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Excerpts from the Press Gaggle by Ari Fleischer, January 16, 2003

Q Is the President confident that the March 27th U.N. inspector report, that that date would get cancelled? And is he going to decide in the next couple weeks about whether or not to go to war?

MR. FLEISCHER: -- events will dictate the timetable. And the President has not made any decisions about whether we go or will not go to war. That decision will ultimately be made by Saddam Hussein in terms of whether he starts to comply or indeed complies with the inspections, under the inspectors. After all, their job is more than to inspect, it's to verify disarmament, and they've been given very little to verify because Saddam Hussein has not cooperated with them in showing that he has disarmed. So the terms of Resolution 1441 will continue to be followed, and that sets the timetable of January 27th as an important date. Beyond that, events will dictate timetables.

Q Is Blix following everything in 1441, or is he going it on his own a bit?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, he has the right under 1441 to implement the resolution. As you know, the United States has made no secret of the fact that we believe that the interviews with Iraqi scientists out of the country, in the company of their family members, and out of eyeshot and earshot -- out of eyesight and earshot of Iraqi minders is a very important way to ascertain what Saddam Hussein is doing and whether he indeed has disarmed. And we believe that's a very effective procedure, because it's proved in the past to be the most effective procedure in finding out what the truth is.

Q Why are you asking the U.N. to scrap this inspection timetable, stretching into the summer?

MR. FLEISCHER: Because as I mentioned earlier, one, we'll see what happens in terms of timetables -- the events will dictate that. But 1441 lays out the current procedures. The previous resolution, which was number 1284, was written in 1999 and was based on the assumption that Iraq would cooperate and comply, and at the end of the day have sanctions removed. And 1441, which was, of course, enacted after witnessing Iraq's failure to cooperate and failure to comply, set out a different series of times and procedures; 1441 is immediately relevant. If Iraq had complied, other factors could have been taken into account; 1441 is relevant to the reality of today.

Break in Press Gaggle

Q Were you pleased that the inspectors went and visited the two scientists today?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I will always refrain from doing the play-by-play on what the inspectors are doing, hour by hour. But, clearly, when you look at how Saddam Hussein has lied and deceived the world before, one of the best, most effective ways to verify whether Iraq has arms or not is to talk to the people involved in the arms program. It's easy for Saddam Hussein to hide his weapons of mass destruction in a country as large as Iraq. It is harder for him to stop people with something they want to say from saying it. He does that by using minders, by putting them in the room with the inspectors when they have those conversations.

So, therefore, history has shown that the most effective way -- one of the most effective ways to verify disarmament is to talk to the people involved in the programs, and to do so in a way that protects their physical health and safety. Because if Saddam Hussein catches anybody spilling the beans, he has a history of killing them. And that's why the U.N. resolution explicitly authorized the right of the inspectors to talk out of the country with a scientist involved in a weapons program in the company of their families, and outside the watch of the Iraqi minders.

Q Ari, are you working to stop a second resolution from being put forth in the Security Council that would authorize military action?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, it's exactly what I said yesterday, that we're going to continue to consult. And I think there's a division among different nations about whether one is necessary or not. The commitment that the President made was to consult.

Q But your feeling is you don't need a second resolution?

MR. FLEISCHER: The commitment the President made was to consult, and he will keep that commitment. But clearly, the U.N. has already spoken once, and powerfully so.

Q What about a second report in March? Do you want to try to take some kind of -- make some kind of decision before that? Is that to late for you?

MR. FLEISCHER: We already addressed that. That was the conversation about 1441 versus 1286.

Q -- we always have a hard time hearing.

MR. FLEISCHER: Anything else? All right, thank you.

END 10:05 A.M. EST