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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 23, 2003
Remarks by a Senior Administration Official in Briefing to the Travel Pool
United States Mission
New York, New York
12:54 P.M. EDT
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: After the speech, we went over -- we had two meetings. The President had a meeting with President Jose Maria Aznar of Spain. They talked about the full range of issues, as you might imagine -- talked about reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan; fairly long discussion on the Middle East, and the President made clear that he thought it very important that the Palestinians find some way to create leadership that's actually going to be strong enough to fight terror. The Spanish offered to try to help with that. They have good contacts with the Palestinians and so -- I would say the Middle East was the sort of dominant part of that discussion, although they touched, obviously, on other issues, as well.
He then met with President Chirac. They talked at length about proliferation -- the conversation started with proliferation, with President Chirac talking about the importance of what the President had said in his speech on proliferation, offering French help. In fact, the French have been very active in the proliferation security initiative and in the work with Russia. So there was quite a bit of talk about that.
They talked about Iran and the need to make certain that the IAEA holds Iran to its obligations.
They did talk about Iraq. They talked about the differences they have. The President made a very clear and strong point that the United States, which has a hundred and almost forty thousand troops on the ground and is asking the American people to spend $20 billion on reconstruction of Iraq, is determined that when there is a sovereignty transfer, that it's going to be done in an orderly fashion. And so they talked about the difference there, but they pledged to try to work together. The French President said that he wouldn't stand in the way, but he would like -- obviously, France would like to try to help.
They talked about Afghanistan; a little bit about Syria, the need to try to get the Syrians to be more responsive, particularly on Hezbollah and blockages to Middle East peace.
So that was the core of it.
Q -- say that President Chirac pledged he wouldn't stand in the way. Did you take that as a --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He said that in the newspaper, if you remember. I mean, he said that publicly, that they will try not to stand in the way --
Q Does that mean no veto?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I can't interpret; he just said he would try not to stand in the way.
Q Was there any narrowing of differences in that session?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think we're going to have to keep working on it. The President was very clear in stating again that the premature transfer of sovereignty, which has been the French proposal, is just not in the cards. We just are -- it would be the wrong thing for the Iraqis. It would be the wrong thing for the -- difficult thing for the Coalition Provisional Authority is trying to do there. And I know that the French don't agree, but I think they listened to the rationale for why this would be very difficult.
Q Ahmed Chalabi is now asking for a faster transition, as well. Any response to that? What -- how do you deal with that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The Iraqi Governing Council, as important a step as it is for Iraq, is not an elected representative body. And the President and Ambassador Bremer and the entire administration is committed to a process that is orderly; a process that affirms for the Iraqi people that this is a different day, not with appointed leaders or leaders who come to power through other means, but a democratic process. And a democratic process starts with a constitution which establishes institutions that do things like protect minority rights. You need an institutional framework in which then hold elections and then transfer of sovereignty makes sense.
But I can guarantee you that the American people, the President of the United States, most of the allies who are on the ground with us are not prepared to transfer sovereignty to 25 unelected people. It's just not going to happen.
Q But Bush in his speech today said that that was a representative body, though, for the first time in their history.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I said, a very important first step. And they're representative in the sense that the 25 looks like Iraq, to use a phrase that we sometimes use in America. But this is a country that has not had a national dialogue in almost -- in, well, more than 30 years, but certainly not under Saddam Hussein; that has undergone tremendous trauma under this terrible regime; that needs now to establish institutions that can mitigate against differences among ethnic groups, that can establish the rightful place of women in this society, that can do all of the things that constitutions do.
You just think about how important the constitution is to the United States, and how it's allowed the evolution of democracy over time. You cannot short-circuit that process. And I can also be very clear that the President is not going to ask the Congress to transfer $20 billion of American taxpayer's money to an unelected body of people.
What we are -- the resolution that we're working on with the U.N. has to maintain two very clear principles. One is that there will be an orderly transfer to sovereignty, and we're ready to do that. The Iraqi people need a political horizon, they need to know that there is a process to get to sovereignty. Jerry Bremer has laid out that process in his seven-point plan. And that is -- that has to be preserved in any resolution.
The second point is that, just like we have unity of command on the military side, we're going to have to maintain unity of direction on the reconstruction side. There is an important role for the U.N. to play, but the Coalition Provisional Authority has to get the job done. And so, the U.N. resolution will also acknowledge what really are facts on the ground.
Q Regarding the doctrine of preemption, both President Chirac and Kofi Annan targeted that doctrine in their speeches and said that it would lead to a unilateral and lawless use of force, and Chirac said it would lead to anarchy. How do you bridge those big gaps?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I'll tell you something. First of all, I think we can have a discussion about whether war against Iraq was preemptive or not, given that we've been in a low-level war with Iraq for 12 years -- with them shooting at our aircraft, with 17 different resolutions, with the last one passed just in November. I think it's a little hard to just say that somehow this was unilateral action.
Be that as it may, what the President has said is that you cannot allow threats to gather, and somebody has to act. You can't sweep problems under the rug. What was very interesting to me in Kofi Annan's speech was that, while he said he was worried about unilateral action or about preemption, he said, however, you cannot just criticize unilateralism, you have other find a way to address the problems that those who may act unilaterally are actually bringing about.
I think it was, in fact, an admission that the -- that if the U.N. cannot act, if you cannot reform the U.N., if the Security Council cannot act, then you leave no choice but for people to protect themselves. And I think what the President said when he was there last year was, if the Security Council can't act, then the United States will. And I heard a lot about how the Security Council and the U.N. have got to reform themselves so that they can act.
So I think, once again, the President has led in causing an extremely important debate about whether the Security Council and the U.N. can make themselves capable of dealing with the threats of the 21st century.
And that's the debate that they're having out there. And that's why so many heads of state have showed up here, because this is really, I think, since the end of the Cold War, the first time that the United Nations is confronting the question of whether the United Nations will really be able to act with the threats of today. And that's a very important debate to have.
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Q There was some anticipation that Iran would be mentioned specifically in the speech today, and that --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, the President wasn't talking about specific cases, but he's talking about Iran in all of the meetings that he's having.
Q Do the Chalabi comments complicate your task, and what are you telling them?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think that the Governing Council -- first of all, there's 25 people on the Governing Council. But the people just have to recognize that the United States, the Coalition Provisional Authority, and the coalition are determined that this is going to be an orderly transfer of power. And that's what's best for Iraq. That's what's -- what the United States committed to, and that is the only way that this is going to work.
Q Thank you.
END 1:04 P.M. EDT