Excerpts from the Press Briefings by Ari Fleischer October 15, 2002 (Full Transcript)
QUESTION: With so much on the President's plate, why is -- the fear that the sniper has instilled in this whole community and so forth, everything else -- why does the President want to go to war?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Helen, I'm not certain that there's -- I'm not sure I understand that connection between what you're saying -- and I also have to again dispute. The President does not want to go to war. The President wants to preserve peace. The President is going through the United Nations --
QUESTION: Why is he sending of thousands of soldiers and people to the Persian Gulf, including planes and tanks and carriers and so forth if he's not planning a war?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think if you take a look at the actions of Saddam Hussein -- he threw out the weapons inspectors in 1998. I think there would be absolutely no discussion by Saddam Hussein --
QUESTION: For 11 years he's been contained and everybody knows that. So why do you want to go to war?
MR. FLEISCHER: Are you opposed to having the weapons inspectors return?
QUESTION: No, no, I think it would be good to have them go back. But I don't keep you should keep threatening war every day.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think one of the reasons that there is even now talk of the weapons inspectors going back is because the President has been firm and tough. If the President had not been firm, there would be no discussion in the United Nations about the return of the inspectors. So one of the things the President believes is that the best way to preserve peace and to make certain that Iraq does what it promised to do, and that's to disarm, is for the United States to show -- and to mean it -- that we are resolute, we are determined to enforce the peace and make certain Saddam Hussein disarms.
QUESTION: How about the other countries in the Middle East? Are you willing to have them be inspected?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is for enforcing the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council. That's why he went to the U.N.
QUESTION: All of the resolutions? Do you think no other countries violated them?
MR. FLEISCHER: Not like Saddam Hussein has, and not when it's a clear call for action by the U.N. to enforce disarmament. There are other issues, of course, in the Middle East involving Resolutions 242 and 338 involving Israel.
QUESTION: That have been violated.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, those agreements call for -- those resolutions call for political dialogue. That's not what the U.N. called for in Iraq.
QUESTION: The President tomorrow is going to meet with Sharon. Can you tell us what he wants to do with that meeting and what he -- what kind of assurances the U.S. is going to provide Israel in the case of a war with Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: One, the meeting will take place tomorrow afternoon, and so I'll endeavor after the meeting to give you as much of a read as I can about what actually transpired. I can tell you the President is looking forward to talking to the Prime Minister about the fundamental issues involving peace in the Middle East, with Israel and the Palestinians and making progress on the Middle East peace front. That's the reason the President is having this meeting, principally.
And on that front, it continues to be very important, in the President's opinion, for Israel to live up to its responsibilities to help promote peace in the Middle East, for the Palestinians to do the same, and for the Arab neighbors to continue to do the same. There has been less violence in the region recently, but there is still too much violence in the region. And the President wants to make certain that the path toward reform is continued. That's where he sees the best prospects for peace in the future.
As far as anything involving Iraq, given the fact that the President has not made any decisions about anything military, I think it's going to be premature to get into anything specific about anything that might involve any countries in the region. But we'll in all cases have close consultation with all our friends in the region as events move forward.
QUESTION: But I mean, has the President -- the President has plans on his desk. He has not chosen one of those plans, but he does have military plans on his desk. And clearly, whatever Israel does or doesn't do, if Iraq were to fire something at Israel would be an important thing to discuss in terms of planning what might happen. And when you say, clearly they will discuss --
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I think that given the fact that we're dealing in hypotheticals, the administration will have close consultation not only with Israel but with all neighbors in the region as events develop. And it's impossible to predict how those events will develop.
QUESTION: Are you saying they're not going to talk about it tomorrow?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let the meeting take place tomorrow and I'll try to give you any more read that I can.
QUESTION: I do have a question. John Bolton today referred to the process you'll have to go through in Iraq after Saddam is no longer in power as de-Nazification. I was wondering whether he was reflecting the White House's view of what could take place, whether you can explain a little more what kind of de-Nazification you have in mind? And tell us whether or not these comparisons which have popped up periodically with the Nazi regime and Iraq to your mind have the right tone to them?
MR. FLEISCHER: David, on that question, this is the first of what I've heard of what Secretary Bolton has said. And so allow me to take a look at what he has said in complete context and talk to him before I comment specifically on that.
There is an opinion, however, of course, about the Ba'ath regime and the nature of a regime that oppresses its people and engages in hostility against its neighbors. And that's why I think Congress, going back to the '98 Iraq Liberation Act, made regime change our policy. But I'll take a look specifically at what was said.
QUESTION: You've said the President wants regime change in Iraq, by which I take it to mean the President wants to overthrow the government in Iraq. Why don't you just say the President wants to overthrow the government in Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: Russell, I think you need to address your question to the hundreds of members of Congress who in 1998 voted for regime change as America's policy under President Clinton, who signed it into law.
QUESTION: If I could follow up, Ari.
MR. FLEISCHER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: You use the term regime change. Why don't you just say, we want to overthrow the government of Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because I describe the law as the law was described when it passed and as it's been commonly referred to.
QUESTION: Second. That was a follow-up. If India adopted the Bush administration's policy on preemptive attack, vis a vis let's say Pakistan, or if China adopted the Bush administration policy on preemptive attack, vis a vis Taiwan, would you consider that a lawful policy under international law?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think what's different is the unique history of Iraq and the irrationality of Iraq. Different policies work in different regions of the world, and different doctrines work at different times and in different regions because of the local circumstances. Policies of containment work more with a rational figure than with an irrational one. That's why the policy of containment worked vis a vis the Soviet Union.
Iraq, on the other hand, given its military history, given the amount of weaponry that Iraq has acquired that they have actually used to invade their neighbors, to attack their neighbors, to launch missiles against their neighbors, has not been deterred by such policies in the past. Given the fact that an irrational leader who has a history of military force and military use and military aggression and domination may acquire a nuclear weapon, the question is, should it be the policy of the United States to do nothing, and allow such a leader to acquire a weapon that he could then use to blackmail the world and blackmail the region, and even use it to harm us.