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Excerpts from the Press Gaggle by Ari Fleischer, November 23, 2002 (Full transcript)

QUESTION: Was the President disheartened that President Putin said the United States should not go it alone in Iraq?

MR. FLEISCHER: But he said that -- I have the quote written down. I didn't bring it with me; I'll be happy to go get it. But he said that -- something to the effect that we have to work together to make sure Iraq doesn't have weapons of mass destruction. And, of course, you saw the issued statement by the President of Russia and President Bush about the need for Saddam Hussein to disarm.

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QUESTION: The issue about Iraq, I mean, Putin seemed to make an equivalence argument between going after Iraq and going after Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. I mean, he specifically talked about the concern of weapons of mass destruction in Pakistan. Did that not seem a little bit surprising to the President, or discordant?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think you can only get from President Putin himself, because when you say "going after," does he mean "going after" in the same way? We're going after finances in Saudi Arabia. We're going after finances around the world. We went after Pakistan and Pakistan changed its course immediately after September 11th. We're still working with Pakistan.

QUESTION: -- Al Qaeda reconfiguring itself in Pakistan --

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me just ask you, do you equate "going after" in the President's context of Iraq with "going after" in the President Putin context of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan? I don't think President Putin was suggesting that President Bush needs to have that -- he understands clearly that President Bush has a focus that is militarily oriented toward Iraq as a last resort. He understands the President is not militarily going after anybody else in that context. So I think President Putin again is making a similar point President Bush made: It's a worldwide effort. But President Putin, obviously, when he gets a question about Iraq, answered in a broader context.

QUESTION: Back to Steve's question, I mean, I have the quote here. It's: We do believe that we have to stay within the framework of work being carried out within the United Nations. Now --

MR. FLEISCHER: What was the sentence right before that, though?

QUESTION: To make sure that we agree with the President of the United States that it's important to make sure that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction in its possession.

MR. FLEISCHER: That's right.

QUESTION: But this second sentence -- and that's the one that Steve was asking you about -- do you take this to mean that the United States, in Russia's opinion, cannot -- that the United States just cannot step outside the Security Council and decide the Security Council is not moving fast enough, they're not deciding that violations are real violations, and the United States is going to go ahead and disarm by force?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think you would have to ask President Putin for more elaboration on what he meant. I don't know that anybody --

QUESTION: What did he say in the meeting about Iraq?

MR. FLEISCHER: In the meeting, it did not come up in that context.

QUESTION: What context did it come up in?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President reiterated what he has said many times publicly, that military options weren't his first option, that he wants to resolve it peacefully. But look, it's the United States that asked for a U.N. Security Council resolution. We, too, want it resolved in the context of the U.N. resolution. We want Saddam Hussein to follow the resolution.

QUESTION: What did President Putin say to Bush about working within the United Nations?

MR. FLEISCHER: That conversation did not come up.

QUESTION: Ari, the President has also said, though, many times, that if the U.N. doesn't act, the U.S. will lead a coalition of willing allies to do it on their own. Putin said it has to be done within the U.N. framework. So that seems like a direct contradiction.

MR. FLEISCHER: I think you try to interpret President Putin's words in a way that I think only President Putin can interpret. When Sandra read that quote, you're reading it to be, military action has to go back to the United Nations. It's also possible that what he is saying is what the President is saying. I don't know what he's saying with precision; only President Putin can tell you in a follow-up -- that you have a resolution; Saddam Hussein has to live up to the resolution. But we're pleased that we have the resolution. We, too, want it solved within the context of the resolution.

QUESTION: Is Russia part of the coalition of the willing?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I am not in a position to start naming names in those countries. I will say this, it will become very obvious to all who's in the coalition of the willing if and when it gets to that point. I'm not prepared to give that out today.

QUESTION: Can I switch to Saudi Arabia for a second?

QUESTION: I just have one quick question on Iraq. Since it's clear that President Putin wants the United States to stick to the U.N. resolution, but since the United States position is that, in order to disarm Saddam Hussein, he must be removed from office, did Putin discuss with the President the U.S. position that, in order to disarm him, we must remove him from office?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President's position is that Saddam Hussein needs to live up to the resolution and disarm. If he does not, he will be disarmed. So that's the President's position, to be clear about what the President is saying.

QUESTION: The President has never said that we want to remove Saddam Hussein from office.

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has said that he hopes that Saddam Hussein and Iraq will comply with the resolution. If they don't, we will disarm them.

QUESTION: In the press conference with Tony Blair, the President didn't say, "We want to remove Saddam Hussein from office"?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President's position is either he will disarm or we will remove him so Iraq is disarmed.

QUESTION: Did he or did he not say that he wants to remove Saddam Hussein, in that press conference with Tony Blair? I mean, is that his position or not?

MR. FLEISCHER: Look, this is an age-old issue and we've gone through this a month ago about can Saddam Hussein disarm.

QUESTION: No, but do we want to remove him from office or not?

MR. FLEISCHER: If he doesn't disarm, yes.

QUESTION: If he does disarm?

MR. FLEISCHER: If Iraq disarms and you have all the other products of the U.N. resolution obeyed and what President Bush called for in New York obeyed, then the regime will have effectively changed.

QUESTION: So then he could stay in office?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think we're very skeptical of Saddam Hussein has any intention of doing it that way. Saddam Hussein has some choices to make.

QUESTION: So the President has changed his mind on whether he wants to remove him from office?

MR. FLEISCHER: We're going around in circles on this. You know what the President's position is on this. You know what the President's position is.

QUESTION: No, I don't.

QUESTION: Obviously, none of us do, for sure.

QUESTION: The President has often said that regime change is the policy of this administration, as it was the previous administration.

MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.

QUESTION: The President has defined that in a press conference with Tony Blair as removing Saddam Hussein from office. You are now saying that's not the case?

MR. FLEISCHER: This is not very complicated. The objective is to disarm Saddam Hussein and have Saddam Hussein live up to everything that he committed to, that the President called on him to do in his September 12 speech.

QUESTION: Why can't you be as clear as the President was when he said in his press conference with Tony Blair that he wants to remove Saddam Hussein from office?

MR. FLEISCHER: If Saddam Hussein doesn't disarm, he will be removed from office. And the President is very skeptical that Saddam Hussein will disarm. But the burden is on Saddam Hussein.

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