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Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, October 2, 2002 (Full transcript)

QUESTION: Ari, what is the goal in Iraq, disarmament or regime change? It seemed like both messages were said.

MR FLEISCHER: The President believes that both are important and they are both statements of American policy. The President thinks that it's important to enforce the resolutions that have been passed by the United Nations for the last decade, which mostly aim at -- on the issue of disarmament. And the President, of course, supports the laws of the United States, and the law includes regime change.

QUESTION: So the purpose of using military force, if it comes to that, will be regime change?

MR FLEISCHER: I think it will be both disarmament and regime change, if it comes to that.

QUESTION: In the President's remarks, he said the United States will work with other nations to help the Iraqi people form a just government and a unified country. Can you expand on that?

MR FLEISCHER: The President is saying that, in the event that this does come to the use of military power, it is important to work with other nations in the region as well as the United Nations to make sure that Iraq -- from a territorial point, the integrity of Iraq's -- the unitorial integrity of Iraq is respected, as events would move forward. And that's an important part of what would be considered a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.

QUESTION: And that the United States would work to form a just government. What would that look like?

MR FLEISCHER: I think it would look very different from the government that's in place today. It would be a government that, number one, respects the United Nations. A government, two, that ceases to engage in hostility with its neighbors and threaten its neighbors, suppress its minorities. A government that abides by the agreement that Iraq entered into in 1991 to cease its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.

QUESTION: And a final question on this --

MR FLEISCHER: And to disarm.

QUESTION: Is this a pledge that America would guarantee a democratic election and supervise it in Iraq post-Saddam?

MR FLEISCHER: Terry, I think as a broad statement, if you look at what the President said in his State of the Union, the President does share a vision around the world that applies everywhere, that the future of mankind is to be free, and the best way to ensure freedom is through democracy.

But I think it's an over-read to say that the President of the United States or any nation can impose democracy or create democracy. But certainly the mission, the direction of a post-Iraq government should be in the direction of most liberty and freedom for its people, which democracy represents. And that has been, if you take a look at Afghanistan, for example, the history of Afghanistan was not certainly under the Taliban or under the Soviet Union one of democracy, but under the loya jirgah and the helping hand the United States and others are providing in the rebuilding of Afghanistan they certainly are more free and more democratic than before.

QUESTION: Ari, can you just be clear about this. If it comes to military action, you're saying that the goal of military action would be to depose Saddam first, and then disarmament would follow?

MR FLEISCHER: I think it's impossible to say what a precise sequence would be, John.

QUESTION: I would assume that when the military goes in there, they're not going to start hunting around for all of the chemical and biological weapons factories first, they're going to go for the head, correct?

MR FLEISCHER: I'm just not in a position to give you an indication of what a potential military tactic may or may not be. I don't think you can reach any conclusions --

QUESTION: I'm not asking about tactics, I'm asking about policy.

MR FLEISCHER: I don't know what the difference is, when you say, you assume that the military would go in and do one before the other. I don't know that you can reach any conclusions that it necessarily has to be sequential. They are both the policy of the President, as I answered in Terry's question. Helen.

QUESTION: Why is a family grudge included in the official paper that states our position on war and peace?

MR FLEISCHER: Helen, if you're referring to an attempt to assassinate a former United States President, which Iraq tried to do when former President Bush went to Kuwait --

QUESTION: Does that justify killing thousands of people in Iraq?

MR FLEISCHER: Helen, I think it's also why former President Clinton responded to that assassination attempt with four days of Cruise missile strikes against Iraq, because an attempt to assassinate a former United States President --

QUESTION: So this is a repetition to try again, for that reason?

MR FLEISCHER: I think the President cited multiple reasons why Saddam Hussein is a menace and a threat.

QUESTION: But you people are acting like this is a conversion to democracy by the sword. How can you -- I mean, are you going to kill all these people, to get democracy?

MR FLEISCHER: Helen, I think that when you heard the powerful statements that were made by Democrats and Republicans alike, some of the most thoughtful and reflective members of the Congress, what you are about to see is going to be a very healthy and important congressional debate that underscores how reluctant democracies are to go to war, about how determined we are as a people and a united Congress to protect the American people from the threats that Saddam Hussein presents. Campbell.

QUESTION: Ari, the chief weapons inspector is going to brief the U.N. Security Council about his meetings with the Iraqis tomorrow. Assume -- you've already made your position clear that the White House wants a new resolution before the inspectors go back. But if the other members of the Security Council want to proceed while these debates over a new resolution continue, what are the U.S. options? Can you kind of explain -- is it something that you can prevent?

MR FLEISCHER: Well, one, I think that was the whole purpose in the President going to the United Nations to talk to the existing members of the Security Council about the circumstances which would be most constructive in having Saddam Hussein live up to the commitments he made. The whole purpose is so that if and when inspectors return to Iraq, they do so so that their efforts are constructive from day one, not a game of cat-and-mouse from day one. And the fear now is that under the existing regime, this is a return to the cat-and-mouse game of the '90s, and that's not acceptable, because the President thinks, as Secretary Powell said last night, that maximum pressure put on Iraq is the best way for the world to go.

Break in Press Briefing

QUESTION: Ari, two questions. First of all, following up on the point Campbell was trying to make, as the U.N. Security Council debates a new resolution to send in the inspectors, will the U.S. veto it if it does not include the kind of instructions that the President seeks? And then I have one other quickie.

MR FLEISCHER: Okay. Well, again, I'd repeat what Secretary Powell made plain last night, when he said: we do not -- when he added -- we do not believe that the inspectors should go back in under the old set of resolutions and under the old inspection regime. Therefore, we do not believe they should go in until they have new instructions. And the reason for that, let me try to elaborate on this. The reason for that is so that when they return, they return in a way that is constructive and leads to confidence that Iraq will -- is being disarmed, not so they can go back there and repeat what risks being a multi-year stretch-out, once again, as Iraq drags its feet.

The fear here is that Iraq's goal is to engage in a ploy so that they can drag this out before the world as they continue to build up their arms. And let me -- let me review a little bit of history about how these inspections actually work in practice under the existing rules, and why it's so important in the United States' opinion that the inspectors not return to Iraq without new instructions.

QUESTION: Okay, but if you promise when you close you'll deal with the veto part of my question?

MR FLEISCHER: Well, I can only say it as plain as Secretary Powell has. But you talk about veto as if there is a resolution to be vetoed. What you have to keep in mind, to answer your question, is that the meeting that took place in Vienna is under the terms of the existing resolutions and then Hans Blix will report back to the Security Council tomorrow for whom he works -- and the United States is a member of the Security Council -- to discuss what is next.

QUESTION: So the timing -- Well, it's premature to discuss whether there even is a form for something to be vetoed or approved, because you're presupposing there is a resolution that will get passed that is a repeat of the existing resolutions.

As you know, the debate in the Security Council right now is about a new resolution with new and different authority. I'm not aware of anybody saying that there should be a resolution that's a carbon copy of the ones that failed before.

QUESTION: May I do a follow-up on this, before you get --

MR FLEISCHER: I want to get into a little bit of the history here, because I think it is crucial for people to understand why the administration feels so strongly about not repeating the mistakes of the past. And people in 2002 may just assume that things worked easily for these inspectors in the '90s, that they were able to get access, they were able to determine whether or not there was something there that indicated Saddam Hussein was building up weapons.

And here's just a short version of the chronology of it. In September 1991, inspectors found large amounts of documentation relating to Iraq's efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. The Iraqi officials confiscated the documents from the inspectors. The inspectors refused to yield a second set of the documents. That resulted in a four-day standoff in which the team remained in a parking lot, basically held hostage by the Iraqis, unable to carry out their mission. Only after the Security Council threatened enforcement actions did Saddam Hussein relent.

In January of 1993, as a further harassment of the inspectors, making their job very hard to do, Iraq refused to allow UNSCOM the use of UNSCOM's own aircraft to fly into Iraq. In June of 1997, Iraq interfered with UNSCOM's helicopter operations, threatening the safety of the aircraft and their crews. In September 1997, while seeking access to a site for inspection declared by Iraq to be "sensitive" -- in other words, a condition that they again slapped on inspectors -- UNSCOM's inspectors witnessed and videotaped the movement of files, the burning of documents, and the dumping of ash filled from waste cans into a nearby river.

Finally, in 1998, in the events that led up to the decision by the U.N. that Iraq had effectively made it impossible for the inspectors to do their jobs, Iraq tried to limit the scope and veracity of UNSCOM's biological warfare monitors by preventing their access to sites that were previously designated as having biological weapons, claiming that their ownership had been transferred to other government owners, and therefore the inspectors no longer were allowed in.

These are the cat-and-mouse games that Iraq has played to a masterpiece. They have played the world like a fiddle before, and the President thinks, for the safety of the world, we cannot let these mistakes be repeated again.

QUESTION: I guess finally I'm just wondering how far is the U.S. going to go to try to make sure that other resolution that you seek is written to ensure what you all believe could happen again?

MR FLEISCHER: Well, again, the President is focused on making certain that the purpose of the inspectors is to know that Saddam Hussein has disarmed. And the best way to obtain that result is for Saddam Hussein to know that there is a price to be paid if he repeats the same harassment, the same intimidation tactics that he employed so effectively throughout the '90s, that effectively stopped the inspectors from knowing what Saddam Hussein had.

QUESTION: The Bush administration is following the Iraq policy on two tracks, the United Nations and Congress. How soon would the President like to have a resolution from both Houses so he can not wait before the U.N. takes its own resolution --

MR FLEISCHER: Well, the timing of course will be up to the Congress to decide. The House International Relations Committee will begin its markup of the resolution that was introduced today by the Speaker and the Minority Leader. I expect they may complete work on that as early as tomorrow.

And of course, both the House and the Senate have indicated that they will leave on October 11th. Nobody really knows if they will meet that target date or not. But, obviously, they don't have a lot of time left.

But the President is very pleased -- obviously, today's event was a powerful event that sends an unmistakable message to Saddam Hussein that the Democrats and the Republicans in the Congress are coming together as one nation representing one people. And Saddam Hussein needs to understand that this is the will of the President and the will of the Congress, and we are working together on behalf of this goal.

Break in Press Briefing

QUESTION: Is it the administration's position that if Saddam does not comply to other U.N. resolutions, aside from dismantling weapons of mass destruction, that that would be cause for military action against Iraq?

MR FLEISCHER: I think if you want to know the categorical position of the United States, read the resolution that was introduced today in the House and the Senate by Democrats and Republicans. That lays out the clauses that the administration thinks are important to a fair debate of this issue, and to a proper understanding of the administration's feelings on it. That resolution speaks -- speaks plainly and says it all.

QUESTION: But does the administration believe that the resolution that the House agrees with the White House now actually approves and gives it the authority to act militarily if Saddam Hussein does not comply to the other U.N. resolutions, aside from dismantling weapons of mass destruction? The President mentioned torture, he mentioned rape, return of prisoners.

MR FLEISCHER: Let me read to you from the resolution that the administration supports that the will shortly be voted on by the Congress and that was discussed today by the many members of Congress in the Rose Garden. Reading from Section 3, Authorization for Use of United States Armed Forces:

"The President is authorized to use the armed force of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to, one, defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq and, two, enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq."

I think that says it all.


QUESTION: You said that the purpose of military force was both disarmament and regime change. Is it your belief that, even though it doesn't explicitly refer to regime change, except to refer back to the 1998 resolution, that the President would have explicit authority from Congress to use U.S. military force for regime change in Iraq?

MR FLEISCHER: I think that if anybody is thinking or expecting that in the event that the United States use military force, one result might be that Saddam Hussein remains the leader of Iraq. That's a rather unrealistic notion.

Break in Press Briefing

QUESTION: There are some foreign policy experts who suggest that rather than not supporting inspectors going in, the U.S. should push for this resolution, the existing one, because they say the pattern is Saddam will hide something or he'll be found in violation, and if anything, the U.S. to go back to the U.N. and get what they want quicker than sort of pushing for this second resolution. Has that been considered?

MR FLEISCHER: That's not the view of the administration. The administration views this strongly as Iraq's ploy yesterday to play more cat-and-mouse games to stretch out the world, to take more time to build up their arms.

QUESTION: And yet, the pattern, you don't think it may be worth -- let's get them in there, they'll find something, we'll stop them?

MR FLEISCHER: The pattern that this administration has seen is that the only time Saddam Hussein takes meaningful action is when there is a clear implication about what would happen by his failure to take action. And that's why the existing resolutions have failed in the past.

Break in Press Briefing

QUESTION: Two quick questions. It's very obvious the reason Iraq wants the inspectors back in under the old resolution, is that there are certain areas where they'd be off limits under prior arrangement, including many of the presidential palaces. However, reading the tea leaves, by all we understand, France and China and Russia would like to see the inspectors back in under the old resolutions or whatever as soon as possible. If that happens, there are many experts who say there is no way the U.S. is going to get a strong resolution through the Security Council. It would be an exercise in futility. I just want to make sure we understand you correctly.

On the basis of what Powell said yesterday, the United States has no legal clout under the U.N. charter to do anything to block the inspectors from going back in now. All it can do is arm twist; is that correct?

MR FLEISCHER: I mean, I'm not familiar enough with the legalities of the United Nations resolution process. I can only assure you that Secretary Powell said what he said last night for a reason. Because the whole purpose of this exercise is to make sure that Saddam Hussein disarms. That's the only reason to send inspectors back to Iraq. There's no purpose in sending inspectors back to Iraq so they can be run around, chased, fired at, bugged and denied. That's not the purpose of why inspectors should go there.

QUESTION: The bottom line is, how do you prevent the inspectors from going back in in the middle of this month under the arrangement made with Blix in Vienna?

MR FLEISCHER: As I indicated, through diplomacy and through logic, which is what the United Nations is built around, we hope.

QUESTION: Does the President have a war plan on his desk in the event he decides the military --

MR FLEISCHER: I think the President has made it plain for the last several weeks that he is reviewing options from a military point of view; he has not made any decisions about them. He is reviewing options.