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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 22, 2003

National Security Advisor Briefs Press on President's Trip to United Nations
James S. Brady Briefing Room

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5:03 P.M. EDT

DR. RICE: Good afternoon. First, I'll give a brief overview of the President's schedule in New York this week and highlights from his speech to the United Nations General Assembly, then I'll be happy to take your questions.

President Bush and the First Lady will depart for New York tomorrow morning. The President will proceed to the United Nations, where he will call on U.N. General Assembly President Mr. Hunte and meet with Secretary General Annan. The President will then deliver remarks to the 58th Session of the United Nations General Assembly.

In his remarks, the President will discuss many of the challenges the world faces today. He will call on the international community to take action to make our world a safer and better place. The President will stress the international community's opportunity and responsibility to help the people of Iraq and Afghanistan rebuild their countries. He will also discuss the many ways the world will benefit from an Iraq and Afghanistan that are free, prosperous, modern and democratic.

The President will address the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the greatest security challenge of our time. He will outline current international efforts to stop the spread of dangerous weapons, materials and technologies.

The President will also discuss the ongoing need to address humanitarian crises, such as HIV/AIDS and famine. And he will call upon U.N. and member states to do everything possible to stop trafficking in persons, a modern-day form of slavery that claims millions of victims, many of them young children.

After the speech, the President will hold a series of bilateral meetings with world leaders. Those include President Aznar, of Spain; President Chirac, of France; President Megawatti, of Indonesia; King Mohamed VI, of Morocco; President Karzai, of Afghanistan.

On Tuesday evening, the President and Mrs. Bush will host a reception for the heads of delegations at the New York's -- at New York's Museum of Natural History. On Wednesday morning, the President will hold another series of meetings, including a Caribbean leaders breakfast, with Prime Minister Christie, of the Bahamas; Prime Minister Mitchell, of Grenada; President Jagdeo, of Guyana and Prime Minister Anthony, of St. Lucia; Chancellor Schroeder, of Germany; President Kofor, of Ghana; President Musharraf, of Pakistan; President Chissano, of Mozambique and Prime Minister Vajpayee, of India.

With that overview, I'm happy to take your questions.

Q Ambassador Bremer said again today he doesn't think Iraqis are ready for self-government. The Iraqis outside said essentially the same time. The French want to see a transition in about six to nine months. Is there room for a compromise there? Is that reasonable?

DR. RICE: The most important thing is that now, having liberated Iraq, that the transfer of sovereignty, which is a day that everybody looks forward to, that the sovereignty transfer to the Iraqi people be orderly and that it be done in a way that it's going to work.

This is a country that has been under brutal dictatorship for decades -- and for the last almost 30 years, under the most brutal dictatorship imaginable. And it's a country that has not had a national conversation about its politics in more than 30 years. It's a country that needs an orderly process to get to the writing of a constitution, which, after all, will create the institutions on which a new society in Iraq can be based. A constitution, after all, deals with issues like the rights and protections of minorities, the importance of the rights and protections of women. Those are the kinds of issues that get institutionalized in a constitution.

So Ambassador Bremer has been talking about a seven-step plan: constitution, followed then by elections and then by the transfer of sovereignty. And it makes perfectly good sense to do this as soon as possible, but to do it in a way that is responsible. And I think that the -- as all of us have said, the French plan, which would somehow try to transfer sovereignty to an un-elected group of people, just isn't workable.

Q Is their timetable reasonable though, six to nine months?

DR. RICE: I think that what we want to do is we want to concentrate on the steps that need to be taken: constitution, elections -- national conversation, constitution, elections, and transfer of sovereignty. That's -- those are the steps that need to be taken. We'll see how long it takes. But I think everybody can be assured; the establishment of sovereignty for the Iraqi people is the goal of everybody, most especially of the United States. But I think what you've heard from, now a number of Iraqi voices, is, let's do that in an orderly way, so that it works.

Q Dr. Rice, as you know, President Chirac suggested the idea of an abstention if a resolution did not meet French demands for an instant -- or an immediate transfer of sovereignty. Is that a notion the United States would accept, an abstention, or do you think it's important to get full -- Security Council unanimity in the wake of last year's failure to win support?

DR. RICE: France's decision will be France's decision, and I don't think it's really appropriate for the United States to comment on whether that would be -- obviously we'd like French support. But the French will have to make their own determination.

The key, though, is that the resolution has to do what is best for the future of Iraq and for the future of the Iraqi people; and, frankly, for the tremendous responsibilities that the United States and the coalition have taken on in liberating Iraq, and now trying to deal with the reconstruction.

So a resolution that gives a proper role to the United Nations, one like the President described, in which the United Nations will clearly play a vital role, is a good thing. But it cannot be something that tries to give premature sovereignty -- sort of sovereignty -- not real sovereignty, sovereignty in principle, those ideas are just not going to work. We've got to have an orderly process.

Q But are you willing to make concessions to avoid an abstention? Is that an important political --

DR. RICE: I think we're going to put forward the best resolution that we possibly can that obviously has taken into consideration the concerns of others. But it's going to be a resolution that preserves the ability of the coalition to do what needs to be done on behalf of the Iraqi people, on behalf of the region, that recognizes the tremendous contribution that the coalition has given, in terms of life and in terms of treasure, and that recognizes that there is really only one way to get this done, and that's in an orderly way.

Q The last time he went before the U.N. General Assembly, he failed to get the war resolution authorized. Now he's asking for assistance in the war's aftermath. Is the President going to take a different approach with the U.N. General Assembly than last time? Has he learned from that experience? Is he going to be different in tone or tenor?

DR. RICE: Suzanne, the last speech resulted in Resolution 1441. That's the strongest resolution that I think the Security Council passed in the entire 12 years of dealing with Saddam Hussein. So the President's speech in the General Assembly last year rallied the world to finally face up to the fact that Saddam Hussein was not going to disarm without a lot of pressure of the international community. And 1441 gave to the international community more tools to try to get the disarmament of Iraq. And it put the onus on Iraq.

Now, not everybody agreed with the timing of the decision to enforce the serious consequences that were foreshadowed in that resolution -- foreseen in that resolution. But let's remember, when the President went to the United Nations, the sanctions were in shambles. They were -- they were not working. Saddam Hussein was getting $3 billion a year in illegal revenues to pursue his palaces and his weapons of mass destruction programs. Saddam Hussein was still holding children in prisons and holding, from the world's view, 300,000 people in mass graves. Saddam Hussein was still strutting around the streets of Baghdad threatening his neighbors and threatening his people. He's gone. That was an enormously successful visit to the United Nations last year.

Q Dr. Rice, what will the President say specifically tomorrow about the U.N. resolution, about giving that -- what you call that vital role to the U.N.? Will he outline what changes, perhaps, he sees the U.N. -- an expanded role for the U.N.?

DR. RICE: The President is leaving to discussions that we're having -- and, frankly, discussions he will also have with his colleagues this week about how to define a proper relationship between what the United Nations can offer, what the Coalition Provisional Authority must get done, and what we all must do on behalf of the Iraqi people. So the speech doesn't go into detail on that matter.

It does, however, call to action the entire international community to recognize the tremendous opportunity we now have with a liberated Iraq, and by the way with a liberated Afghanistan, as well, to change the course of the history here of the Middle East, and to change the course of a place that's sitting in the center of the Middle East, has been nothing but a source of trouble during Saddam Hussein's rule.

When you think about it, Kuwait no longer has to fear being called a province of Iraq. Saudi Arabia no longer has to fear the tensions that the Iraqis placed on the kingdom. The Middle East doesn't have to -- the Middle East, proper, Israel and the Palestinian Territories don't have to fear the $25,000 payments to suicide bombers to encourage the breaking up of the peace process.

So the President is going to talk about the tremendous right decision that was made in finally getting rid of this terrible government, building weapons of mass destruction, having used weapons of mass destruction -- now, what Secretary Powell said when he was Halabja, that, if anybody doubted Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction, just look at the devastation of these people in Halabja. That man is gone. And the President will talk about that.

But he will not get into the details of how the U.N. might play a role. He will, by the way, also acknowledge that the United Nations is already playing an important role in Iraq, in immunization of children, in the World Food Program, in Afghanistan and the things that the U.N. is doing there; and that the U.N. has paid a price for it, because this wonderful humanitarian work on behalf of the Iraqi people was rewarded with a horrific bombing by terrorists and by Baathists who want to stop the progress in Iraq.

Q Dr. Rice, just a quick one on Korea. Will the North Korean crisis be discussed at all? With whom? And will it be discussed in the context of the spread of weapons of mass destruction, famine, and humanitarian abuses?

DR. RICE: I think we think of this in terms of proliferation concerns and problems that we've begun to have with countries that sign on happily to the NPT and then violate it. And the President will have discussions with President Hu about the North Korean issue, as he did today. He had a drop-by with the Foreign Minister of China. He had an opportunity to thank the Chinese for the constructive role that China has been playing in arranging the six-party talks and being an active participant in the six-party talks.

What the President has done in insisting that this is not a crisis between North Korea and the United States, but between North Korea and certainly the regional players, but also the world, is to show the North Koreans that there is no way out but to give up their nuclear ambitions. And this time, if and when North Korea can be convinced to give up its nuclear ambitions, we will be in a position of enforcing that by the attention and the buy-in of China, Russia, South Korea, Japan, and the United States. That's a very different picture than where we were with the agreed framework in 1994. And the President is very grateful to China for the role that it's played.

Q There's some talk in diplomatic circles, Condi, that the real issue here for the French is guarantees vis-a-vis their economic interests, particularly oil contracts. Can you speak to that?

DR. RICE: I can't really speak to the motives of the French government in that regard. I assume that just like everybody, I would hope that they would want to see an open and transparent economy in Iraq, in which governments -- in which business can compete and find a way to invest. I might note in that regard that very big progress was made when the Governing Council agreed to a very aggressive plan, a very ambitious plan for opening up the Iraqi economy. Of course, the oil sector will not be, at this stage, there for foreign investment. But I'm sure that just like everybody else, people want to see the oil sector work. And they'll want to invest.

Q I would assume, though, that they're making you aware of these concerns as you go through the negotiations over the resolution?

DR. RICE: I'm not aware of specific discussions of that kind, John. But obviously, there are people who did business in Iraq before. I would hope that they would look favorably upon creating conditions now for a free Iraq in which the benefits of any business that is done in Iraq might actually benefit the Iraqi people rather than Saddam Hussein.

Q Going back to Suzanne's question, the President did say prior to the war that the U.S. was prepared to act with or without the United Nations. So the question is, will he adopt a similar approach today? And does he feel that the U.S. is prepared to handle the aftermath without the United Nations?

DR. RICE: Well, the United States and the coalition are handling the aftermath. We are reconstructing. Life is getting back to normal. Eighty percent of the country, roughly, is stable, with no particular difficulties. There are problems in the Baathist triangle. There's no doubt about that.

But if you review what has happened since the fall of this brutal dictator, one has to recognize that a lot of the things that were thought to be potential crises, like humanitarian crises in Iraq, the food distribution stayed up and running. So there was no humanitarian crisis. Potential tensions with Iraq's neighbors in the north simply didn't come to fruition; that the oil fields would be torched and unworkable simply didn't come to fruition.

So there was a lot of progress made in the very early stages, and that progress is extending. We just had the Minister of Electricity here for the new Iraqi Cabinet of ministers, and his point was that, yes, this is a difficult reconstruction, because they're recovering not from the war but from 30 years of mismanagement. He described a situation in which the country had only a small percentage -- maybe 50, 55 percent of the actual generating power needed for the whole country, but Saddam Hussein forced all of that power to be used in and around Baghdad, so it looked like the country had electricity. But when you tried to go -- a more even distribution, the rest of the country had been starved.

So we are dealing with the problems. However, we've gotten very positive remarks, I think, from just about everybody, that the international community recognizes the importance of success -- indeed, rapid success -- in investing in the reconstruction of Iraq, that people want to be a part of that. And I believe that the President will find that he's got many more partners than the many partners that we have. And we're making progress on a resolution, and we'll see.

Q Can I just follow up? Are we prepared to continue contributing, though, at the same level that we are right now, both in terms of troops and monetarily?

DR. RICE: Well, the United States has set out to contribute, in terms of the financial contribution, $20 billion to invest in the highest priority tasks that are therefore reconstruction. It's best to think of it as an investment, not as foreign assistance, but as an investment, so that the Iraqi economic infrastructure can get up and running, because this is a country that has a lot of resources, a lot of capacity, and once it -- that investment is made in the infrastructure, it should pay back many, many times over.

The international community, we believe, and all of the signals are, that the international community will be prepared to contribute to that reconstruction, because Iraq is going to be an important country in the future, and everybody should be a part of that. And we're getting very positive assessments from everyone that they want to be involved in that reconstruction. I also would note that we would expect the international financial institutions to be involved as well, at some time in the near future.

Q Dr. Rice --

DR. RICE: Yes, Russia.

Q Russia, right. Thank you. Thank you, Dr. Rice. If I may, I would like to jump ahead to the Camp David summit, and ask you what you expect from that? If not, what is the best contribution Russia can make in Iraq do you think?

DR. RICE: The Russians have been constructive in discussing the resolution. We appreciate that very much. It's been a constructive attitude. I think that the President -- President Putin and the President will certainly discuss what Russia might be able to do in the reconstruction. Russia has a long history there. I think Russia will want to be involved in the reconstruction.

But this is also going to be an opportunity to talk about a broad range of issues, because the United States and Russia have both a deep and broad relationship. The war on terrorism, in particular, has been something that has deepened the U.S.-Russia relationship, and I think they'll have a good deal to talk about that. There will also be a good deal to talk about economic relations and I'll tell you more about it as we get toward the end of the week.

Q Just a follow-up to John's question about the new economic program which does allow for 100 percent foreign ownership. Why does the U.S. think that it's a good idea for such sensitive sectors, like the telecommunications and media to be allowed by foreigners, when that's not even allowed here?

And secondly, the mood in September of 2003 is very different from -- -- around the world about -- the attitudes about the United States is very different from the mood in September of 2001. And I'm wondering how much you're concerned about that, and what -- given that that mood, because of the souring of attitudes, has made it more difficult to get financial assistance for the reconstructions, what you can do about changing the mood that then allows political leaders to be more willing to pony up money.

DR. RICE: We are not where we were in the great outpouring of sympathy that came from what happened to us on September 11th in 2001. It would be unrealistic to expect that that was going to be the case from now to time immemorial for American foreign policy with a range of countries.

The United States and this President, in particular, has taken a position that we have a lot of global challenges, and we have to meet them. We can't sweep them under the rug. We have to take them on.

Now, some of those global challenges that we've taken on have gained great applause: for instance, the AIDS initiative that the President had; the Millennium Challenge Account, which increases American development assistance by 50 percent over the next three years, the famine relief. The efforts that the President has made in the Middle East in the Palestinian-Israeli situation -- people have been supportive.

So a lot of these efforts have been very much applauded. The President has taken some very difficult situations and turned them into multilateral successes. If you look at where we were just a few months ago with Iran, there were a lot of countries that didn't want to believe that Iran actually might be violating its obligations under the NPT and building a military program under cover of civilian nuclear use. Now you have an IAEA report that says that, at best, what Iran is doing has raised a lot of suspicions. And the United States succeeded in bringing all countries together around an October 31 deadline for Iran to come clean about what its doing.

If you look at where we were with North Korea, we had an agreed framework which North Korea was violating. And the North Koreans were blackmailing everybody into accepting their nuclear program. The President has brought together five other countries now, into a multilateral forum that says to North Korea, you've got to give up your nuclear ambitions.

So this President has been very -- Afghanistan is another example, where even countries that may not have agreed with us on Iraq are stepping up their efforts in Afghanistan, like the Germans, who are taking a more active role in Afghanistan.

So our relations have never been better with Russia, our relations have never been better with China. This is an extremely successful policy of reaching out and getting allies on the most important issues.

Now, on Iraq, yes, there were some differences. But I think if you go around that room and you ask any but the most hardened, predictable ones, are you glad that Saddam Hussein is gone; are you glad that the Iraqi people no longer have to fear children's prisons and mass graves; are you glad that his neighbors no longer have to fear invasion; are you glad that we will now find and be able to account for what became of his weapons of mass destruction; are you glad that he can't use them again; I think you will find that there is agreement that the world is better off with Saddam Hussein gone.

Now, that doesn't mean that there aren't challenges ahead. But I think it would be interesting if anybody wants to argue that this has not improved security in the world.

Q The ownership question?

DR. RICE: Oh, yes, sure, sorry. What the governing council agreed to was the most open profile -- economic profile that is there in the Middle East.

Look, this argument about whether open economies that are open to investment are better than centrally planned economies was solved about the time that I left the Soviet field, because the Soviet Union collapsed. Okay, it's very clear what works. State-owned, centrally-planed, closed economies don't work. Look around the world at how hard people are working to get foreign investment. Look around the world at how hard countries are working to change their laws and their rules -- their rule of law and their infrastructure so that foreign investment can come in.

Iraq is going to start out in a much more favorable position because it will not have to unravel years and years and years of bad practices. Eventually there will be an elected Iraqi government. I'm sure that that elected Iraqi government will take a look at where they are. And there may be adjustments here and there. But let's realize what's happened in Iraq, they have an opportunity, with low taxation, with liberal foreign investment laws, with a very open economic structure, to leapfrog the entire region once the infrastructure is rebuilt and once the security situation improves, because they are going to have such a much stronger investment climate than anything around them, that unless the rest of the region starts to move in that direction, they're going to find Iraq just sprinting past them.

Q Is the President's credibility undercut in any way by the fact that the weapons of mass destruction have not been disclosed in Iraq? How will he address that in his speech tomorrow? And do you remain confident those weapons will be found, or do you think they've somehow been spirited away, or that --

DR. RICE: Well, let me first say that David Kaye has an orderly process for mining the miles of documentation, the hundreds, even thousands of interviews, that need to be done, the physical evidence that needs to be gathered to understand precisely the status of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, the status of the programs, what became of unaccounted for weapons stockpiles.

If you remember the U.N. reports were about large numbers of unaccounted-for stockpiles. We'll now be able to find out what became of them. But let me be very clear, what we find there will establish precisely what was going on with Iraq's programs. What we went in with a view toward was a view that was shared by intelligence agencies around the world, by three American administrations, and by the United Nations. There was nobody who knew anything about Iraq who believed that Saddam Hussein had destroyed all of his weapons of mass destruction, that he simply didn't have any. And it was just kind of a joke on the world that he wouldn't say that he had destroyed his weapons of mass destruction.

This was a dangerous regime that had used weapons of mass destruction, that was still pursuing weapons of mass destruction, and that had large unaccounted for stockpiles. That is a position that was credible at the time. It is a position that is credible now. And now we're able to do what the U.N. inspectors had hoped to be able to do under Resolution 1441, were actually never permitted to do because Saddam Hussein was still in power and intimidating people and keeping people from telling the truth. So the President will simply note that we have an effort underway to hunt this down. And, yes, I think we will we find that Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction can be accounted for, and we'll know the truth.

Q When will Kaye's report will be public?

DR. RICE: David Kaye is not going to be done with this for quite some time. And I would not count on reports. I suppose there may be interim reports. I don't know when those will be, and I don't know what the public nature of them will be.

Okay, last one.

Q Condi, is the dwindling support shown in the polls for the Iraq war from Americans undercutting your ability to negotiate this resolution?

DR. RICE: Americans are solidly behind this war, and they're solidly behind their President on this war. They're solidly behind our forces. And the American people, I believe, understand that when the President said all the way back on September 20th that this was going to be a long war against terrorism, and that we had to fight it on the offensive, that the American people understood this.

It is hard. The images that are coming from Iraq are hard images to see. And the President mourns every death of an American soldier that happens on any given day. The large picture, though, is that we have a job to do in Iraq. We have a job to finish in Iraq. And this President is resolute. And we're going to finish it.

It would be a good thing if the American people were able to see more of the progress that is being made in Iraq. And the two ministers who were here today gave tremendous testimony to what it now feels like to be ministers in a liberated Iraq, not forced by Saddam Hussein to take the power and divert it from the Shia areas in Basra as political punishment up to the Sunni areas around Baghdad. The Minister of Public Works is somebody whose family was imprisoned by Saddam Hussein when she was 14 years old. She's now there trying to do something good on behalf of her country people. Students finished their exams. There are 60,000 Iraqis involved in their own security. This is a very positive story.

And I will just say this, you cannot look at the reconstruction of a country like Iraq in a daily news cycle. This is a long-term, historical change in the way that this region will operate. And when that changes for the better, which it will be, America and the world are going to be safer. Because if the Middle East does not transform, we will do everything that we can to defend ourselves here in America against terrorism. But we've got to do something about a region which has created ideologies of hatred that lead people to fly airplanes into buildings.

The President understands that that's a long-term commitment. But we've made a wonderful down payment on it in the progress that's been made in Iraq thus far. Thank you very much.

Q On the Israeli fence --

Q On Israel -- on Israel?

Q On your meeting with Weissglas have you made progress toward resolving those disputes?

DR. RICE: We've said the same things to the Israelis that we have been saying, that this wall does not really -- is not really consistent with our view of what the Middle East will one day have to look like, two states living side-by-side in peace. We understand that they have some security concerns, and that it is extremely important, if it is going to be built, that it not intrude -- that, as much as possible that it not intrude on the lives of the Palestinians, and most importantly that it not look as if it's trying to prejudge the outcome of a peace agreement. We have been talking to the Israelis, it's been in a friendly spirit. And we had good meetings today. The Israelis have some things that they want to go back and look at. And I think we'll probably get together again. Thank you.

END 5:33 P.M. EDT