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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 25, 2003

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

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12:19 P.M. EDT

MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I want to make a statement about the

Department of Commerce's report today that the economy is estimated to have grown at 1.6 percent annual rate for the 1st quarter of 2003. This is well below market expectations. The President views the latest report from the

Commerce Department as a very important note to the Congress about the importance of passing a robust jobs and growth package.

Recent economic data continue to make it imperative for Congress to act, to do more, rather than less to create jobs for the American people. He hopes that

Congress, when they return next week, will take this latest report into account as they consider the amount of tax relief they pass to help create jobs for

America's workers.

With that, and no opening statement beyond it, I'm happy to take your questions.

Q Is the U.S. going to go the U.N. and ask that North Korea be declared in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, now that they've said they have nuclear weapons?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as a result of earlier action taken by North Korea involving their abrogation of their international agreements as a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, as well as their abandonment of an agreement they made previously with the United States on the agreed framework, the IAEA -- the International Atomic Energy Administration -- met and recommended that -- the world came together in a rather large meeting through the IAEA and recommended that this matter go to the United Nations for consideration to express disapproval to North Korea of their actions.

So there is widespread international support to internationalize this issue and to discuss at the United Nations. Those discussions have -- begin at the

United Nations. They will continue at the United Nations. And we are working with members of the United Nations to see what the appropriate message and way the United Nations can express that message of disapproval to the North Koreans can be.

Q Is it U.S. view that North Korea should be subjected to sanctions for its nuclear weapons?

MR. FLEISCHER: Our view is that North Korea has taken actions that continue to isolate North Korea, that continue to invite upon North Korea international disagreement. And we will continue to work with our partners.

While we have not expressed any position about whether that should result specifically in sanctions, this is a matter we want to discuss with not only the allies in the region who play a very important role, because they're neighbors, but you point out something that's very important -- North Korea has thumbed its nose, not only at the region, but at much of the world, as a result of its actions, and, therefore, has been condemned by much of the world.

Q Ari, in terms of what North Korea was saying, vis-a-vis its possession of nuclear weapons, is that being read here at all as North Korea sending a signal to the United States -- we saw what you did in Iraq, don't try that here, because we've got some very bad weapons and we just may use them?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think we're interested in North Korea's actions.

We are interested in their words, of course. The words are much more complicated than their actions. Their actions are what count the most, and their actions, clearly, when it comes to the development of their nuclear weapons program, began in the late 1990s, years before anything happened with


So they're, judging by the timing of North Korea's development of its nuclear weapons program, in absolute violation of their previous word and their agreements. It has nothing to do with what happened in Iraq; otherwise they would have done it years ago.

Q What they're saying and the way that they're saying it, you indicated this morning you thought part of that may just be bluster.

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I don't attribute anything to the situation in Iraq to the words that North Korea uses. You don't have search very hard, or scratch the surface very much to find North Korea using bluster as a standard part of their vocabulary in all their international dealings, Iraq notwithstanding.

But the talks that began were the preliminary talks. They were useful. We were able to express our position directly to the North Koreans in a multilateral forum, and our position is unequivocal, that it's important for

North Korea to proceed with the irrevocable dismantling of its nuclear weapons program.

Q Could I just ask you one question on weapons of mass destruction in

Iraq? The President said, while we may not have proof that they're actually there now, we may never get that proof that the weapons actually existed, the best we may hope for is some proof that there was a program, but at least we know now that Saddam Hussein will never be in a position to use them. One of the basic premises that this nation was being sold on in terms of why war was necessary was because he was actually in possession of these weapons; not just that he had a program, but the weapons actually existed. It appears now that that may not be the case.

MR. FLEISCHER: No, it's the opposite of what the President has said. Let me read to you exactly the words that the President used, because they've been quoted about, not precisely, both at the gaggle this morning. And let me just read directly from what the President said.

Yesterday, in his remarks at the tank plant in Lima, the President said that, "The regime of Saddam Hussein spent years hiding and disguising his weapons. He tried to fool the United Nations, and he did for 12 years, by hiding these weapons. And so it's going to take time to find them, but we know he had them. And whether he destroyed them, moved them, or hid them, we're going to find out the truth." So the President has always said they had them

-- they had them right up to the war.

And then in the interview with Tom Brokaw, the President was even more explicit when he said, they may have hid some of them, they may have destroyed some of them, they may have dispersed some of them. Clearly he's saying, some of them. And the President answered without any hesitation or equivocation when he said he is confident that we will find out.

Q But, again, the word "may," "may," "may" appears in all of those statements, which is to suggest that there was no definitive proof that he had these weapons. And without that definitive proof, does it not undermine one of your basic premises of launching a war against Iraq?

MR. FLEISCHER: Only if you presume that it's possible to destroy something that you never had. And clearly, when the President says that we have evidence now that we are gathering that shows that they may have destroyed some of them on the eve of the war -- they couldn't have destroyed them if they didn't have them. And just because it happened on the eve of the war, that proves what the

President is saying about in the months leading up to the war, that the real cause of insecurity and the threat that Iraq presented was that they had weapons of mass destruction.

Our fear all along was they were going to use them. We can't explain why they may have destroyed some of them. Perhaps over time we will find out what drove them to do that. Perhaps it was the fear of actually being discovered, caught red-handed with the very weapons we said they had.

Q The requirement of the U.N. resolution was that they destroy them. So if they destroyed them on the eve of war, doesn't that eliminate the pretext for going to war? If they didn't have them any longer?

MR. FLEISCHER: First of all, they always denied that they had them.

Second of all, we said that we have some evidence they may have destroyed "some" of them on the eve of war, and the only reason we were able to even learn that now is because we went to war because they had them. They didn't make any announcement that they may have destroyed some of them, because, after all, they said they never had any. So it actually proves the case, when you think about it, that if Iraq did, indeed, destroy some of them on the even of war, they had them, they lied to the United Nations about them, they lied to the world about them, they lied to the United States about them, and they fooled the inspectors when it came to having them. How could they have destroyed them if they didn't have them?

Now, that's some of them. They may have destroyed some of them, as the

President said. And as the President also pointed out, and has been reminded on a regular basis from the Gulf, there's ongoing search operations that are now really just beginning. We've searched some 90 sites, and there are hundreds more to go. And as the President made clear again, as we continue to talk to the people who have come into our hands, we continue to gather more evidence, more information that we will act upon.

Q Are you basing what you're saying on hard evidence that's been gathered that weapons were destroyed, or are you speculating?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, it's based on information and some reporting that the

President has seen.

Q So you are saying that Iraq destroyed weapons of mass destruction?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm saying -- I'm quoting what the President said -- they may have destroyed some, they may have dispersed some. The investigation is continuing, and as time goes along, we'll continue to gather more information as we talk to the people involved.

Q Now, before the war the administration was saying that field commanders in the Iraqi army were given orders allowing them to use WMD. Do we believe that was still the case, or was that wrong?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, that was the information we had, that was correct information that we had. Why didn't they do a whole lot of things? We still don't know. Why didn't they blow up dams? Why didn't they destroy more of the oil fields? Why didn't they use the WMD? It very well may be part -- part of the explanation may be the successful military campaign that was carried out that prevented them from doing many of the worse-case scenarios that we feared they'd do.

Q And if I can just shift gears very briefly, what's the President's beliefs about homosexuality?

MR. FLEISCHER: You know, that's a question that's been put to the

President, and if you go back and you look at it, the President has said that, first of all, he doesn't ask that question about people. He judges people about who they are, their individual soul. That's not a matter the President concerns himself with. He judges people for how they act and how they relate, and that's his focus on that.

Q How they act sexually? Because I asked sexually --

MR. FLEISCHER: How they act as a person. The same way --

Q But the police in Texas asked how they act sexually.

MR. FLEISCHER: The same way you would say that about how anybody -- what's his reaction to this person or that person -- say, are they a nice person, what kind of person are they? It has nothing to do with their sexuality.

Q So does he believe that they ought to be free to be themselves, without interference from police?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has always said that when it comes to legal matters, that it's a question of different groups, homosexual groups, gay groups should not have special rights or special privileges.

Q Is it a special privilege to be able to love the person you love the way you want to love them, without interference from the police?

MR. FLEISCHER: If you're asking about a matter that is a legal matter that is pending before the Supreme Court, that's a matter for the court to rule on, and we'll find out what the court says in the specific case in mind.

Q So he has no position on that?

MR. FLEISCHER: It's a matter that's pending before the court, in regard to your last question.

Q Ari, on weapons of mass destruction, so it appears that the President is also speculating about to what extent weapons may have been destroyed before the war started or as the war was going on. What does the government know about whether weapons were spirited -- or weapons materials were spirited out of the country? And isn't that the very danger that the President said was the reason to go to war in the first place, was that they could be given to outside actors to potentially be used against the United States?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think we know enough to do any hard speculating about what they did with those weapons prior to it. What we do know is what the

United Nations reported in the '90s about the presence of -- the sheer number of volume of weapons that they had not accounted for, the botulin, the sarin, the VX, et cetera. We know that they were, indeed, expert at hiding it. And they have a large country in which to hide it. And again, this will be now part of what's an increasingly growing operation to assess what they have, where it is. And I can only repeat what the President said in the interview with Brokaw, he has every confidence it will be found.

Q It's obvious how this administration felt about containment versus regime change by now. But isn't the very danger -- I mean, we saw this with the Soviet Union, too, the fear that weapons materials or actual weapons get dispersed as the regime falls. Certainly the regime in place was a terrible thing, but isn't this a very real concern? And won't the ultimate success of the military operation be judged on whether or not those weapons or weapons materials were able to be contained within Iraq's borders?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, you're still watching events unfold. And these are events where the President has no doubts about the conclusion of how it will unfold. Always keep in mind that we are now winding down the combat operation, the combat phase of it. As it is winding down, other phases begin, and these are now the more involved search for weapons and the more involved conversations with Iraqis who hold the keys to where some of these weapons may be. That's consistent with everything you know that we have said previously about the inspectors needing to talk to the scientists outside the country.

Q But what I'm getting at is that Americans around the country, as the

President speaks -- and he makes it very clear that one thing is clear that

Saddam Hussein is out of power; certainly an achievement. But isn't the conclusion of this war or the success or failure of this operation contingent upon whether he has been disarmed and whether we have kept illegal arms and weapons materials out of the hands of others?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the American people will form their judgments about whether it was a successful military operation or not, and that will be ongoing. They will reach these judgments -- they've reached them a week ago, they'll reach them over time, they'll continue to reach and they'll continue to evaluate them, depending on what new information surfaces.

As you watch events in Iraq, certainly every day new information surfaces.

The capture of Tariq Aziz, for example, was new information that just surfaced.

So that will be a continuing flow of information, including WMD new information as it arrives. It is a lengthy process. And I remind you, that some of the nation's best reporters who are some of the best expert in this exact field are embedded in some of the units that are doing the searching who have reported, with their own eyes and ears some fascinating details about the process and what this process is finding.

So you're watching a story unfold, and I can only assure you, at the end of the story the President has every confidence it will be exactly as described, a process that leads to the discovery of the WMD. What we have seen so far is evidence they may have dispersed some, may have destroyed some. But, again, to bring it around, you can't destroy something you don't have. And the evidence suggesting that they, indeed, destroyed some on the eve of the war is proof that the President was right that they had it. We're fortunate if they destroyed it, because that means they didn't use. They certainly could have made a very different decision because they did have it. It could have been used.

Mercifully, it was not.

Q Can you just expand on some of that evidence?


Q Ari, two questions, please. Do you see any progress in the fight of the United States to get the United Nations to lift all sanctions on Iraq?

MR. FLEISCHER: I make no predictions, particularly when it comes to potential United Nations votes. But when it comes to the substance of the matter at hand, the President believes it is the right thing to do. I think that he is -- other nations who see it that way. We'll see what different nations think. But clearly, given the fact that the Saddam Hussein regime is gone, the regime against which sanctions were imposed, there is no longer, in the President's judgment, any good reason for sanctions to be maintained on the

Iraqi people. He hopes the United Nations will vote and agree.

Q Next question, the capture of Tariq Aziz. How important is it to the search you're referring to, weapons of mass destruction, the whereabouts of

Saddam Hussein, maybe tracking some of the financial operations of the Iraqi government?

MR. FLEISCHER: With each of the individuals who was captured or he turns himself in, they, of course, will be talked to by the relevant experts in the military and other agencies who will try to learn what they know. I'm not going to go person-by- person and talk about what it is they may or may not be saying.

But suffice it to say, with every day, with every capture, we continue to learn more from the people who were inside the regime. But we'll see what they ultimately say. We don't know everything they're going to say yet.

Q Once sanctions are lifted, does the U.S. envision a situation in which the coalition would then have the right to sell Iraqi oil and put it into escrow for Iraqi development until the government came along?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it depends on the legal issues that still have to be worked through. I think it depends on the timing of which the oil in

Iraq is developed to the point that it could be exported. As you know right now, the small amounts of oil that surprisingly have been developed this early after the conflict are being used for internal Iraqi purposes. So there is no exporting issue. So it really depends on some of the mechanical issues about how fast the fields flow, the timing of when it may or may not be exported, the actions of the United Nations. But the bottom line remains the same, and that is the wealth generated from the sale of oil belongs to the Iraqi people.

Q On North Korea, what does the U.S. make of North Korean threats to either demonstrate, test, or export nuclear weapons? The President and other officials are referring to it as blackmail. Blackmail for what?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, let me back up, and I will come back to it, but I want to emphasize that during these talks, we made clear to the North Koreans our policy, which is the policy of our allies in the region, that North Korea must verifiably and irreversibly dismantle their nuclear weapon program. This is the goal of our allies. This is the stated policy of China, which played a very productive role in these talks and a very helpful role through the act of participation of the Chinese government.

Secretary Kelly, who led the talks from the State Department, is now traveling to the region, Seoul and Tokyo, to consult with our allies. He will then return to the capitals and we will have additional discussions about what was heard there.

The North Korean way of dialogue is often to engage in as bad a behavior as they could possibly engage in, with the expectation that the world will reward them for ceasing their bad behavior. That has been their previous actions. And the President has made clear that the United States will not reward bad behavior.

So we'll analyze what North Korea is doing, what North Korea is saying.

And the President continues to believe that this can be a matter that will be solved through diplomacy. And I think it will also be very interesting to note what China's reaction is to North Korea's admission that it has nuclear weapons.

Q Is this seen as an effort to extort the U.S., to try to pressure the

U.S. into having bilateral meetings?

MR. FLEISCHER: North Korea understands the United States position is that there will be multilateral meetings, and there will be multilateral meetings.

That is the agreed-upon approach. I'm not going to try to attempt to guess

North Korea's motives for some of the things they do or say. That's an impossible mission. North Korea has a -- I think the diplomatic way to put it is, North Korea has a very complicated approach to diplomacy.

Q But the threat to sort of brandish their nuclear weapons, did that make it more or less likely that the U.S. would perhaps sit down in bilateral talks with the North Koreans?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the real issue is, what impact does their overt statement that they have nuclear weapons have on China, which has said publicly that they support a denuclearized Korean Peninsula; what impact does it have on their neighbor across the border in South Korea, and on Japan. Our position is well-known. I think their positions are well-known, as well, and it reinforces our positions.

Q Ari, more and more Iraqi leaders are coming into U.S. hands, military and civilians. Are we treating them differently based on their status, that is, whether they're civilians or military? What U.S. personnel are dealing with them, and who makes the decisions on their fate?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it's all handled through CENTCOM, and it's all handled in accordance with the procedures that are outlined in the conduct of war. They're all treated with dignity, they're all treated humanely, and that is the way America's Armed Forces always treat anybody who comes into their hands. And any more specifics, you would have to ask CENTCOM.

Q Ari, you're mentioning bad behavior by the North Koreans. Isn't that kind of an understatement? This country is now claiming it is a nuclear power, it has nuclear weapons, it has reprocessed 8,000 nuclear fuel rods into weapons-grade plutonium, could make several nuclear bombs, according to the nuclear experts. It has three-stage rockets that could be shot at the West

Coast of the United States. How much more dangerous is this situation?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, a couple of points. One, on the facts of it, we have always said, and it's been public, that North Korea has probably had one or two nuclear weapons. So, in that sense, it's not anything new. On the reprocessing, I'm not certain that's accurate, that the North Koreans said what you attributed to them, or even as accurate that that's anything they may have done.

So, on the facts, we can limit to North Korea's statement about possessing nuclear weapons, which is something that's known. And that's why these talks are important. That's why the real affront came when North Korea abandoned its word that it gave to the world and to the United States, as part of the agreed framework in the late '90s, and we are now dealing with the reality of that.

And the way the President is dealing with that reality is through the relentless pursuit of multilateralism, because this is, indeed, a matter of diplomacy for the allies, and it will be ongoing. And China has played a very important role here.

Q How much do these latest revelations intensify or raise the danger, raise the temperature?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not sure that their -- again, when you look at the history of how North Korea likes to negotiate, I'm hesitant to draw any conclusions from any of the immediate statements that North Korea makes about intentions, or possibilities of things that they may or may not do with things they may or may not have even have done.

Q If I can turn it -- continue on the question of negotiations with

North Korea, given that the President has labeled their actions as blackmail, given your descriptions of their behavior here and now, is there any prospect of continued negotiation without any steps by North Korea to show some good faith in dealing with this, whether bilaterally, or with the Chinese, or any other --

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, this is been why Secretary Kelly is going to consult with our allies in Japan and in South Korea, and then return to the United

States for discussion of precisely what comes next. But what will come next in the broad category is diplomacy. The President has said, and he continues to believe, even having watched what took place this week, that the solution to this will be achieved through diplomacy. And diplomacy is a process. It takes time. Even an issue that is as serious as North Korea having nuclear weapons, it is an issue that takes time to deal with.

Q So you're leaving open the possibility of further negotiation?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, we engaged in preliminary discussions with

North Korea about this; they understand our position. And the Secretary will return home and we'll see what precisely the next course of action will be.

Q On Iraq, there's been a lot of resistance from the Shiite groups to participating in planning for an Iraqi national authority, an interim authority.

Can that authority have legitimacy if the Shiites don't participate broadly in it?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think there has been some statements made by some in the Shia community that are not reflective of all in the Shia community. The interim authority that is being assembled from within Iraq will be an authority that is going to be broad and inclusive, that will include the Shia groups.

I think General Garner talked yesterday about the timing for the creation of it, and we, indeed, remain confident that it will be created just along the lines that we always said, broadly representative of all Iraqi people, including the Shia community. There may be some in the Shia community who have other thoughts about it, and that's the way democracies operate.

Q Ari, two things. Some are questioning the wrong regime was attacked, or hostilities against the wrong regime, when you have North Korea who has nuclear capability that can come here, nuclear capability that is sold to rogue states and possibly terrorist organizations. Many want to know what's worse, nuclear weapons or WMD?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think the real issue here is how do you deal with threats. And because you deal with a threat through military action in one region in the world does not automatically mean you must deal with it the same way in a different part of the world. The outcome is what is desirable, and that's where the President's focus on, is removing the threat. The President came to the judgment, after 12 years of watching Iraq defy the world, that military was the only option to remove the threat in Iraq. In North Korea, he believes that diplomacy is the best option to remove the threat of North Korea having these weapons. And that's why we've pursued diplomacy for their dismantlement.

Q But isn't North Korea more of a direct threat to the United States versus Iraq?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know how to differentiate between threats of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of people -- in the case of Iraq -- who might use them, versus in the hands of North Koreans, who we are pursuing through diplomacy, and also I remind you, through the development of missile defense. For the critics of missile defense, this announcement by North Korea is an important reminder of why missile defense is an important part of our strategy to defend our country.

Q And second question, piggy-backing off of what Terry was asking.

President Bush denounced what Trent Lott said. Why not denounce what Santorum has said?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, because I think the President views this exactly as

I've indicated all week, that there is a legal matter pending before the Supreme

Court, and that different individuals are going to offer legal theories about this matter. And that puts it in a different category.

Q But Ari, on January 15th, Dr. King's birthday, the President delivered an amicus brief for the University of Michigan, saying he was against their points policy for admission. Why not get involved in this situation?

MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, because the matters are not analogous. One involved federal programs, admissions, that the federal government is directly involved in. This is a matter clearly applying to a state law.

Q Does he denounce Santorum's comments, though?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President views it exactly as I've indicated. This is a question of a legal matter before the courts. And different people have different legal theories.

Q Ari, can I ask you about next week's travel, Monday. What is -- first the speech Monday, and the roundtable with Arab Americans,and also the trip to California. What does the President want to say in those places, first to Arab Americans then to returning Navy personnel?

MR. FLEISCHER: On Monday, the President will travel to Dearborn, Michigan, where he will meet with a group of Arab Americans, including Iraqi Americans, to talk about his vision, which is an optimistic vision of a liberated Iraq, and how Iraq can live in peace with its neighbors and become representative of an

Islamic democracy.

Later in the week, the President is going to travel to San Diego,

California, and he will depart from San Diego to board an aircraft carrier that is returning from combat missions in the Gulf, to welcome home America's sailors who served and the Marines who served our country. The President looks forward to the visit. He knows that the families will be waiting closely behind. And the President looks forward to being at sea to welcome these brave Americans home, and he looks forward then to them pulling into port so they can be reunited with their families.

Q The remarks that he's going to make there, is that the place where we're likely to get a declaration of victory and the end of the war?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not going to speculate this far in advance about what the President's remarks will be. We'll try to have more information. He has several speeches next week. He will be making remarks aboard the Lincoln when he is there next week. We'll fill you in a little closer to it about what they'll be.

Q Can you at least say -- I know we've gone over this to a certain extent before, but remind us, the conditions under which the President would be prepared to make such a declaration, that the war is over?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has said that he will be guided by the reports that he receives from his commanders, principally General Franks. He has not received that final report from General Franks yet. And at the appropriate time, when the President is ready, the President will have more thoughts to share with the nation about the mission, what was accomplished in the mission, that the combat phase of the operation has come to a conclusion, and that a new phase, the reconstruction of freedom, is beginning.

Q Ari, you said you're not going to go person-by-person through which

Iraqi officials know what about Iraq's WMD. But is it fair to say that we now have in custody enough high-ranking Iraqi officials to get the information that we need on the whereabouts of these weapons?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President said it best in his interview with

Tom Brokaw when the President said that as a result of the people we're talking to, the information we have, we are continuing to find out more, and it will ultimately lead to the discovery of Iraq's WMD. So it's --

Q So you have everything you need, right --

MR. FLEISCHER: It continues to be a process. And we will continue to work through the process.

Q Can you also say -- why can't you tell us about this evidence that weapons were destroyed? I mean, the regime is no longer there, so you can't really say it's a security threat.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it's exactly as the President said, that they could have destroyed, they could have dispersed. There are continuing tests that are underway to evaluate all the information, to have it in its entirety. And that's why the President said it.

Q He said there was evidence. Why can't you tell us what evidence?

MR. FLEISCHER: Because there are tests still underway. Those tests are being evaluated and we are still going to wait for final and firm conclusions about all of it. But much of this, as I said, is you have embedded reporters who are present who are also giving you very similar reporting.

Q So it's not definite, it's speculation?

MR. FLEISCHER: Quote the President's words. The President said, they could have destroyed, they could have dispersed. That's how the President said it.

Q Ari, following up on Mark's question. At this point, what help will the President ask Iraqi Americans for with regard to reconstruction in Iraq?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think one of the most encouraging signs you see about an Iraq -- the future of Iraq is the fact that the Iraqi community in the United States and in many other countries want to contribute to the future of the country from which they fled or in which they were born. And that's a hopeful sign. If there is a situation on the ground where Iraq had been liberated, but Iraqis around the world wanted to play no role in the future of that government, that would be a very troublesome sign, because there would be a lack of confidence in events on the ground.

I think the President is going to express his thanks to these people for being brave, for standing up to Saddam Hussein here in the United States, for speaking out on behalf of freedom and liberty. And he will encourage them to do everything they can to make the future of Iraq a strong and free and prosperous and democratic future.

Q And related follow-up with regard to Dick's question. One of the biggest criticisms that you hear from the elements in the Shia community was the

Pentagon's decision to airlift Mr. Chalabi and his forces into the country. At this point, does the White House feel that perhaps an unnecessary advantage was given by that move?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think -- you know, there were four leaders that are recognized that we've been working with for a considerable period of time -- a number of years, actually -- and if you look at legislation passed by a

Congress, signed by a Democratic President, it actually provided the statutory support for the Iraqi National Congress.

So this is a matter of American policy, signed by a Democratic President.

And we've been working with these groups of people and other groups of people who want to contribute to a new and free Iraq. And we're pleased to have people like Mr. Chalabi and many others, who have returned to Iraq to help their homeland.

Q Ari, if you talk to Arab Americans in Detroit and elsewhere, they're happy to talk about the war, but that's not necessarily the driving issue for a lot of them. They're concerned still about what they see as civil rights violations on Arab Americans --

MR. FLEISCHER: The economy.

Q The economy, certainly, but also Middle East peace process.


Q Do you expect those things to come up on Monday?

MR. FLEISCHER: Very well may. The President is going to have a roundtable, he's going to have a discussion with them. And so the press will be there on Monday, and we'll get a report. We'll see what they want to talk about. Any number of those topics could come up. Peace in the Middle East is a topic the President wants to come up. He wants to talk about our plans there.

Q Ari, you expressed the opinion that North Korea has probably had a couple of nuclear weapons for many years. In any framework that's going to be arrived at with the North Koreans, is the President willing to accept the fact that North Korea, from this point on, may be a nuclear power, or is implicit in any framework we agree on going to have to be the destruction of any weapons that they already have?

MR. FLEISCHER: We see this the same way China does, which is the importance of having a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.

Q The removal of weapons including the ones already built?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's what denuclearized means.

Q How quickly will we see the road map after the cabinet is confirmed?

MR. FLEISCHER: We are still two steps to go for the Palestinians to take in terms of ratifying the agreement that Abu Mazen has reached with Yasser

Arafat on the selection of the cabinet officials, and I think it won't be much time at all after those steps are taken that the road map will be produced. The

President would like to move forward and have the parties work toward peace there.

Q Ari, how willing would the President be to sign an HIV-AIDS bill that may or may not include some of the amendments that social conservatives are very interested in?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President -- and there will be an event here at the White House next week to talk about the importance of Congress passing the

President's initiative to provide unparalleled amounts of funding to help people in Africa fight AIDS. The treatment, care, and prevention of AIDS everywhere, in the United States and in Africa, is a priority for this President.

We're pleased that the House is moving quickly on the legislation. We will work closely with the Congress on the exact language of the legislation. We want to make sure that the President has the flexibility and the authority to implement the program the way it was outlined, which is based on the successful

Ugandan model.

Q Does an emphasis on abstinence and fidelity -- something that the

President has stressed -- does that need to be included in the bill in some form for White House approval?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, the Ugandan model is, I think, the key to look for. This is the flexibility that allows for different approaches, but it focuses on fighting AIDS, delivering money so AIDS -- the terrible, terrible plague that has beset the nations of Africa -- can be fought with this new initiative that the President has launched. That's the President's focus, is fighting AIDS in Africa, and doing it effectively. That's where his focus will remain.

Q Ari, those ads from the club for growth that are equating opposition to the tax cuts to opposition to France, to the war, does the President consider that helpful, or would he prefer that they be pulled?

MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I'm not going to wage, get into every different group's ads against anybody in our political electoral system. I think you're going to be able anticipate all kinds of groups putting all kinds of ads on the air. They are not necessarily reflective of what the President thinks, the

President's approach.

The President is going to work, continue to work with each of the senators, as proud Americans who he wants to work with to convince based on the need to help the economy and create jobs, that they should vote for a big tax cut of at least $550 billion.

Q Also, apparently, the -- this, on a different subject, the Air Force

Academy expected the President, apparently, to come give the commencement speech this year. Is that not accurate?

MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I'm not sure.

Q What I heard is he was going, and now he's not going, and I was wondering why.

MR. FLEISCHER: No, unfortunately, I spend some portion of my day, every day, knocking down things that were just not happening. So I don't have anything for you on that. I know many groups invite the President, of course, to speak, and he's not able to accept every offer he receives to speak.

Q Two questions today, if I might. Scott Peterson has been arrested in connection with the death of his pregnant wife, Laci. He's been charged with two murders, one of his wife and the other of his unborn son, Connor. Do you think that's appropriate?

MR. FLEISCHER: This is a tragic case. And it's a very interesting one in the question that you raise specifically. The President does believe that when an unborn child is injured or killed during the commission of a crime of violence, the law should recognize what most people immediately recognize, and that is that such a crime has two victims. In the case specifically, I'm not going to make any comment; that is legal matter pending before a state. But if you recall, the House of Representatives passed the Unborn Victims of Violence

Act, and it passed overwhelmingly, with large bipartisan support. We hope that the Congress again this year -- the President calls on the House and calls on the Senate to again pass the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, so that the law can recognize what every mother and father know in their heart when an unborn child is taken through an act of violence, in the commission of a crime, just as we've seen in this case here.

Q Thank you. My next question, you've declined to comment on Santorum's statements that the Senator says were misconstrued. Some have suggested that the real story here is that the Associated Press reporter conducting the interview is the wife of John Kerry's campaign manager. How would you respond to that?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to respond to that. I'm aware of those reports and I don't know how to evaluate them.

Q Once on the ground in San Diego, will the President be meeting with any local politicians and/or local citizen groups before he goes to the carrier?

MR. FLEISCHER: The event is Thursday; we'll work with you to get you all the details and specifics as it gets closer. But right now, as I understand, the event is an arrival in San Diego, an immediate departure for the ship.

Q And after he leaves the ship, he will be going where?

MR. FLEISCHER: Santa Clara, California.

Q To?

MR. FLEISCHER: He'll give a speech in Santa Clara on national security and economic security.

Q Ari, both Senator Frist and Senator Specter have publicly supported

Senator Santorum. And my question: Does the President believe they were wrong to do so, because while governor of Texas he ever tried to get that state's sodomy law repealed?

MR. FLEISCHER: As I said this morning, Lester, the President has confidence in Senator Santorum, both as a senator, as a member of the Senate leadership.


Q Wait a minute, I have one follow-up.

MR. FLEISCHER: Go ahead.

Q The Culture and Family Institute --

MR. FLEISCHER: But calm down. (Laughter.)

Q I will. Thank you. The Culture and Family Institute estimates that

30 to 40 percent of Americans are evangelical Christians, and these, plus loyal

Catholics and conservative and orthodox Jews comprise a large portion of the

Republican base, which so narrowly elected the President. Robert Knight of this institute says that the President's refusal to support Senator Santorum, "looks like a suicide move." Is your statement just now a refutation, in that he is supporting --

MR. FLEISCHER: I can't refute something that was asked me after I made my statement. I made my statement, and I would just say this, when it comes to faith --

Q So he does support Santorum.

MR. FLEISCHER: No, no, no, I want to say this -- you raised a question whose premise deals with faith. Faith is an important part of life for many

Americans, regardless of their party, regardless how one party or another has different people of different faiths. It's one of the things that makes America one country, regardless of what party people fall into. And the reaction I gave is based on the President's views as a governmental matter, and that's he approaches it.

Q Ari, a question. A person in Mexico has just announced that President Fox and President Bush talk about monetary unity in North America. It is true?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not aware of any recent conversation between President

Bush and President Fox, if you're referring to something recent. Of course, when they meet, they always do talk about working together for North America.

Q But it makes sense for the U.S. to have monetary unity with Mexico?

MR. FLEISCHER: Monetary unity?

Q Yes.

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me take a look and study the statement, because I'm not familiar with it beyond that.

Q And when we're going to hear the President talk about the immigration reform again?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think that we'll work -- continue to work with Congress on the initiatives that are pending there. 245I still is an important matter to this President, and we will continue to work to try to make as much progress as possible on the immigration issues.

Q Moving back to this evidence that you were talking about, you said that you have evidence, or there is evidence that Iraq may have destroyed weapons of mass destruction on the eve of the war. Are you willing to go so far as to say you have evidence that they did destroy?

MR. FLEISCHER: You've got the President's words. I can't go beyond what the President said. You know what the President said; he said it very publicly.

Q -- may have destroyed weapons of mass destruction.

MR. FLEISCHER: Those were the President's words.

Q Right, so you can't elaborate --

MR. FLEISCHER: -- a "may" or a "could" --

Q So you can't elaborate on what the evidence is, what you believe it is that they destroyed, where they destroyed it?

MR. FLEISCHER: I leave it just as the President did.

Q Thank you.

MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you. And before we leave, I just want to make one statement. Today is the last day for -- and there's always a risk at a press secretary ever saying anything about a reporter -- but I do want to say today is the last day of Ron Fournier covering the White House as the Associated Press reporter. He'll be going on to cover other events. And I just do want to say that it's been a real pride and honor for me to work with a professional like

Ron Fournier. And I will always wish him and his family well in all their future endeavors. So, thank you.

Q So you really do like working with the press?

MR. FLEISCHER: Especially you, April.

Q Yes, right. (Laughter.)

Q Thank you.

END 1:00 P.M. EDT