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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 10, 2003

Press Briefing with Ari Fleischer

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12:20 P.M. EDT



MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. The President began his day with an intelligence briefing, then an FBI briefing; had a meeting of the National Security Council. He's met today with the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State. He's having lunch today with the Vice President. He has also called two world leaders. He spoke with President Kwasniewski of Poland, and Prime Minister Howard of Australia. He thanked both nations for their contributions and the bravery of the men and women of their Armed Forces in their effort to help bring freedom and liberty to the people of Iraq.


Later this afternoon, the President will meet with the Presidents of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, where he will talk about the importance of the CAFTA, or the Central American Trade Agreement. And he'll talk about the importance of strengthening the already good bilateral relations between the United States and each of these nations.


And also later today, the President will do a meeting, will have a meeting with a group of business leaders who are here in the White House. These employers represent 2 million Americans working for their companies, and the President will talk about the jobs and growth plan that he has pending on Capitol Hill to help create more growth in the economy.


And that is it on the President's schedule. And I'm happy to take your questions. Helen.


Q Is the President contemplating any other regime changes in the Middle East? Because you hear -- I mean, there seems to be something in the atmosphere that he may not stop with Iraq.


MR. FLEISCHER: Let me remind you specifically in using the words regime change that this was an act of Congress signed by the previous administration that coined the word "regime change," and it's obviously something that this administration supported.

As the President has made very clear, Iraq is unique. Iraq presented a whole set of threats to the world that were unique in the world. And there are other, of course, elements in the world that are not complying with the efforts of -- what the United States and others around the world would like to see in terms of peace and security. But every region of the world presents a unique set of challenges or difficulties for the United States and for partners in peace, and each is dealt with separately.


And so Iraq is a unique set of circumstances, and that's how the President treats it.


Q So the answer is, no?


MR. FLEISCHER: It's exactly as I said -- Iraq is unique, and that's how the President treats it.


Q Kofi Annan is saying that there's a lot of looting in Baghdad and it appears that no one is in charge. What's being done to impose some sort of control and authority immediately in Baghdad and other areas to control looting?

MR. FLEISCHER: One of the things that I think you have seen in what's been a rolling effort in Iraq -- there were originally reports of looting, and there was, indeed, looting in Basra and other cities in the south. And as the security situation stabilized, the looting did, indeed, decline.

Of course, our coalition forces are there for a military mission. And they also are mindful about what is taking place on the ground. These things need to be measured over time. Beyond that, I would refer you to DOD officials who provide for security on the ground.

Q As areas come under coalition control, their mission changes somewhat. The President says in his broadcast to the Iraqi people, coalition forces will help maintain law and order. So they are becoming the Iraqi police force.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I think that you take a look at security -- and we've always said that the forces will stay there to help provide security for the Iraqi people. And we mean it. The definition, again, part of our overall policy, is you should talk to DOD officials about operational aspects.

But there are also signs -- and if you take a look in Western Iraq -- this was briefed this morning out of Doha -- there is a town in Western Iraq in which the mayor and the town council have already started working very closely with coalition forces that moved through their town and remain in their town. They're beginning their self-governance once again. And I anticipate that you will see different places inside Iraq, different reactions from the local officials, the assumption of government infrastructure accelerating in different places inside Iraq, depending on events on the ground. And we will continue to work with the local Iraqi authorities to make that happen.

Q Fair enough. But the President said, the coalition force will maintain law and order. And in Baghdad, after the extraordinary scenes yesterday of liberation, today you have a suicide bombing. Does the mission of policing the streets of a city of 5 million people like Baghdad make American troops more vulnerable to this kind of suicide attack?

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me remind you, we are still in the middle of an actual military mission. And suicide attacks took place in other places along the battlefield. This is a tactic that some of our enemies employ. And this remains a dangerous country, a dangerous place, as I indicated yesterday, in many places. The assassination, the very regrettable assassination of a sheik from Najaf -- which the United States strongly condemns, and we express our sympathy to the people of Najaf over this assassination -- is another reminder of how dangerous the situation is inside Iraq.

It was dangerous before this military mission. It remains dangerous. We are still in the middle of the military mission. The United States is committed to helping the people of Iraq with their security. And DOD will be able to talk about that as they talk about their regular day-to-day activities.

Q Would you bring us up to date on who is responsible for programming the television broadcasts which the Iraqis will receive?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President today has broadcast a message to the people, directly, of Iraq. This is a way for President Bush and Prime Minister Blair to speak directly to the people of Iraq about the freedom and the liberation that is coming to them. And we will continue to communicate directly with the people of Iraq. It is important.


The Department of Defense is in charge of this program. The Department of Defense has the facilities on the ground to transmit the information that is being broadcast. And just as they have done with Commando Solo, which is a series of radio broadcasts that have been made for weeks to the Iraqi people, this was a Defense Department operation then. It remains a war; it remains a Defense Department operation.

Q Right. But who is deciding what the program content is to be?

MR. FLEISCHER: The Department of Defense.

Q Who in the Department of Defense?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's a question, I'm sure, that will come up when they brief later this afternoon. It's a series of people on the ground in Doha, as well as here in the United States.

Q For example, is Wilkinson part of this, even though he's not part of the DOD?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I don't brief the DOD details. That will be available to you by the DOD officials.

Q We're told that the three network news broadcasts are supposed to be carried unedited on this service. Is that correct?

MR. FLEISCHER: I have not heard that myself. I don't know if you're raising it to object or to support.

Q Just to confirm.


MR. FLEISCHER: No, that's a question the DOD -- they're in charge of the --


Q Especially the unedited part.


MR. FLEISCHER: I can talk to you about the President's involvement in it, and the video that you know we released earlier today about it. But the President is very pleased that DOD will be providing this service to the Iraqi people. For decades, the Iraqi people have heard nothing but totalitarian propaganda that was designed to prop up the regime of Saddam Hussein. Their messages to the Iraqi people were far from the truth. They were not to observations of people who were in a position to have facts, to report facts, or to share those facts to the Iraqi people. That will now change, and that is for the good of the Iraqi people.


We also see a day coming -- it is not here yet because we're still in the middle of a war -- but we see a day coming that we look forward to, which is where the Iraqi people themselves will welcome in their own journalists, where they, themselves, will set up an independent media; where they, themselves, will avail themselves of the rights that we think go with democracy around the world, as we have here, which is the right of a free press to broadcast and to print. That is an important part of Iraq's future. So we see that day coming.


Q Aren't you concerned that the Iraqi people may simply see this as propaganda from a different source?


MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one of the reasons that we feel so strongly about the free press is because we want the free press to be there to see it with their own eyes. As you know, the United States military made the decision, with the support of the White House, to embed countless journalists with our troops there, to see things with their own eyes and to report the truth as they know it. And I think you'll be in a good position, your reporters are on the ground in Baghdad, to get their reactions after they see a message from the President.


I think if the scenes we're seeing on the streets carried through free media cameras are any indication, the Iraqi people welcome a message from President Bush.


Q Ari, on weapons of mass destruction, British Prime Minister Blair said a couple days ago in Belfast that after the regime fell that, we, the coalition, would be led to them -- his words. Yesterday, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld was offering a reward for Iraqis to prevent the regime from either destroying documents or destroying materials or shipping them out of the country. So what's the bigger picture here? Are we in a position, is the United States in a position where we have to rely on people on the ground to ultimately get to the very weapons that we say Iraq has and that we've been after?


MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think there are two principal things that involve the Iraqi people and the efforts to determine where their weapons of mass destruction are. One is, the people who are involved in it and want to do everything they possibly can to destroy all the evidence of their involvement in it. Obviously, those people are the problem. And then there are other people who may have knowledge about it who want to provide that knowledge to the United States or to coalition allies, so that evidence of weapons of mass destruction can indeed be unearthed or found. And I think we'll see both on the ground in Iraq.


I think it is something that will be found. We've always said that we have information that they have weapons of mass destruction. The precise location of where it is is information that the Iraqi people can be helpful with.


Q Well, but -- okay, but you're saying now that -- I mean, it appears that we really are relying on people to lead us to them, rather than knowing where these materials are. And if we don't have that sort of cooperation, I mean, are we going to come up empty here?


MR. FLEISCHER: I think you have always heard, and you continue to hear from officials, a measure of high confidence that, indeed, the weapons of mass destruction will be found. What we have is a regime that was a master at hiding it, that had set up a very large and elaborate infrastructure for the sole purpose of hiding it. And as the military conflict goes through its various phases and we turn the corner from actual military conduct, military operations, to more of a pursuit of where the weapons of mass destruction are, then I think additional information will come in. And we don't rule out that it can come in thanks to the help of the Iraqi people.


Q I'm just trying to nail this down. You either -- the bad actors are going to flip and tell you about it, lead you to it, or present it to you, or people who are essentially good actors are going to tip you off once you're there and lead you to the materials; that right now, the government, forces on the ground are not in a position independently to get to where the major caches of --


MR. FLEISCHER: No, you can't rule out that the coalition forces might find something along their travels on the ground.


Q But would it be serendipitous, or would it be because you know where it is?


MR. FLEISCHER: Well, they're involved in military operations. And Iraq has been hiding it. But what we have is intelligence about their having it. Whether it was a specific location or not is often not the case. But keep in mind the rescue of Jessica Lynch, for example, that was developed as a result of information provided to us by an Iraqi citizen. So we, of course, were on the lookout for our POWs; we had our antennae up, doing everything we could to find them. We have means to be able to do certain things. But there's a limit to these means; the more there is help from the Iraqi people, the easier the effort.


Q I'm not asking for specifics, but I want to know specifically if the United States knows where a cache of WMD is. Is there a location that they could send troops to if the site was clean, they could go to it and get it?


MR. FLEISCHER: What we have always said is that we know that they have it and they are expert at hiding it --


Q Do we know where any of it is?


MR. FLEISCHER: Ron, we've always said we know they have it, they are expert at hiding it. I can't discuss all intelligence information. And this is something that Secretary Powell talked about when he went to the United Nations and talked about their abilities to hide. But make no mistake, we maintain high confidence that they have it and it will be found.

Q Do we know where any of it is?


Q Yesterday Secretary Rumsfeld said, Ari, that Syria was believed not only to be shipping some goods into Iraq, which he had discussed previously, but also helping the exodus of people from Iraq, presumably leaders. I was wondering if you could tell us, first, if the White House has any evidence that Iraqi leadership are escaping across the Syrian border or attempting to; secondly, whether the President has communicated in any way with Syria to make it clear what kind of consequences there would be if there was such an effort?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, again, I don't have anything to add beyond what the Secretary said yesterday about this. And Secretary Powell said something similar about it, as well. The Secretary referred to the scraps of information that we had yesterday, and I think he said what the President wanted to say.

Q The President, himself, has got no plans to make any communication to Syria about the seriousness of this?

MR. FLEISCHER: There's nothing that's been brought to my attention directly in the communication area there, but I don't know.

Q Ari, do you think the fall of the regime has affected the domestic political environment? Is the President in a better position now on taxes, Medicare, the rest of his domestic agenda?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one is, a statue fell. We're still not certain what the status of the regime is. We still are in the middle of the war. And as events last night showed and as events just today showed, we still have American forces who are being wounded or killed in this war. So it is not over. The final events have not taken place. So I'd still want to temper, and put this caution out there.

I think it's impossible to say what results the international affairs and war will have on the domestic agenda. That's for members of Congress to decide. What's important, from the President's point of view, is that nobody forget the importance of taking action on the domestic agenda because we still have Americans who are looking for work, we still have an economy that is growing, but not growing as fast as the President would like it to grow. And so separate and apart from anything happening in Iraq, it's important for Congress to get moving on the domestic agenda. And, indeed, they have in many cases.

As you know, the Care Act passed the Senate, providing for charitable deductions for Americans who give to charity. Energy legislation looks like it may get voted on in the House as soon as today. The budget resolution still is in its final moments of discussion up on Capitol Hill. So they are making progress on some areas of the President's agenda. On other areas of the agenda, Congress is exercising its free will. So we're pleased to see the Congress is moving on the agenda. The President is not getting everything he likes, but he certainly is defining the debate.

Q Ari, the images we saw in Baghdad yesterday are being interpreted by the Arab media -- much of the Arab media -- very differently. How are the messages by President Bush and Tony Blair addressing that? And secondly, how dangerous is this power vacuum in Iraq -- as we see the Shiite leader being killed, and we see what's happening in Northern Iraq right now, in Kirkuk, how dangerous is that? And does that speed up or raise the urgency of putting together some kind of an interim government?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, whatever the situation on the ground is in Iraq today, it is better than it was yesterday, and it will be better tomorrow. And that's because freedom is coming to the Iraqi people. And it is inevitable in a military conflict that there is going to be some areas of danger that remain. Even after most of the military fighting may have ebbed, it still remains dangerous.

As for the way some of the messages have been received in Arab countries, you know, it's very interesting to note -- because Al Jazeera was, indeed, broadcast live to many Arab nations, and many people who have satellite dishes, at least, were able to watch for themselves what took place in Iraq. And again, the President's view is that the celebrations in the streets of Baghdad are the sights of freedom. And freedom is a message that should be welcomed everywhere.

Q Ari, there's a lot of concern around the world, the administration has been so eager to find weapons of mass destruction that we might be so eager as to plant it. Is there any plans to allow U.N. inspectors back into the country in order to increase --


MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one, that entire notion is nothing but nonsense. It's stuff of conspiracy theories and I don't deal in that. As you know, the United States -- we have many press in the region, and they're there for a reason. We want to free press to see what we see, to know what we know. And that's one of the reasons that they are embedded there.


Q How about the U.N. inspectors?


MR. FLEISCHER: We have never ruled out the possibility of U.N. inspectors playing some type of role in the future in Iraq. But right now it remains exactly what you see, a military mission in the heat of battle in many places.

Q Who called the meeting of free Iraqis inside and outside Iraq in Nasiriyah?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it's been something that we've always talked about. As you know, there were meetings even before the war began in Northern Iraq with free Iraqis. It remains part of how we prepare the groundwork for what ultimately will become the IIA or the Interim Iraqi Authority. So this is something that is done with the coalition, with free Iraqis and the people outside Iraq and inside Iraq as it's coming together.

Q Can you say who exactly called it there? We hear reports that Mr. Chalabi, himself, originally organized this meeting.

MR. FLEISCHER: I can't confirm that. I don't know that that's the case. I know that there are several people -- several leading Iraqis, two of whom, for example, are inside Iraq, who are part of the leadership council that was set up as part of the independent Iraq. And Mr. Chalabi is one of those people, indeed.

Q Can you explain why the Vice President specifically said that it was going to take place on Saturday when the White House came out later and said that there wasn't a particular date.

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, for the exact reason I gave yesterday. I think his staff addressed that immediately after the speech.

Q But they didn't actually give an explanation for why he was able to say the specific date in the morning, and then in the afternoon we were told that there actually hadn't ever been a specific date.

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think his staff did address that, and I think that was reflected in many of the stories that I saw.

Q Can you tell us who it is that is nominating, if that is the correct term, the people who will be part of this meeting -- this leadership meeting, when it is likely to occur, and what the agenda is? What is the first step in trying to get people together to look at future leadership in Iraq?

MR. FLEISCHER: This meeting is going to be an opportunity for Iraqis from both inside and outside the country to discuss the vision of the Iraqi people for a post-Saddam Iraq. The meeting will be hosted by the coalition and it's purpose will be for Iraqis to express their views freely and start a process that can lead to the establishment of an interim authority.


So this is the beginning, this is the beginning of something very welcome. It's the beginning of the Iraqi people working with liberty on their own future. And that's what this meeting represents. It's a welcome thing to happen. We still don't have a date for it. So as soon as we have something to report, it will be reported. The date is still being worked on.

Q Do you have some sense of how many people will attend? And who is it that is nominating -- again, if that is the correct term -- the people to come to this? The President, as you know, in Belfast suggested even that the U.N. might be nominating some people. Who is actually putting forth names to attend?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's fair to say that the Secretary General of the United Nations will be invited to send a representative to this meeting. He would be most welcome. I said yesterday that the invitations will be coming from General Franks. That's the case.

Q Do you know -- I mean, are the names coming from the State Department, from the Pentagon, from the White House, from the British government, from the CIA? How is this process moving forward?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's a collaboration of different people. And this is not new. Keep in mind, there have been previous meetings set up with free Iraqis that took place several weeks ago. As you know, there was a White House envoy who was sent to the meetings in Northern Iraq. He will also be present at these meetings now, when they take place in Southern Iraq. There's been a long-time group of people from outside of Iraq who have been involved in seeking Iraq's freedom. I anticipate that many of these same people who have been involved and worked before will be involved and will work again, as well as people on the ground inside Iraq.

Q One last thing for you. Some people on Capitol Hill say there is a real mess there with the budget, with the supplemental, with all of the various issues that need to be resolved, including the tax cut. How much is the President involved in trying to get especially Republican leaders from the two houses together?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President, as you know, has been -- he met this week with the congressional leaders. He talks with them on the phone. And this is a difficult process for the Congress, and the Congress is narrowly divided as it is. But we will continue to work with Congress to work through all the issues involving the budget. It's always a farrago -- when you work with the Congress. And we will continue to work with them to try to resolve the issues of the budget resolution. They're very close to an agreement. We'll see if it happens.

Q Is the President involved today in trying to knock heads or twist arms?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think I said this last week, you can always be assured the President has meetings or phone calls that we don't announce or report each one. But, yes, the President is involved in trying to be helpful.

Q On that issue, Ari, a group in the Senate of moderate Republicans are still holding out for a tax cut that's a little higher than $350 billion. Is that number large enough to accommodate what the President wants to do?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, clearly, the President's proposal was for $726 billion. Given the facts and the economy, the President believes that the best package to create the most economic growth is a package that is as close to that number -- if it's not that exact number -- as is possible. That's what the President is seeking. Obviously, there is a process underway on Capitol Hill where the House and the Senate have to weigh what they can accomplish individually and then together in a conference. The conference is still meeting. They have not filed the conference papers. They continue to try to work through for a successful resolution of the budget resolution. And that's where we are, and that's what the President is helping on.

Q Is it better to defer the decision if the direction appears to be in -- if the compromise appears to be heading in the direction of $350 billion? If the Republican senators don't give, would you prefer that the decision is deferred until after the congressional recess?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, clearly -- the House of Representatives passed a budget resolution that had some $726 billion worth of tax relief in it. The Senate has a provision of $350 billion. The process always works that the House and Senate conferees get together to try to see if there is a compromise that can be achieved. We're working with them in that goal and the talks are continuing.

Q Your answer to the question of why DOD is doing these broadcasts dealt entirely with the practical means of transmitting -- that doesn't really answer the question of why DOD is controlling the content. Can you address that, why DOD and not a civilian agency is doing it?

MR. FLEISCHER: For the same reason that DOD has successfully been doing it in a very able fashion for weeks, involving getting radio messages transmitted into Iraq -- because we were in the middle of war. And DOD is very good in the middle of war not only of fighting and winning a war, but in providing information for people who have a thirst for information. The Iraqi people want to get these radio broadcasts. They want to know the facts. They want to know the truth. And DOD is in excellent position to provide it, and we're pleased they are.

Q How long will these broadcasts go on? How long do you envision them continuing?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know that I've heard any type of timetable that is put on it. I think they will go, and I think over time you will see an increased number of Iraqi people who hear about them and are able to watch them. And that will be a good situation to see develop. But the end-goal is for everything militarily to leave Iraq, and for Iraq to be run entirely by the Iraqi people with a free Iraqi press. Make no mistake, that is the goal. And that is something that I think you will see happen.

Q You said in the morning that some of these broadcasts will be transmitted over what used to be Iraqi state TV. Is there some plan at some point to turn those transmission facilities over to a new interim government?

MR. FLEISCHER: That will be something that the reconstruction folks on the ground will work on. Clearly, there is a desire to turn as much over as fast as possible so that the Iraqi people can run their own affairs. And literally, the way it works is, it will be transmitted on the same channel that people were used to tuning in on Iraqi TV. That's the way the technology works. It will be broadcast from American and coalition facilities involving DOD equipment. So there's either airplane or transmitters on the ground. And it will be transmitted in such way that if an Iraqi citizen was used to tuning in channel 3, for example, they'd be able to again tune on channel 3, and there it would be.

Q Do you have any even approximate time frame as to how long it might take for an interim Iraqi regime or government to be up and running with its own --

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I would not hazard a guess.

Q Ari, prior to the war, many of the opponents said that the danger of going to war would be that the attitudes toward the United States around the world would seriously deteriorate. Now that we've gone to war and the war is winding down, does the White House feel as though attitudes towards the United States from countries other than those who were on our side has changed or has deteriorated like many predicted?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that different nations will feel differently. And I think some nations that were irrevocably opposed to the use of force to disarm the Iraqi regime will continue to be irrevocably opposed to it. We disagree with those nations. The President disagreed with that prior to taking action. And in the wake of the action that's been taken, he disagrees even stronger.

Other nations, of course, I think want to wait and see what the results were. But I'm not going to speak for all nations. The President did this because he thought it was the right thing to do. And it's fair to say he did it with a rather large coalition of political supporters from around the world.

Q Do you feel as though you've had deterioration?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I can't say that. I haven't seen that, no.

Q Yes, Ari. What is the latest information about the search for Saddam Hussein? And would the U.S. government be willing to put a reward on information that would lead to his whereabouts or his capture?

MR. FLEISCHER: I have no new information to report on that. And I have not heard any discussion about the latter.

Q Second question. The North Korea government continues to make statements and refusing any other intervention but a vis-a-vis dialogue with the United States. I know that President Bush will be meeting soon with the President of South Korea. What is going on in the diplomatic front between Washington and Pyongyang?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think what's going on, it not only involves Washington and Pyongyang, but it involves other capitals and Pyongyang. The United States has been working closely with China and with Russia and with Japan, as well as South Korea, of course, about the seriousness of North Korea's actions, with withdrawal from the Non-Proliferation Treaty, as well as North Korea's threatening efforts to develop nuclear weapons. And that's something that has caused concern not only in America's capital, but in these capitals. And we continue to work with these nations about it. As you know, there is some discussions at the United Nations Security Council about taking up measures to discuss what North Korea has done. Those discussions continue. We continue to think they are important.

Q Are, back to the tax cut. How could the President claim victory on half a package of his $726 billion proposed?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, number one, let's wait and see what the final outcome is. The President wants to make certain that what is done provides as much economic growth as is possible. It's interesting, if you go back to the beginning of the debate, many Democrats were saying they would not support anything in excess of about $100 billion as a temporary one-year tax cut. Obviously, whatever the outcome is, it's going to be significantly more than many of the Democrats supported. So there's a process underway. We'll see if the process results in a good position somewhere in between what was originally set out and what is finally accomplished. You can also accomplish things by working together with various parties on the Hill.

Q The CEO meeting later this afternoon, what's the purpose of that, and why is it going to make any difference?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President has continued to meet with a group of constituents to talk about the importance of the growth package. These constituents, then, help to spread the message. They can go back to Capitol Hill and talk to different people about the importance of passing the package. It's part of how the President communicates. And he likes to hear, also, from people who employ millions of Americans about what, in their judgment, will lead to their being able to hire more, to employ more. It's, at the end of the day, what this is all about.

Q Can we go on to Turkey? I know we talked about it a bit earlier. What is the status, as you understand it, now of an agreement with Turkey as to what they can and cannot do in Northern Iraq? And in a general sense, do we want the Kurdish rebels, the Kurdish peshmerga to take territory from the regime? Or do we want them to just stay where they are?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, obviously, we are working in a, for the most part, in a very coordinated fashion with free Iraqis, the Kurds in the north. Now, as you have seen, we have Special Forces working with them. We talk to Turkey -- Secretary Powell has spoken with his counterpart in Turkey today -- and Turkey understands that we understand their concerns and Kirkuk, which is the city that is involved here, will be under American control.

Q We told the Turks that they can send military observers into Kirkuk to assure them that, indeed, we will be in control. But at the same time, you have Kurdish forces fighting, capturing territory, which alarms the Turks. Which direction do we want this to go?

MR. FLEISCHER: We have talked with both parties, and we'll continue to talk with both parties and we will make certain what we hope will happen will, indeed, take place on the ground. And we will work to make that take place on the ground.

Q But you have this situation where these peshmerga are streaming into a city like Kirkuk. Are they under U.S. control? Can you really say that?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think you should judge the end of the story by the results at the beginning of the story. Let's see how events develop on the ground.

Q Ari, part of the reason for the war was WMD. Now, well into the war, WMD has not been found. The American public is going to the television every morning, listening to the radio every morning, trying to find out if, indeed, WMD was found. Does the administration feel there's some awkwardness right now with these statements of they're professionals at hiding, and we know it's there? I mean, is there some sort of awkwardness about the fact that this has not been found as of yet?

MR. FLEISCHER: No. We know Saddam Hussein is there, but we haven't found him yet, either. The fact of the matter is we are still in a war, and not everything about the war is yet known. But make no mistake -- as I said earlier -- we have high confidence that they have weapons of mass destruction. That is what this war was about and it is about. And we have high confidence it will be found.

Q Thank you, two questions based on the President's statements. Going back to Kurdistan, because the President talks about a unified, solid nation, at this point would you now consider accepting a unified -- an independent Kurdistan if Turkey is protected from them?

MR. FLEISCHER: No. From the beginning the mission has been clear, and that is to protect the territorial integrity of Iraq.

Q And then on the statement, our military forces will leave, but that doesn't say all forces will leave. Does that preclude U.S. bases in the future in Iraq?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I was asked that yesterday, and I have nothing different or new to say about that yesterday.

Q Ari, does the United States have any interest in arresting Mohammed Al-Dori, or any other Iraqi official in the United States?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I still don't have anything further than this morning. He is, of course, the ambassador of Iraq to the United Nations. And unless there is cause provided for why a diplomat would be arrested, he is a diplomat.

Q Still?

MR. FLEISCHER: He remains a diplomat to the United Nations. That's correct.

Q On behalf of?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, literally, legally, the way it works, he is Iraq's representative to the United Nations.

Q Is he free to leave the United States if he wishes?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have any information on that. It's probably something you need to talk to State Department about.

Q There have been reports that Mr. Chalabi has been talking to Israelis who were previously -- or to Jewish people who were previously in Iraq, may now be in Israel, about them returning, and also supporting a pro-Israeli stance. Where is the administration on that?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, number one, I would imagine that there are many Iraqis who are talking to many people who are no longer in Iraq and talking to them about the future of Iraq. It is important for people who care about the future of Iraq to reach out and get in touch with many of the people -- the people in Dearborn, Michigan, who were dancing in the streets. One of the things that you see, when it comes to successful nations that emerge from tyranny, is the willingness of people who left those countries to escape the tyranny to want to return, to contribute to the future of that country. It's a measure of success.


So I imagine there will be a number of conversations about the future of Iraq. And the President's goal is for an Iraq to emerge that respects its neighbors, that lives in peace with its neighbors, including -- all its neighbors, including Israel.

Q Ari, last week the White House put out a statement calling for the release of dissidents who were arrested in Cuba. A lot of those people have now been tried, convicted and sentenced, in some cases to 20 to 25 years. What's the White House doing about it now to try to secure their releases?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President condemns in the strongest terms the Cuban government's actions in terms of the repression of these brave citizens. The President continues to view the Castro regime as an abuser of human rights. And that's why the President spoke out.

Q Will the President use the meeting today with the Central American leaders to try to push them to take a harder stance against Castro's Cuba?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'll let you know if anything like that comes up, but the focus of the meeting is going to be on trade.

Q Ari, I'm interested more in the process that led to this decision to have the military manage this broadcast program. Did the President personally sign off on this?

MR. FLEISCHER: This is a continuation of something that you're very familiar with and have seen, and is typical of military operations. And that's why I referred for weeks about Commando Solo, which is a military operation that involves the flying of aircraft that beam radio messages to the people of Iraq, so that people of Iraq can find out what the truth is. The only thing different today is that instead of being radio that's transmitted, it's television pictures that are transmitted by the same DOD that the President is proud that they played the role that they played not only in fighting and winning a war, but in providing information to the Iraqi people. I don't know if this rose to the President's level or not, but I can tell you this, the President is proud of it.

Q It's also beyond what's been going on. It's a new generation, if you will, of the effort. How do you, as sort of one of the information managers for the administration, think that the military's expertise on what is often described as the Arab street, the psyche of that part of the world, compare with departments like the State Department, information agencies and other entities that have more expertise in that?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I think if you take a look at the expertise of DOD in providing radio messages to the Iraqi people, it's quite good and it's quite accurate. And DOD, I want to remind you, is playing host to all the embedded reporters as a sign of DOD's commitment to a free press.

And so I think it's entirely appropriate, from the President's point of view, for DOD to be involved in this. It remains a dangerous country, where DOD assets are needed to field these missions. And I think it's best judged by observing the content of what is shown to the Iraqi people. Certainly when the Department of Defense transmits to the Iraqi people a message of the President of the United States that you yourselves have seen with your own eyes, what's wrong with letting DOD transmit that for the Iraqi people, to see with their own eyes. Let them be the judges of that content.

You, too, will be the judges of that content. You have people on the ground in Iraq. It is now known that this is going to be transmitted. We want your people -- we want journalists to watch what is being transmitted from this. And you will be free to cover it as you would covering any broadcast.

Q Just one more, real quickly. Do you see it evolving to any other agencies, civilian agencies?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think this is part of a classic wartime procedure. That's what your watching.

Q I mean, after the war and before a transition government takes over, do you see another agency taking this over from the military?

MR. FLEISCHER: I couldn't make any guesses. I don't rule out that there could be multiple sources to get information to the Iraqi people, including American press, if American press decide, when safety allows, to transmit their own messages into the Iraqi people. Hopefully, it's a free country, and as much communication can be had as possible.

Q Ari, two things. How many people have been killed in this war?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's a question you need to address to DOD.

Q You have no -- the government has no estimate on civilian, military, both sides?

MR. FLEISCHER: It's an operational question. As you're familiar with, that needs to be addressed to DOD.

Q Last month, Rachael Corrie, an American student living in Gaza, was bulldozed to death trying to defend a Palestinian home. Also, Israel said it was a mistake, but an eyewitness says it was a deliberate act. Also last week, Brian Avery, another American, was shot in the face by the Israeli army. A number of members of Congress have introduced House concurrent resolution 111, calling on the administration to investigate Rachel Corrie's death. And I was wondering whether the President will launch such an investigation?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President already was in touch through high officials with the State Department about this matter. I think the President spoke directly with Prime Minister Sharon about it, too, and expressed our concerns about this. And they are being looked into.

Q Ari, other oppressive regimes and leaders exist both in the Middle East and elsewhere around the globe. Should these leaders be taking special note of what happened to Saddam Hussein?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think what's important is, wherever people are oppressed, the governments involved with repression of people -- not because the United States would take any action or not take action -- but the governments involved in the repression should stop it because it is not the way mankind should be treated.


And the President takes it very seriously when he talks about liberty and he talks about freedom. And governments that prop themselves up off the tyranny of their dictatorships are increasingly becoming few. The tide of democracy has been sweeping for decades. Now, that's not because of anything the United States necessarily does, it's because of something that people, themselves, seek wherever they are. And that's a lesson to be learned from this, wherever despots reign.

Q Ari, I have a follow-up on Ron's question. In the past week, as you know, the Army and the Marines in Iraq both reported that their equipment on the ground had detected, perhaps, nerve agents, and that samples were being flown elsewhere for confirmation. Can you say whether the President's been briefed on the results of those tests and when we might learn whether, in fact, their equipment on the ground was correct?

MR. FLEISCHER: One, I just make it a policy not to discuss what the President is informed of in his classified briefings. DOD has been very open in providing its information about what they find and what they don't find. There have been a number of reports that indicated there was a finding, which DOD steered reporters away from. There are others that are ongoing and are being evaluated. But that's for DOD to report.

Q But I was told inside the White House that the concern was about absolute accuracy. So are you saying that the DOD will always be responding to the test results and announcing them as they have them?


MR. FLEISCHER: I'm saying that anything operational will come from DOD. If there's anything the President would say, he would say it if he chooses to do so. But at this stage, it's a DOD matter.

Q Thank you.

MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.

END 1:03 P.M. EDT