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Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, December 20, 2002 (Full transcript)

QUESTION: Ari, yesterday the United States accused Iraq of a material breach with its weapons declaration, and yet there appears to be some difference of opinion within even the P-5 on the Security Council about whether that constitutes Iraq being in material breach of Security Council Resolution 1441. Can you clear this up? Can one member state declare a country to be in material breach? Does it take action by the Security Council to achieve that?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that nothing precludes either the Security Council or individual member states of the Security Council from making their judgments known. Clearly, if it's a collective action -- or it's not a question of action, but if it's a collective judgment, the United Nations Security Council has the right to convene and enter into anything it deems collective. But nothing, because the United Nations Security Council has the right to do things collectively, prohibits individual member states from offering their individual judgments.

QUESTION: So it's a judgment -- it's an accusation as put forth by the United States, but it's not an established fact yesterday that Iraq is in material breach?

MR. FLEISCHER: You've heard the Secretary of State assert it, and I'm not going to get into the semantic game of whether it's a judgment or a fact. Obviously, the judgment that the facts support calling it material breach would not have been made if it wasn't based on the facts.

QUESTION: I'm not sure I want to call it a semantic game or agree that it's a semantic game. There could be differences within the P-5, with Russia, even with the French, about whether or not Iraq is in breach of the resolution, or whether the weapons inspectors would have to find proof that Iraq's declaration was false to put them in breach.

MR. FLEISCHER: I remind you that under the declaration, voted 15 to nothing, Iraq, according to that declaration, is in material breach. So they're in material breach in the present, and I'm not aware that the fact that they submitted a declaration that has been judged universally to be lacking in totality and has not fully complied with the United Nations requests means they've gotten themselves out of material breach.

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QUESTION: My second question has to do with Hans Blix, the director of the inspectors, the U.N. inspectors, who I believe has said publicly that he would like to get more or better intelligence from Washington and London to aid his inspection. Is that a possibility?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we continue to meet with and talk to Hans Blix about all matters of how the world can cooperate to make the job of the inspectors easier. It is entirely in the interest of the United States of America for the inspectors to have every tool and resource necessary to help them to be as effective as they can to do their jobs. And the United States will do that. It is in our interests for the inspectors to be able to find whatever can be found, dispute Saddam Hussein's effort to hide everything he can hide. It is in our interest to see the inspectors continue to apply themselves with additional tools, such as the helicopter that only arrived into Iraq in the last week for the inspector's use. The inspectors themselves are ramping up with our help and our support.

So we will continue to work with them to provide them information. The one thing we won't do is do anything that, around the world, not just in Iraq, but around the world, could compromise sources or methods.

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QUESTION: There are published reports that January 27th is the decision date for whether to wage war on Iraq. Is that true? How long will the President leave diplomacy to work?

MR. FLEISCHER: When the President went to the United Nations on September 12th and urged the United Nations to, last time, pass a resolution to make certain that this time Saddam Hussein disarmed, a new stage began. And this stage is unfolding. And this is a stage in which the President has made perfectly plain to the world that, in the interests of peace, Saddam Hussein will either disarm or the President and the United States will lead a coalition to disarm Saddam Hussein.

This process is developing. And with a declaration by Iraq that is in material breach, the process is deepening. The President believes that it remains vital for the inspectors to continue their mission, to have the tools necessary so they can find out everything they can in the face of a nation that is violating its commitments to the world and is doing everything it can to hide the weapons that they have.

The United Nations process includes another date toward the end of January, on January 27th, when United Nations officials are going to report back to the U.N. on what they find. And the President will be very interested in hearing what they say.

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QUESTION: Ari, perhaps I missed this, but will the President speech out publicly or formally today on Iraq? And do you know whether the U.N. weapons inspectors will continue to work throughout the Christmas vacation?

MR. FLEISCHER: You would have to ask the weapons inspectors about the timing of their inspections and what their intentions are during the holiday period. The President will speak, as I indicated earlier, about the Quartet. And I made no predictions of any other topics he may or may not talk about.

QUESTION: What about a formal statement on Iraq, is that planned?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, there's nothing formal planned on Iraq. Secretary Powell addressed that rather fully yesterday.

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QUESTION: I wanted to follow up on a question earlier about the inspectors. You were talking earlier about the U.S. concern about compromising sources and methods and being very deliberate about providing information to the inspectors. For those members of the Security Council who are asking the United States to provide them the intelligence information that the United States is saying is persuasive, the United States' answer is, no; is that correct?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, the United States' answer is, yes. We continue to provide information and to share intelligence and to make means available to the inspectors so they can do their job. It is in our interest to do so.

QUESTION: But to the members of the Security Council and to our allies --

MR. FLEISCHER: I think you've got an issue -- let me ask you if you have this issue. There was a different issue where the President of the Security Council made a determination in the longstanding traditions of the Security Council dealing with proliferation information, that in an effort to make certain that there are no proliferation impacts from the release of an Iraqi report that was rather explicit on some of their nuclear programs, that information that could be proliferation-sensitive was shared only with the P-5 nations, all of which are nuclear nations. The non P-5 nations or the E-10, the information was not shared with, which is a procedure and a tradition of the Security Council.

I'm aware there has been some discussion of that from the E-10, but this is a decision made by the United Nations Security Council along the lines of making certain that proliferation concerns are addressed.

QUESTION: Just to make sure that I have this straight. The United States is willing to give all the intelligence that we have to the inspectors --

MR. FLEISCHER: In keeping with what I said earlier about sources and methods. And that's not just an issue for the inspectors. The United States, as I said, has every interest in wanting to make sure the inspectors are able to do their job. But around the world, we won't have any sources or methods if around the world people think the United States is willing to just share sources and methods everywhere. And so I think that's generally accepted and expected.

QUESTION: And the P-5 also? The P-5 --

MR. FLEISCHER: The P-5 are not the inspectors; the inspectors are the ones who are doing the work.

QUESTION: But you're talking about -- the P-5 members are not able to get the same intelligence that the inspectors would have?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think you need to ask the P-5 nations. But the United States is sharing information with the inspectors. And we have close collaboration around the world with various nations on sharing of information on the intelligence front. And, of course, I'm not going to describe to you what is shared.

QUESTION: Ari, this morning Tony Blair issued, I guess, a Christmas message to the troops whose gist was, be ready. Does the President have a similar holiday message for the troops?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President's radio address is going to be aimed at the country and it's going to be a message of greetings for the Christmas season, and I encourage you to listen to that.

QUESTION: But in a larger sense, does the President have any thoughts to share with the troops as, you know, the possibility of war with Iraq looms?

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me put it to you this way. The President's message to America's men and women around the world is that the job that they do and the duty they fulfill helps keep our nation strong and free. It keeps us the pride of the world, and it keeps us the great nation, the strong nation that we are. He has tremendous gratitude for the sacrifices that people are making in serving our country.

QUESTION: But nothing specific to Iraq and the potential sacrifices that may be yet to come?

MR. FLEISCHER: No. I think again, I've addressed it as I can. That's what the President's message is.

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