war, and I think it's premature to get into that.
Q Why was the meeting in Nasiriyah delayed? Was there trouble? Was it because of security considerations -- the meeting of the Iraqi exiles and the Iraqis?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not aware that it was delayed. There will be a meeting sometime after the 12th.
Q The Vice President said it was going to be the 12th, but now it's not.
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes -- I think his staff worked with reporters about that afterward.
Q And how are the exiles going to get to that meeting? Is the government going to provide transportation?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's an operational question still. You'd have to talk to the people on the ground there. But I think it's fair to say that when -- people are prepared to go far for freedom. And it's a wonderful thing to see how many people, from both inside Iraq and outside Iraq, want to play a role in helping Iraq become a democratic country, a free country, and a country that does not use torture or tyranny to treat its people. And however they get there, the world should rejoice by the fact they're going.
Q You're not going to fly them over?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know. I don't do travel arrangements. DOD will --
Q Well, it's not travel arrangements, actually, but --
MR. FLEISCHER: I just, I don't know the answer. It still -- there still are going to be a series of questions that are operational, even regarding the reconstruction effort. Keep in mind that Retired General Garner reports to General Franks, and there still is a chain of command as far as the reconstruction goes. And this is part of the military mission. Built into the military mission was prudent planning for what could lie ahead involving the reconstruction and the freedom if Iraq. That is still part of the military chain of command.
Q At what point can the people of Iraq expect the formation of an interim authority?
MR. FLEISCHER: I still think it's too soon to say. I think that as a result of the strong progress that's being made, their hopes are going to be realized. And I think they're going to be realized sooner, rather than later. But I can't be more specific.
Q Then who is in charge of Iraq today?
MR. FLEISCHER: Iraq is a country that still is in the middle of a war, and we don't know if Saddam Hussein is alive or not. But I think it's increasingly fair to say -- it's not a question of who is charge of Iraq, but what is in charge of Iraq. And what is in charge of Iraq is the taste of freedom. And that's what's driving the Iraqi people.
Q Ari, if I may ask you a related question -- at what point will the regime of Saddam Hussein be disarmed? That is, what do you mean by disarmed in the sense that you've been using it in this room for seven months?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President always made clear that disarmament applied to weapons of mass destruction -- biological weapons, chemical weapons, and any infrastructure for the development of nuclear weapons. That's what the President has always referred to as disarmament. That's his focus, and that's what he refers to.
Q Ari, you said earlier today that today is an historic day. Secretary Rumsfeld mentioned earlier today, evoked the Berlin Wall. Does the White House see this as the geopolitical earthquake, tantamount to the Berlin Wall falling in the Middle East?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, the President continues to urge caution. And so I'm not going to go beyond what I have said. I think historians will make judgments about what today means. But today certainly marks a wonderful day for the Iraqi people as they pursue the freedom to which they are entitled.
Q I have a question, too, about northern Iraq is going to be increasingly the focus of any further fighting. How much --
MR. FLEISCHER: You cannot forget what you're watching in Baghdad is that which the camera lens can show you in Baghdad. Baghdad is a large, large city in terms of people and size. There are other areas of Baghdad that are dangerous areas of Baghdad where fighting can still take place. So I just urge caution on you. And still, certainly, in parts of the south, efforts are still underway, although, no question, thank goodness, tremendous progress is made.
Q But I still think it's reasonable to say that they'll be -- increasingly, the focus is in the north. What's going to happen in the north? There's still fighting there. How much concern is there that if the Kurds take control of the oil fields, that that could invite Turkey to, perhaps, move into northern Iraq? They have threatened to do so. And what contacts are there with Turkey right now?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, for I think almost a month now I've been asked questions about has Turkey crossed the border, has Turkey crossed the border? And every day the answer remains, no. And this is as a result of some very good diplomacy that's been conducted between the United States and Turkey. And because of Turkey's desire to make certain that there was not a humanitarian crisis in the north, they had talked about the need to potentially go into a small area of the border. And no humanitarian crisis has resulted in the north. And so, therefore, that predicate does not come into play.
We continue to work very collaboratively with the Kurds. And they understand our message. And the message is that the territorial integrity of Iraq must be preserved, and we mean that.
Q Ari, following up on Elizabeth's question. There's a very clear perception around the world that the administration has given a leg up to Mr. Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress. The administration flew in members of the INC into Iraq over the weekend. In advance of the meeting, does the administration plan to fly in other Iraqi exiles? And if not, then how do you answer that perception that we are, in fact, giving him a leg up over the others?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, it's a DOD matter about who is flown in or who is not, and I don't speak for that. But my point was that the world should rejoice that people want to leave wherever they are to go back into Iraq, and to welcome all of those who are participating in helping Iraq find freedom. And as I indicated, he is one, among many people, who are going to be playing a role in helping Iraq become free.
Q But he's the only one that you've airlifted in so far, so are you going to airlift in the others?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know that is the case. This is a DOD matter, and I think it's an easy question for you to ask DOD. I just don't know that that's the case, that that's an accurate statement, or not.
Q So the war -- you're not ready to say the war is over yet. Is it fair to say that there is a complete collapse of central authority in Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think those are operational matters and I think the operational people will talk about that.
Q That's an operational matter?
MR. FLEISCHER: Sure.
Q To what extent has the administration figured out what it will take, in terms of legal authority, for Iraqis to begin to sell oil, which, of course, would make it easier for them to begin their own reconstruction and to get services back up?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the lawyers will talk about these type of matters. But what's important from the President's point of view is that the Iraqi people are put in a position as quickly as they can, they take their own position as quickly as they can to be in charge of their own resources, of their own ways and their own means. And I think you will increasingly see that start to happen, and that would include Iraq's resources, such as oil.
Q Now, there are still U.N. sanctions against the sale of oil, except under oil-for-food.
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.
Q Does the administration intend to go back to the U.N. either to get those sanctions lifted, or any number of other issues, including who might be the representative of Iraq at the United Nations? What plans do you have for --
Q Well, one, as a result of the actions that the President thanked the Secretary General and the United Nations Security Council for in their passage of the reauthorization of the oil-for-food program, as amended, many of these issues have been taken care for an interim period of time so that the oil can begin to flow from Iraq as soon as they are able.
But the President looks forward to the day when sanctions are removed on the Iraqi people. The only reasons the United Nations imposed sanctions on Iraq were because Iraq failed to comply with Security Council resolutions and, therefore, the Iraqi regime invited the sanctions on itself. The Iraqi people were not deserving of sanctions; the Iraqi regime had the sanctions imposed. So the President looks forward to the day when those sanctions can, indeed, be removed and Iraq can trade just like any other nation on Earth.
Q But is there a sense that there's a need to go back to the U.N.? And, if so, what is the first task that the U.S. would take up with the United Nations regarding Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the United Nations has already been involved in Iraq. As you know, Kofi Annan announced a Special Representative to Iraq, and his name is Mr. Ahmed, and he has significant experience and expertise that we believe will prove invaluable in assisting in the humanitarian needs and the reconstruction needs of Iraq. So the United Nations has quite a bit of expertise in this area. We're pleased with the appointment of a special United Nations representative and they will, indeed, play a vital role.
Q But you have no plans at the moment to go back to the Security Council at any time in the near future for any sort of authorization or endorsement of any particular group? I'm trying to figure out what the next step is for the United Nations.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, if you go back to the statement that the President and Prime Minister Blair said in the Azores, it talks about the endorsement of interim authority. The President talked about the role of the United Nations in helping to discuss the membership on the IIA. And as well as, of course, any time, if there's a discussion of sanctions being removed, the United Nations Security Council has to be the entity to do it.
Q Ari, yesterday, when the President was asked about the vital -- to describe the vital role that he envisioned for the U.N. in a postwar Iraq, he mentioned food and medicine and the delivery of humanitarian relief. But he also talked about the U.N. helping to stand up -- what was the phrase here I think he used -- the interim authority. I'm wonder if you could tell us a little bit about how that would work beyond the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think what the President says specifically on that is suggest names for the interim authority. And we welcome that participation by the United Nations.
Q Wait a minute, so it's just names? That's it? He just suggested people and then that's the extent of which they help out the interim authority?
MR. FLEISCHER: Number one, this role is significant when you talk about humanitarian relief, when you talk about aiding and reconstruction, when you talk about suggesting of names. This is significant. But I want to remind you, as Kofi Annan has said, the United Nations does not want to own Iraq. The United Nations, according to Secretary General Annan, does not want to administer Iraq. That is not the role the United Nations seeks for itself.
The President and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom believe that the Iraqi people are very capable people, are well-educated people, that the infrastructure of Iraq was a strong infrastructure below the level of the Baath Party regime. As a result of the military operation, much of that infrastructure remains in place. So the focus is on the Iraqi people and what they can do for themselves, with assistance from the United States, the United Kingdom, and the United Nations.
Q Ari, in the Middle East, symbolism plays a major role. You said the President watched part of what was happening to the statue. When the Marine hung the American flag over the head of Saddam Hussein briefly, what did the President feel as Commander-in-Chief? Did he feel that is something that could have caused problems in the region?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think that when you talk about the message that people are going to remember from today, even in all regions of the world, the message they're going to remember today is the Iraqi people toppling the statue -- the United States was there to help, of course, but the Iraqi people -- the toppling of the statue, and the Iraqi people dragging the statue through the streets, and a message that is unmistakable in the Arab world, the Iraqi people throwing shoes and attacking the statue with their shoes. That speaks volumes.
Q And a second question, Ari, getting away a little bit from the Iraq subject. The President meets tomorrow with the five Presidents of Central America. You have initiated negotiations for a free trade agreement with the region, which you expect to finish this year. From the program I've seen, is the President going to meet with all his staff -- the Vice President, Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasure, Condoleezza Rice. What importance does the President attach to this free trade agreement? Is this part of the overall trade agreement with Latin America?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President looks forward to tomorrow's meeting with the representatives of the Presidents of the Central American nations for many reasons. Trade is a crucial part of the United States' relationship with those countries. And the President is very proud of the fact that trade is increasing with those countries and their adherence to the principles of free trade. And the President also welcomes them for its partners in democracy. Many of these nations are new democracies, and the President is very proud of the fact that we will continue to work with them on areas where we are increasingly neighbors who share values.
Q I have a follow --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm going to keep moving.
Q Is the President concerned that these weapons of mass destruction that Saddam supposedly has might have been smuggled out of the country? And do you have any reports that they might have been brought somewhere else where they could get into the hands of terrorist groups?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. That, again, remains an operational matter. And I don't think you're going to see -- there's nothing to report new or different on that front. The reason that we repeatedly said that he has biological or chemical weapons prior to the war beginning was because we had information saying that he did. And we remain confident in that information. We're still in the middle of a military campaign. And as, increasingly, people provide us with more information, I think you'll hear more.
Q Is there anything new to report on the tests that were made on some of those materials --
MR. FLEISCHER: You need to ask DOD.
Q Ari, what will the United States do to Iraqi diplomats who are, Baath Party members, just -- obviously, folks aligned with the regime? What's going to happen to them?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, of course, the United States does not have direct diplomatic relations with Iraq. So when you talk about are here, that's not a question of bilateral --
Q -- there in the city. They're in the country.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that would be a question for -- under the way it works in international diplomacy, the new leadership of Iraq will take that question up. It is the new leadership of Iraq, once constituted, that will appoint its representatives to a body like the United Nations.
Q Just so I understand, what you're saying is the new leadership will decide what's going to happen to them, whether they get pulled back? It will not be a United States' decision?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's typically how it works. I'm not aware of anything else in this instance. As you know, we did ask -- expel a number of Iraqi diplomats in New York at the beginning of hostilities.
Q A follow, if I may?
MR. FLEISCHER: We're going to keep moving. Everybody's getting for or five in today. We got to --
Q I only got one question.
MR. FLEISCHER: Look how many people are behind you. We'll try to come back.
Q Ari, getting back to the question Ron opened the briefing with -- in his briefing a little while ago, Secretary Rumsfeld was very clear, like you are, in saying that the war is not over yet. But he was also clear in listing some criteria. And he listed the capture or elimination of Saddam Hussein and his sons. So one question is, are there differences of opinion here between you guys and Secretary Rumsfeld as to what constitutes the end of hostilities regarding the fate of Hussein?
Secondly, he issued a fairly clear warning, again, to Syria, warning them not to do things in any way that would aid the remnants of the Hussein regime. What specifically was he talking about there?
MR. FLEISCHER: One, as you recall, I said that the President will be guided about operational matters about when the war is over, military matters, by hearing from General Franks, General Myers, and Secretary Rumsfeld. So I explained that that's what the President will listen to.
Q Can we interpret that, then, to extend to Rumsfeld's remarks about Hussein this afternoon?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not going to make a prediction about every factor the President may hear or weigh in on. But, of course, the President values the advice he receives from the Secretary of Defense.
And the second part of your question dealt with --
MR. FLEISCHER: Syria. I have nothing further to add beyond what the Secretary said and what I said earlier on that.
Q Let me come back to the Iraqi authority -- interim Iraqi authority and timing, Ari. I'm still not clear and I think we still heard things both ways from the administration. Are we waiting until hostilities cease before setting up this authority? Or will there be an attempt to do it gradually, as conditions warrant?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the security situation on the ground will definitely be a factor in the timing and in the exact location of when this first meeting will take place. This will be the first meeting of what will promise to be many meetings. And I think you will see the number of people will grow over time, as events on the ground allow a number of people to participate, particularly from inside Iraq.
Q So this meeting, whenever it takes place we should consider the effective beginning of the interim Iraqi authority?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think at the time that the meeting is called you receive a full explanation of it and what it means and exactly at what stage we are. And I think it's very hard here today, on the day where there is still fighting in Baghdad, still fighting to come in the north, to get into exactly what will happen at this first meeting. It's not yet scheduled. It will happen sometime soon, I anticipate, but I really can't predict it yet.
Q Just in answering Mike's question, at the moment, the coalition military, to the extent that it controls Iraq, is running Iraq. And the question is when are they going to hand off to somebody else?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I don't think you should look at it as if it's that crisp a passing. This will be an important beginning, but it's a beginning on a continuum. It's not a stark beginning and end. And you said the military is running Iraq. Well, there are many areas of Iraq that are not run by the United States military or the coalition or the allies. There are areas of Iraq that are still dominated by the Baath Party, and there is still fighting ahead.
So I think that you may see some type of continuum, an evolution to this, not a stark passage from one moment to the next. I said earlier, it will be an important beginning, there's not question about it, when this meeting takes place.
Q Ari, going back to two issues that you've -- that were raised earlier. The Iraqi resources -- i.e., oil -- there's concern that with our efforts to create this democratic, this new democratic regime, there will be an issue of have and have-nots. How will the administration try to prevent this society of have and have-nots? Who's to determine who's to get this oil versus who will not?
And, also, you're saying it's a God-given --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not sure I understand your question. Have and have-nots?
Q Who's going to get the contracts? Who's going to deal with oil in Iraq. And, secondly, you were talking about this Iraqi God-given freedom. Does this God-given freedom substantiate the killing of its leader versus exile or capture?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think Saddam Hussein has chosen his fate for himself. The President provided Saddam Hussein a very visible and public opportunity to leave the country to avoid hostilities, and Saddam Hussein did not choose to accept that. And, therefore, a military operation ensued and command and control are indeed targets of this military operation, no doubt about it.
On your first question, I think there will be any number of entities that will be involved. Of course, if it's the United States government, it's the agency that is doing the contracting and have their criteria, which they follow. The United Nations has its oil-for-food program, where they make contracting decisions about who is delivering the food and the money is then received in an United Nations escrow account.
And, certainly, the day is coming where the Iraqi people will make their own decisions about who will get contracts for their own resources. And they will make their decisions about who they want to thank for helping them in their liberation.
Q But, Ari, part of the reason why the United States military is in Iraq now is because of the situation of luxuries by certain people in Iraq, including Saddam Hussein, people in his family and what-have-you. But there is a concern that this administration could possibly -- not to the same extent, but could possibly wind up creating another situation of have and have-nots. How will the administration completely prevent that situation from happening?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think what you're going to see is, as freedom takes root in Iraq, the Iraqi people answer that question for themselves, as they establish a government that we hope will be based on principles of democracy and rule of law and fairness and opportunity. The Iraqi people, as I've said many times, are a very educated population. And I think the President has very high levels of faith in the ability of the Iraqi people to govern themselves and make these decisions for themselves. That's how they will assume their right role in the world as a self-governing country.
Q Yes, Ari, two quick ones. You said the U.S. will not be an occupying force, but would the President like to see U.S. military bases established in Iraq, as they are in many other parts of the world?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm just not going to get into any speculation about things like that down the road. We still are in the middle of a war. I just can't guess whether the answer to that is yes, no, or who knows.
Q Now, on a question of contracts, do you expect that U.S. and U.K. firms will have the advantage in bidding for future contracts?
MR. FLEISCHER: You need to talk to the contracting agencies for what their criteria are. You need to talk to the United Nations for what it's criteria are, and have been for the oil-for-food program. They have their own rules and regulations already.
Q In 1989, then President Bush was criticized for not showing enough emotion when the wall fell. Is this a Bush family characteristic, to be cautious in great moments -- this historic moment?
MR. FLEISCHER: What you have to keep in mind about what you've seen today is, today is a momentous day for freedom in Iraq. It's a day where a statue fell and a statue was dragged through the streets in a powerful expression of freedom by the Iraqi people. And it fell in the middle of a shooting war, and we remain in the middle of a shooting war. The President looks forward to speaking out. The President is filled with joy for the fact that the Iraqi people will soon be free. And I assure you, this President, as he has done repeatedly throughout this, will speak out. But I urge you just to keep today in context.
Q Ari, you said the situation, in general, is still dangerous. What would be your advice for the independent journalists that are covering the story in Baghdad after the incident we saw yesterday? And I also understand that the Red Cross will get into Baghdad to take the bodies of the correspondents that died yesterday. That will be my second question -- the United States will help in any way the Red Cross to take the bodies?
MR. FLEISCHER: Okay. On the first question, there are a great many brave people in Baghdad and in Iraq today. The men and women of our Armed Forces are brave people who are in Baghdad today. The Iraqi people who want to be free are brave people in Baghdad today -- and so, too, are the journalists from around the world who have gathered to follow events and to tell the truth about what has happened so the world can know.
And journalists received a warning prior to the war about what a dangerous place it was, and every loss of life is regrettable. And the President joins the nation in mourning all of those who have lost lives in this conflict. The only advice I can provide to journalists whom I've worked with -- I knew very well two of them who died -- was that they do the world a service by providing journalism in the middle of a conflict, and it's a dangerous service. And they have to continue to take the advice they receive and to be careful, that it is a war zone.
Q Ari, has the administration looked into and formed an opinion about the legitimacy of the conviction of Ahmed Chalabi in Jordan for embezzlement in connection with --
MR. FLEISCHER: I have no specific information about that and I don't have anything for you on that.
Q Ari, what's the level of concern here about a dangerous, potentially dangerous power vacuum developing? We've already had reports that as the troops have moved out and moved on, Baath Party elements have moved back in to try to exert control.
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the President has urged everybody to be cautious because we still are at war. But I also want to make a broader point here, and this is something that we have seen now for some three weeks of this conflict, and that is that there is a tendency to watch every event as if it is a sine curve, that goes from exuberation to despair and back and forth again. And I've seen it go from exuberation to despair in 12 hours, 24 hours. And that's why the President believes what's important is for the American people to be steady in their observations about a nation that is still at war.
And there are dangers ahead. The dangers can come from many different areas. The dangers can come from organized bands fighting our military. The dangers can come from the fact that there is a shifting of power inside Iraq. But the bottom line remains the same: Whatever shifts may take place, the shift is on the way to freedom. And that's the message that is going to hearten the Iraqi people as they assume that place of freedom. Yes, there are risks for them, too.
Q If I could just follow on that notion. There have been lots of reports of looting in Basra, in Baghdad. So far, it's been party and government facilities. But if that should spread, is it the administration's intention that the American forces on the ground would become some kind of a civil authority, a civil patrol?
MR. FLEISCHER: Anything operational you need to talk to DOD about on how they will handle what's a security matter on the ground. They expressed their judgment earlier and they said they see the situation, as far as security, as improving.
Q Can I ask a question, Ari? The President put out a statement earlier today saying that he was -- he commended the Senate for passage of his faith-based bill, or portions of it. It was a very scaled-down version, though, from his initial proposal. Is he convinced now that some of those provisions are simply too ambitious to get through the Senate?
MR. FLEISCHER: And if you see the second paragraph in the President's statement you'll see he referred to the fact that he would like additional progress to be made on this important legislation. But as a result of an executive order that the President issued up in Philadelphia last year, many of the areas of the faith-based initiative have now been put into effect through executive order. So, for people on the ground who are low-income, who are looking for sources in their communities that can provide them care and help, they have it, thanks to the change the President made in the executive order.
His preference would be that it gets codified by an act of Congress. The Congress has chosen not to do that, but for the people on the ground, at least thanks to the executive order, they will receive those benefits. He is appreciative of the Congress for passing -- or the Senate today for passing the tax aspects of that it will make it easier for the American people to contribute to charity and get a deduction.
Q I have two questions, if I may. With the war in Iraq almost over, what lies ahead in the Middle East? Second question, how long will the U.S. military remain in Iraq after victory and how many troops?
MR. FLEISCHER: On the second question, the "how many," you need to talk to DOD about. The President has said repeatedly they will stay there as long as is necessary, but not a day longer. Our commitment is for the long-term to make certain that we help the Iraqi people to win the peace. And the President has committed to doing that; that's part of the mission and we will do that.
On your first question, I anticipate that the day will come soon, as Abu Mazen is confirmed and appoints his cabinet, when the road map will be released.
Q You just referred to winning the peace in Iraq. How do you define winning the peace in Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that that's going to be a matter that you will see emerge as freedom takes root in the ground of Iraq; as Iraqi people emerge from both inside Iraq and from outside Iraq to take control of the Iraqi institutions; as the Iraqi regime is no longer; and as the people of Iraq recognize that they should be a people led by a government that is a disarmed government, that does not have or pursue biological or chemical weapons; a government that treats its neighbors with peace, not with belligerence. And this will be as the peace emerges, that will be how people see that the peace is won.
It is a process. And it is a process that will take some bit of time. And it's a process that can be marked by unsteady times, too. Nobody has said that as progress is made there won't be any setbacks in any areas of Iraq. There certainly will be.
Q Does the administration agree with -- or the White House agree with Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge that the government should consider paying the costs of installing anti-missile devices on commercial airliners?
MR. FLEISCHER: I saw that report this morning, and I looked into it. And I don't believe that's quite what he said. He said that we're continuing to work with the Congress and explore a number of technologies that can help make it safe for travelers to fly. And there are a series of items that are being looked at. That is one item that is being looked at among many, and no conclusions have been reached.
Q Should the government pick up those costs?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's something that is being looked at and talked about as a series of technologies that may be put in place to help protect the airlines, and other security steps that are taken to protect airlines, as well, that don't only involve defenses against MANPADS.
Q Ari, the House Republican leaders want to delay the budget -- decision on the tax cut for several months. Does the President agree with this decision? Or does he want the American people to get -- as he says, get their money back now?
And secondly, you said that the day of Iraqi freedom has arrived and it is coming. Which is it? Has it arrived? Or is it coming?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it depends on where you live. That's exactly the point I was making about, there are different regions of a very large city. Certainly, if you were one of the people who was dragging the statue of Saddam Hussein today through the streets of Iraq, that person felt that freedom, indeed, had come today. There are other people who may live in a different region in Iraq, or a different neighborhood in Baghdad who might not feel that way. And so they're both accurate and they're both -- this is my point, it's not as if there are stark simplicities that exist on the ground in Iraq. You're going to see pockets of different behavior by different people. But there's no question that today was an important day for the people of Iraq.
On your question about taxes, in fairness, it really is just the opposite. The Congress is approaching very quickly final decisions on a budget resolution. If they are able to reach agreement on a budget resolution today or this week, it will be one of the fastest times ever that the Congress reaches a decision on a budget resolution. And for the tax bill, itself, of course, the work on the tax bill cannot begin until the budget resolution is in place. So Congress is actually ahead of its schedule, no matter what decision they make on the budget resolution and exactly what form the budget resolution takes.
Q -- not to agree on the tax part of the bill in the budget resolution as a way of getting the budget resolution moving --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, they're continuing to talk about that. But that's not akin to a delay. They would still have an agreement on a budget resolution. The exact type of taxes that would be cut would be considered in regular order, just as it's always done. And then the House and Senate would have to reconcile it.
Ken and then Jim.
Q Thank you, sir. We all know about the warnings that the Iranians have received -- I'm talking about the governments now -- the Syrians. Can you give us an idea of what kind of steps are being taken outside of Iraq with groups within those countries, like, for instance, the Mujahideen in Iran, Hezbollah, Syria and Lebanon. Can you just give us an idea of what the United States is doing to try to keep them from crossing the border and --
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have anything to add beyond what the Secretary has said.
MR. FLEISCHER: With the dissidents, and the repression of the dissidents? It's an action that the United States has spoken out very strongly against. This is symptomatic of the dictatorship of the Cuban regime, and we condemn it.
Ben, go ahead.
Q Secretary Paige is being criticized for saying he prefers Christian values in school, saying that's not -- that doesn't represent all of the United States. How do you respond? Do you think he misspoke, or does the President agree with --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the Department of Education has addressed that, after -- the Department of Education's press secretary has talked about this, and has talked about the Secretary's statement and about his commitment to schools and public schools, so every child from every walk of life can learn and succeed. And I would note that the Secretary's statements did not apply -- he narrowed them down to universities. In fact, they were much more qualified if you read the statement in its entirety. But I think they've been clarified by the Secretary's press secretary.
Q Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 3:20 P.M. EDT