print-only banner
The White House Skip Main Navigation
In Focus
News by Date
Federal Facts
West Wing

Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 11, 2003

Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room

Play Video  Video (Real)
Play Real Audio  Audio

12:15 P.M. EDT

MR. FLEISCHER: Let us begin. The President began his day with a phone call to President Arroyo of the Philippines. They discussed developments in Iraq. The two leaders reviewed coalition progress in Iraq and discussed the next steps in the next steps in the liberation of the Iraqi people.

President Bush thanked President Arroyo for her early and steadfast leadership on Iraq, and expressed appreciation for the Philippines' commitment to provide immediate post-conflict assistance.

The two leaders discussed developments in the war on terror in the Philippines. President Bush reaffirmed the strong U.S. commitment to support the Philippines in their efforts to defeat terrorism, and the two leaders agreed to continue to consult closely.

The President also told President Arroyo that he looked forward to her State Visit later this spring.

The President also today spoke with Italian President Berlusconi. They discussed the progress on the war. He thanked President Berlusconi for his strong leadership in showing his support for the United States and the coalition.

Then the President had an intelligence briefing, FBI briefing, National Security Council meeting. He met with the Secretary of Defense. And later today the President will depart from the White House to visit Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the Bethesda Naval Medical Center, where he will visit with wounded soldiers, sailors and Marines, all of whom were injured in Iraq -- one of whom who was injured in Operation Enduring Freedom.

The President looks forward to the visit. He recognizes that this is an important part of his role as Commander-in-Chief, to bring consolation and comfort to the families of those who will be gathered there with the brave warriors who were wounded on the field of battle.

The President will present Purple Hearts to many of these people. And as well, he will witness two Marines become United States citizens. These are people who served our country and today will become citizens of our country.

One final item before I take your questions. The President has also sent to the Senate for ratification the treaty to expand NATO. The President is very pleased that NATO has reached an agreement that he hopes will be ratified by the Senate to enable Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia to become full-fledged members of NATO. These are our partners in a powerful and important alliance. The President is delighted that these brave countries of Eastern Europe have been granted entry into NATO. He hopes the Senate will ratify the treaty required to expand it in a formal sense.

And with that, I'm happy to take your questions.

Q Ari, you said earlier today that Saddam Hussein's regime has lost control, that it's gone out of Baghdad. What's most likely to have happened? Is it thought that Hussein and some of the senior leaders are dead? Or have they moved to another part of the country where there could yet be intense fighting? Or have they left the country? What is, without certainty, the most operational theory out there?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it could be any of the above. We don't know. As you know, General Brooks this morning briefed, talked very similarly about the status of those leading Iraqis that we remain to have an interest in, on their whereabouts, whether they are alive, whether they are dead, whether they're there, whether they have fled or whether they're hiding. It could be all of the above.

Q Can victory be declared in this war without accounting, for not just Saddam Hussein but those leading figures?

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me deal with the speculation about victory and whether the President will declare victory, what victory would look like, what criteria he's looking for, because the answer from the President's point of view is it is much too soon to be discussing it. We remain in the middle of a conflict. Yes, indeed, the regime has ended, as General Franks said this morning. But, yes, indeed, fighting remains. It is still a battlefield. While the central command and control elements of the regime have been collapsed, there remain pockets of loyalists who continue to fight and present harm for our armed forces.

So from the President's point of view, it is a matter that he is not yet speculating about. He continues to work -- in the middle of a war -- to make certain that we win the war.

Q Sorry. So he hasn't thought about what would constitute victory?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President is not yet ready to publicly speculate about what it is he would say or when he would say it.

Q That's not the question. You're turning the question around. The question is, what has to happen for victory to be achieved?

MR. FLEISCHER: Just what I told you this morning. The President has always said the mission is the disarmament of Iraq and liberation for the Iraqi people.

Q And, therefore, it is securing those weapons of mass destruction, and until that's done --

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has always said that is the mission. I am not going to be able to shed any more light on when the President will say the mission is accomplished.

Q But you just laid it out there that disarmament of Iraq, "disarmament" meaning weapons of mass destruction, correct?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has always said that is the mission, but I'm not going to define for you what the President will later define as victory.

Q There's a lot of looting going on, obviously, in Baghdad and other parts of Iraq. And it seems, based on the reporters talking to ordinary citizens, a great deal of fear among people in Iraq about the collapse in civic order. How concerned is the President that that might undermine the liberation that has been achieved, that it's a serious problem? And what can be done about it?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, what people are witnessing on the events that the camera is catching inside Baghdad is very similar to what people witnessed in the city of Basra, as well. The President is confident that as the security situation is enhanced, as the events unfold, just like what happened in Basra, that this amount of looting will diminish.

Clearly, anything that involves looting is not desirable. It is worth noting that what you are seeing is a reaction to oppression. And that is not to condone it. It is important that security be enforced, and the military has plans to do so, as I talked about earlier today. And I think as you've seen in Basra, it's a situation that develops and then diminishes.

It's also a situation the world has seen before when oppressed people find freedom. For a short period of time, these actions have occurred in history. You saw it in Sierra Leone, you saw it in the Soviet Union with the collapse of the Soviet Union. And nobody likes to see it, but I think it has to be understood in the context of people who have been oppressed, who are reacting to the oppression. But the military, as they briefed yesterday and they briefed today, does have plans to help enhance the security as the military civil affairs units move in.

Q It sounds as if you're saying it will take care of itself, it will kind of burn itself out and peter out naturally. Is that your position? And the Secretary General says it's the United States' responsibility as the power in control of Iraq, the coalition's responsibility to bring and restore civil order.

MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's worth pointing out what happened in Iraq's second largest city, in Basra, as something that may be indicative of what will happen in the largest city, Baghdad. That is what we witnessed in Basra. And it is, just as the military briefed yesterday, part of their mission as the military civil affairs units move into place.

Q So the coalition does accept responsibility under the Geneva conventions and other international human rights law for the restoration of --

MR. FLEISCHER: Clearly, security is an important issue. But I want no one to lose sight of the fact that the Iraqi people are on their way to liberty and freedom. Anything that involves looting is, of course, regrettable. But no one should miss the larger picture here, and that is a horrible regime has been lifted from the Iraqi people.


There is a reaction to the lifting of that power, and that is a reaction against oppression. It is on the way to liberty and freedom. No one likes to see looting, but that's the context.

Q Just one more question. The Iraqi people are still under sanctions, economic sanctions. And there's apparently 7 million barrels of their oil sitting in a port in Turkey that can't be sold because the regime is gone, as General Franks said. Who has now the right to approve sales of that oil?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, under the existing program through the United Nations, which they just reauthorized, the Oil for Food program remains in effect. And that allows for export of Iraqi oil and it allows the revenues that come in to go through the United Nations, just as it had been doing under the Oil for Food program.

Q But previously under that program the state marketing, oil marketing organization, Saddam Hussein's government, approved the sale of that oil to Chevron or Shell or whatever. Who does that now?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's clear over time that the institutions will emerge that will take on the civil duties and the civilian duties of the Iraqi people. These things will develop, they will take time.

Q But would the United States, with the coalition, approve sales?

MR. FLEISCHER: I can't speculate about that; don't know.

Q What does happen to the oil ministry in the short-term? And does the U.S. government run it for a little while to get it back on its legs?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the same thing that happens to every ministry, and it depends on where you are in Iraq. As we're already seeing in several cities, particularly in southern Iraq and in some cases, in western Iraq, people have already emerged to start running affairs for themselves to the greatest degree possible -- with, of course, the United States military and the coalition being present.

So you're seeing different regions, different people step up to increase responsibilities from the Iraqi people themselves, which I don't think is surprising. It's the natural action of mankind to assume control over their own lives and their own fate. And the President is confident the Iraqi people will do this throughout Iraq. We're still in the middle of war. We're still in the middle of fighting in Baghdad. It can lead to chaotic times. But more importantly, it leads to freedom.

Q Do you see a NATO or U.N. peacekeeping role in Iraq, Ari?

MR. FLEISCHER: I can't speculate. I think there are decisions that remain down the road. I can't speculate about what every outcome of those may or may not be.

Q Given the prominent role that the Kurds have played in northern Iraq militarily in the last couple of days, what message are you sending at this point both to the Kurds and to Turkey? And what role, or special role might the Kurds play in any Iraqi interim authority?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it's a very interesting issue, and it's an issue that's been focused on for a number of months, really. And this is something that you saw in detailed conversations Secretary Powell has had and other United States visitors, including the Ambassador to Turkey, had with Turkish officials -- visitors from the United States to northern Iraq, where they met and talked with Kurdish officials.

And the message is that all actions need to be coordinated, that we work very hard to avert any type of humanitarian crisis in the north. No humanitarian crisis has developed. Turkey has maintained its military presence on the Turkish side of the border. And the United States is moving forward to establish control in those cities in northern Iraq, just as we pledged. It's been an issue to be managed. And I think in fairness, the State Department and others deserve a tremendous amount of credit for managing it well.

Q When it comes to setting up an interim authority, though, is there going to have to be some sort of special situation for northern Iraq and the Kurd-controlled areas there?

MR. FLEISCHER: There's a recognition that maintaining the territorial integrity of Iraq is paramount. And on the interim authority, we have always said it will an interim authority that includes representatives from all the Iraqi people -- including the Kurdish people, the Shiite people; the Shia religion, the Sunni religion, the various aspects of life inside the territorially whole of Iraq.

Q Ari, there's a lot of speculation on Capitol Hill that as the President's tax proposal gets trimmed back that it's the dividend tax elimination portion of it that is going to suffer the most, because that has the least immediate stimulative effect. How does the White House feel about that?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President thinks it is very important for the principles by which he advocated the tax plan to be honored, because that is the best way to have growth in the economy. And, therefore, the President continues to believe that the aspects of the tax plan, just as he proposed, are what needs to be addressed in the legislation as it moves through the Congress.

That means the dividend tax plan must be included. It means the acceleration of the rate cuts must be included. It means the child credit, the AMT relief, all the provisions that the President pronounced he was in favor of, were decided upon because of their benefit to an economy that needs help so people find work. And the President has not retreated on that.


Obviously, we'll work with whatever numbers we receive when the final budget resolution is agreed to. And it looks like there is a good compromise in the offing. And we will work within whatever those final numbers are.

Q But does he recognize that he's -- or does he recognize that he's not going to get the entire dividend tax elimination that --

MR. FLEISCHER: I would not conclude that, no. The President believes that there should still be, and will fight for, a 100 percent dividend exclusion.

Q Possibly at the expense of other portions of the tax cut, though, correct? You're not going to get the whole proposal, that's clear.

MR. FLEISCHER: There are still ways, within the existing smaller number, to accomplish the objectives the President sought, still standing by each of the provisions that the President proposed.

Q Yesterday the President, in his address to the Iraqi people, said that when the Iraqi regime is gone, the coalition will take steps to ensure security for the Iraqi people. Given the fact that today you're saying that the regime is gone, what are you doing to expedite that, to make sure that that is going to happen now?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, number one, just as the President said, Iraq will be liberated, it is a process. It does not happen overnight. And we still are in the middle of a shooting war. Sections of Baghdad still are dangerous sections of Baghdad, from a military point of view. So people shouldn't get too far ahead of the story. Just because central command of the Iraqi regime has collapsed does not mean the war is over. It is still going on.

As the military has said, they have military civil affairs units that are moving into place. Security is an important issue. Law and order is an important issue. The President knows it will be addressed.

Q Yesterday the President, in his address to the Iraqi people, to non-U.S. firms to help rebuild Iraq? What is the White House position?

MR. FLEISCHER: The White House does not have positions on these matters. These are decisions that are made by the contracting agencies in accordance with their regulations and laws.

Q So if USAID, for instance, were to open it up to French and German firms, that would be okay?

MR. FLEISCHER: They have their own criteria. The White House does not manage contracting decisions.

Q Ari, there has been some speculation among even senior administration officials about Iraqi leaders perhaps having fled to other countries. When the war ends, does the window also close for going after targeting Saddam Hussein and his colleagues?

MR. FLEISCHER: Ed, I'm not going to speculate. We don't know what Saddam Hussein's fate is. And certainly we want to make certain that those who are responsibility for war crimes are brought to justice. So no matter what the period of time is, if there are people who emerge alive, wherever they are, if the determination is made that that individual is a war criminal, that's a matter for the international community to take up, as the international community has done before with people who sought to flee.

Q Is there a line to be drawn between apprehending them and killing them?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think it all depends on the course of events on the ground. These are, literally, the definition of operational matters, in the middle of a -- what's still -- I have to remind everybody -- is still a military conflict.

Q How does the President view the current humanitarian relief efforts?

MR. FLEISCHER: He views them as vital, he views them as increasing, he views them as something that is a key part of the mission. But it's also worth understanding -- and I talked to the head of the Agency for International Development yesterday, who is in charge of administering the humanitarian programs -- why there are pockets of Iraq that have humanitarian problems to be worked through. There is not a widespread humanitarian crisis in Iraq. Much of the humanitarian problems in Iraq existed because of Saddam Hussein's regime and the conditions that he imposed on the Iraqi people before the first shot was fired in this war.

In fact, what is happening is conditions are improving. Humanitarian problems that Saddam Hussein created are coming to an end as a result of this liberation.

Q The fact that a lot of these senior officials suddenly disappeared -- assuming that all of them weren't killed -- suggests that they did have a plan for escape. Is that the view of the administration?

MR. FLEISCHER: Either that or they ran with their tails tucked and they just got out of there.

Q One of the problems in reconstruction is that you cannot sell oil, you cannot get loans from the World Bank and other international financial institutions until there is some sort of legitimate authority. Obviously, the administration is working on an interim Iraqi authority. How do you get that legitimacy? What do you need to do to get the legitimacy that's required for everything from selling oil to getting loans?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's fair to say that the Iraqi people will be able to take resources into their own hands, when you look at the engineers in these fields that are increasingly returning to the fields as the security situation allows. We have plans to bring in people to help, from an international point of view, to manage the fields. And the legalities will all be addressed and be reviewed. And suffice it to say that the faster we can get resources into the hands of the Iraqi people, the better the country will be.

Q But you haven't answered that question. I mean, the problem is, how do you -- managing the field is fine, but what do you do with the oil? You can't sell it until you have some international authority that bestows legitimacy on whoever it is that's going to try to sell the oil.

MR. FLEISCHER: Not necessarily. Whatever the legalities are, the legalities will be addressed. It doesn't require necessarily an international stamp to engage in commercial transactions legally. The United States provides products around the world that the United Nations doesn't have to say we can do.

Q Given Canada's vocal refusal to join the coalition, why is the President making a personal visit there in about three weeks time? And what does he hope to achieve?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President visits countries and has relations with countries not depending on just the reactions involving Iraq, we have many broader relationships. And broader issues also unite us in common values and common friendship. And that's the context of any visits the President would take to any nation, whether they are with us or not.

Q When the war plan was put together and approved by the President, did it include planning for the moment when U.S. forces would have to take over security functions in cities that were being taken over from Iraqi forces?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I think if you take a look at the briefing you got yesterday out in the Gulf, they talked about military civil affairs units moving in.

Q Ari, what's the latest White House knowledge about the search for arms of mass destruction or nuclear fissionable material?

MR. FLEISCHER: Just as was briefed this morning by General Brooks in Iraq.

Q Ari, General Franks has made an appeal to civil servants in Baghdad, around Iraq, sanitary workers, police, fire, to do their jobs. Who is responsible at this point for paying these people? And what is the currency right now in Iraq?

MR. FLEISCHER: Ken, these will be all the issues that get addressed through the reconstruction. There's no question that in the immediate aftermath of areas where there's been military conflict, there are going to be issues that need to be worked through and worked out. I remind you, we are still in the middle of a shooting war. Our forces, as the President is going to visit later today, are still in harm's way. These are the ongoing issues that the process of reconstruction will address. They cannot all be addressed in the immediate time of the war.

Q You talked earlier about the importance of adhering to the original principles of the tax bill, would the President not accept a partial elimination of the dividend tax cut?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's too soon to start speculating about what the final tax bill will be and whether the President accepts or doesn't accept.

Q But there has been some compromise -- the size has been cut.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, clearly, there will be compromises. Given the fact that the President proposed a $726 billion proposal, most Democrats originally said nothing more than $100 billion. And today an agreement will be reached, it looks like

-- they still have to vote it in the Senate -- but an agreement, it looks like it will be reached that would allow for $550 billion in the House and $350 billion in the Senate -- with the possibility of going higher down the road.

Q But what comes out of that $550 billion is only a partial elimination of the dividend. Would the President not accept that?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know why you have to -- it does not lead to requiring only a partial elimination of the dividend. It is, indeed, possible within the $550 billion figure to have a 100 percent elimination of the dividend. The President thinks that's important, and he will pursue it.

Q Ari, we spoke earlier about fighting along the Syrian border. To what extent is there a concern that military assets, leaders -- Baath Party leaders, whatever -- and/or weapons of mass destruction are going across the border there? And is there any thought given to pursuing any of these things across the border?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, that's an operational issue. DOD, of course, is set up --

Q It's an international border, surely that's something the White House would have a view on.

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I'm talking about what steps are being taking to interdict people as they would try to cross the border. Obviously, this combat is limited to Iraq.

Q Is this administration considering a realignment or asking for a realignment of U.N. Security Council and a reduction of U.S. dues to the U.N.?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, there's nothing like that I've heard.

Q What's the President's role going to be in the citizenship service? Is he going to administer the oath of citizenship?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President of the United States is not allowed to administer an oath of citizenship, interestingly. The President cannot do that; other officials can.

Q Do you have any other information on those two Marines? How long they were in the Marines, what their countries of origin were -- are?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm trying to have that for after the events this afternoon at the hospitals.

Q Will their names be released?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm working that right now. It depends on the family. Every family -- it's up to the families.

Q Ari, you said that -- you and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld had said that some of these folks are fleeing into Syria and some have reached Syria. Will you use legal means to retrieve them? Or will you take extra legal means to get them back in before the courts of justice?

MR. FLEISCHER: I assure you any action that we would take would be legal.

Q There's a front page article in the Financial Times today titled, "the Marines shot anything they considered a threat." And there are reports that Marines from the -- 5th Marines were so unnerved by attacks from Iraqi fighters in civilian clothes that they opened fire, repeatedly hitting unarmed men, women and children, including a six-year-old girl who was shot in the head. Does the President know about this, and is he concerned about, like, a My Lai situation developing?

MR. FLEISCHER: Russell, the President is very concerned about situations that threaten our armed forces, suicide attacks on our armed forces. And he has high confidence that our armed forces are doing everything they can to protect innocent civilian life as they protect themselves.

Q You indicated it's too soon to speculate about a peacekeeping role for the U.N. or NATO. But what kind of a role does the President envision for other countries, and specifically for Germany and France, Russia -- countries that opposed the war?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, countries that opposed the war and countries that supported the war will have to decide for themselves what role they seek to play in the lives of the Iraqi people in the future. These are decisions that will be made from state to state. These will be decisions that Germany will have to take up with the new Iraqi government, for example, when there is a new Iraqi government. These will be matters that they will have to consider.

I think the Iraqi people will also have thoughts about who they want to -- to whom they express their gratitude for their freedom, and that is the relations between states.

Q Debt reduction -- I mean, debt forgiveness, that sort of thing, in the immediate --

MR. FLEISCHER: Certainly. There are nations that traded extensively with Iraq, to whom they owe the Iraqi government a substantial debt -- or the Iraqi government owes to them substantial debt. Debt relief would be something those nations could provide to the Iraqi people if they so chose. That's their determination.


Q There's been increasing criticism on the Hill of the no-bid contract given to Halliburton for oil field services, which yesterday the government revealed would cost as much as $7 billion. Some such as even Susan Collins are saying that all these contracts for reconstruction and related services should be put out to bid, or some sort of competitive bidding. Does the White House believe that that should be the norm, or should --


MR. FLEISCHER: The White House believes that the procedures should be established and followed, the criteria should be followed by the contracting agencies. The White House does not get involved or dictate to agencies on how to award contracts.


Q So they can do no-bid contracts and the White House has no problem?


MR. FLEISCHER: There are criteria that Congress passed in law that guide what the agencies can do. And the President is confident that that will be done.


Q Thank you. Ari, since Turkey refused to allow U.S. troops to use Turkey in the war with Iraq, will the President still help Turkey get membership in the European Union?


MR. FLEISCHER: Certainly. The President stood on principle when he said that Turkey deserves membership in the European Union, and nothing has changed that.




Q Thank you. Can you provide us, Ari, with any further details on the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, Worldnet Daily and Fox News story about the extensive tunnel infrastructure under the Al-Tuwaitha nuclear plant and reports of the possible discovery of weapons-grade plutonium?


MR. FLEISCHER: That's a DOD matter, operationally, as they go through Iraq and take a look at the facts that they find and as they evaluate information they receive through their technical teams.


Q Does the administration feel that the atrocities of Saddam Hussein and his regime have been accurately reported?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's fair to say, when you look at the press coverage of this war, they have done a very enviable job, in most instances, under some very difficult circumstances. I think -- I can't speak for everybody in the government, but I think it's fair to say that the decision to embed reporters has proved to be a very good decision; good from the media's point of view, I believe, and good from the government's point of view. More importantly, good from the point of view of the American people, so they can get independent reporting from the field.

Q Ari, with all the looting and things going on in Iraq right now some would say that if the U.S. government had not planned for some kind of interim situation right now -- not to say the interim government to come down the road, but the situation for now is kind of fixed in this crisis of looting and just going -- running amuck, the town running amuck -- well, the country running amuck.

MR. FLEISCHER: This is almost starting to remind me of the stories that said our forces were bogged down, as people watched 24, 36 hours' worth of people reacting to the oppression from which they suffered. As I indicated, there is an example that took place in Iraq's second largest city, that we believe to be indicative. And that is what took place in Basra, and that order has increasingly been restored to Basra.

It may take some time in a larger city like Baghdad, but there's no question, in the President's judgment, that what's happening is people are finding liberation, are finding freedom. Order will increasingly be restored.

Q So this basically went against the plan. You didn't have anything planned for this --

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I didn't say that. That's the part that reminded me of the previous statements about things haven't gone according to plan.

Q And also the Cubin situation over in the House. Many are questioning that -- why hasn't the White House said anything about this in the wake of the Trent Lott situation?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think people there have addressed it. And I think she made her second thoughts clear.

Q But people are wanting to hear from the White House about that statement, as she equated African Americans to drug --

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I can just tell you this. I don't know if the President personally heard what she said. He obviously heard other statements that people made.

Q Ari, in regard to the debt that is owed by Saddam's government to other countries, do we regard that as legally binding on a new government --

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, under international law, debt is owed from one country to another country, not contingent or dependent on who the leader of that country is. It's a state to state relationship. The state to state relationship endures. So the debt is still owed, which is why it is a question of if those governments wanted to act in this way to help the Iraqi people, they would be within their rights to waive that debt.

Q Thank you.

MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.

END 12:45 P.M. EST