Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, January 23, 2003
On foreign policy, the President this morning spoke with President
Putin of Russia. It was a very useful and productive session. The two
leaders reviewed Russian-American cooperation on Iraq; they discussed
North Korea, as well, and agreed to remain in close touch on these
issues in the period ahead.
And finally, the President would like to thank the people and the
government of Australia for their efforts in working to achieve peace
through the military force that Australia has dispatched to Iraq. The
President continues to hope that this matter can be resolved
peacefully, but thanks to the efforts of nations like Australia, the
signal that is being sent that the world is serious helps enhance the
chances for peace.
And with that, I'm happy to take your questions.
In that phone call, Ari, Russian President Putin, according to
Russian sources, said that the January 27th report holds the key to
the future, the implication being that if the UNMOVIC folks say that
they're receiving some cooperation from Iraq, we need more time for
inspections, that would be a position that Russia would support. It
seems to be at odds with the position that you're putting out --
I think it's important -- we all agree that it's an
important date. And the President and President Putin both look
forward to seeing what the report says when it goes up to the United
Nations next week. We will await further judgment until that takes
place. And as the two discussed today, of course, we will continue to
consult prior to the report's arrival and following the report's
Would you seek a second resolution at the United Nations authorizing
I think it's not clear at this time. It's premature to
make any judgments about it. It is a possibility. The President has
said repeatedly that he thinks it's very important to work in close
concert with our allies. The President thinks it's very important for
Iraq to receive as unambiguous a signal as possible that the world
means business, and therefore Saddam Hussein will have the greatest
incentives to do what he is obligated to do, which is to disarm.
But the President has also made it clear that if Saddam Hussein does
not disarm that the President will lead a coalition of the willing. So
we -- from the President's point of view, it's preferable to work in
concert with the allies to the greatest degree possible. And the
United Nations Security Council is one very effective avenue to do so.
There are other effective avenues, as well.
So I would assume that that means that if it looked like you were
going to draw a veto from France, you wouldn't go that route?
Well, again, we'll let events take place and see how
discussions go. I'm not going to presume the final outcomes.
You said earlier today that the President doesn't care whether the
American people support any decision to go to war or not.
I didn't say that.
Basically you said it.
No, it's a --
Okay, what did you say?
It's a wily paraphrase, Helen, wily.
I think I compressed it well. (Laughter.)
I know you do. That's why you asked it the way you did.
The President believes the following: that his job as
Commander-in-Chief is to, first and foremost, protect the country from
any threats that he perceives the American people may suffer. In
carrying out that duty, the President, of course, at all times wants
to have the support of the American people. But if the American people
are fundamentally opposed to, or totally in favor of, a military
action anywhere in the world, the President will make his judgment
about when to use force to protect the country on the basis of what he
believes is best to protect the country, not on the basis of any poll
for or against.
So basically you're saying the impact of the public's opinion has no
meaning, meaning, actually, the anti-war demonstrations have no impact
on the White House.
No, Helen, what I'm saying is quite the contrary. The
President, of course, seeks public support, and if the President makes
a determination to use public -- use support, the President will go to
the public. And I think you'll see he'll -- there will be even more
support. At this very moment, the strong majority of the American
people, as indicated by public polls, as on a very consistent and
long-term basis, with little to no change since last August, have said
that they support the use of force to disarm Saddam Hussein.
-- that he does expect that the public would support him if he goes
-- I mean, they would rally the patriotism and so forth. Isn't this
what the drumbeat is now, where major speeches every day in support of
Well, I think there's no question that the
administration is and will continue to take its case and make its case
to the American people. We are a democracy, after all.
If he makes the case, why don't you produce the weapons?
That's up to Saddam Hussein to produce the weapons.
They're not in the possession of the United States.
No, if it was up to us -- we keep charging it; if we know something
why don't we prove it"
Well, let events take their course, Helen, and listen
to Mr. Wolfowitz's speech today.
Are you going to pull a rabbit out of the hat?
Secretary Defense Rumsfeld yesterday seemed very dismissive of the
position of France and Germany. He said, they're the "old" Europe.
Does the President agree with that?
Well, I think that the President and all members of his
Cabinet look at Europe broadly, and would speak to many nations in
Europe on many different levels. And the President has set in forth a
series of events to work very closely with all nations of Europe. And
that it the path that we'll pursue. And I think when you take a look
at what's going on in Europe, vis-a-vis whether or not force should be
used to disarm Saddam Hussein, and whether or not European governments
will support the position of the United States, what you see is a
tremendous amount of support for the American position.
There indeed are a couple nations that have spoken out otherwise, and
in some cases they are big nations and they are important nations. But
there are many nations in Europe that have expressed their opinions on
this, and I think, from the President's point of view, President Bush
is confident that Europe will answer the call.
It remains possible that France won't be on the line. But the
President will continue to respect the nations that may or may not
disagree with the United States' position on this at the end. And he
will work productively with each of these nations, no matter what
position they ultimately take. But there's no question the President
is confident that Europe and much of the rest of the world will answer
the call if the call is made.
I asked you this this morning -- both the President and Tony Blair
and others have said that unity is essential in confronting Saddam
Hussein because he will take any crack in international unity as an
excuse, as a refuge to defy the will of the United Nations. Isn't
France and Germany's position essentially giving him heart, giving him
No, no, the President does not believe that. The
President respects the rights of sovereign nations to make their own
decisions. That is one of the things that has kept the great alliance
of NATO and the European Union and America's strong relations with
Europe as strong as it has been through the ups and downs of 50 years,
since the postwar period began. And that's because we are democracies.
And on occasion, there may be a couple nations with whom we have
The President does believe that the more the world is unified, the
more Saddam Hussein feels the pressure, the more he will be willing to
disarm peacefully. And that's why the President thinks it's important
to continue the diplomacy. And he will. But at the end of the day, the
President has made clear that if he makes the determination that the
time has come where Saddam Hussein does need to disarm, because of the
risks his armaments pose toward the United States and our interests,
that he will lead a coalition of the willing. And I think it's fair to
say it will be a rather robust coalition with many nations in it.
Does the French position damage U.S. relations with France?
MR. FLEISCHER: Of course, not. No, France -- France remains an ally of
the United States. France will always be an ally of the United States.
And the ultimate position of France is unknown, and talks will
continue with France. But I'm indicating that it is entirely
conceivable that at the end of the day, when Europe answers the call,
France won't be on the line. That is a distinct possibility. That's up
to the French. No matter what decision the French make, the President
will respect France, will respect France's leaders. And the United
States and the people of the United States will continue to have a
strong relationship with the people of France. It will not stop the
President from doing what he believes is necessary to protect the
world from the threat of Saddam Hussein.
QUESTION: Which nations do you think you can count on in the event there is a
Well, again, I'm somewhat reluctant to name nations
until those nations themselves name -- put their own name forward.
Australia, of course, today, has taken the action that it's taken. And
the President has thanked the people of Australia for their strong
But I think that it's fair to say that when you want to sum up where
Europe is on this question, there are divisions in Europe. Europe
doesn't have one opinion or one thought. Europe is divided with most
of the governments of Europe in support of America. There are few who
are not; there are a few who are not yet decided about what position
they will take.
But when you take a look at England, when you take a look at the
recent statements by the President of Italy that while they would
prefer to go through the United Nations they will support the United
States, when you take a look at all the nations of Eastern Europe who
have their own recent history with how to deal with oppression and
totalitarianism, there's a tremendous base of support. And I think
that will become manifest. There are nations that get all the focus.
Those aren't the only nations in Europe.
QUESTION: Going back to John's question about the need for a second
resolution, our closest ally, Great Britain has said that they would
like to have a second resolution from the U.N. Why not, if unity is so
important, why not -- why aren't we saying that we're willing to go
and get a second resolution when the U.S. and the coalition of the
willing could act unilaterally regardless of what the U.N. voted?
Well, one, I think it's important to finish the
sentence of the British on this. They said that, but then they
immediately added as part of the same sentence that the absence of a
resolution does not stop the coalition from doing what it needs to do
to protect the peace and to disarm Saddam Hussein. So it's not as if
they're saying this is the only way to go.
And as I indicated in my answer earlier, the United States does
believe that the United Nations is a helpful channel to achieve
consensus and try to build coalitions. It is a preferable route, but
it is not the only route. And it is an issue where the President has
said repeatedly, if Saddam Hussein does not disarm, he will lead a
coalition to disarm him. So I really don't think there's much of a
difference in the approach on that. The only question is whether
nations have said, without the United Nations, the rest of the world
must be in handcuffs. And that's not a position the United States
QUESTION: That's not the position that the British are taking either. Why
wouldn't you say --
No, that's identical.
So that your preference and you plan or would like to go get a
second resolution first, maintaining the option as you have all along
As the President showed last fall, the preference is,
as always, to build the maximum amount of support possible. But the
President has said repeatedly and Secretary Powell has said repeatedly
that handcuffs cannot be placed on the United States.
QUESTION: Why can't you say second resolution, though? Why does it have to be
maximum support? Would you want a second resolution, or not?
We want whatever channels are available to have the
maximum amount of support. If that took the form of a second
resolution, that would be a desirable event. It need not be the only
A comment on Iraq, somewhat obliquely. In addition to France and
Germany and countries that would logically be against immediate action
or any kind of action, such as perhaps Russia and China, but now
Canada -- in addition, NATO is taking the position it would like to
wait and give the inspectors more time. And for the first time,
meeting with reporters, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General
Richard Myers, says, look, we don't have to go now; we could wait
several months and still have our fighting edge. Is this leaning the
President -- who has been saying time is running out for Saddam
Hussein -- is it leaning him to perhaps wait, to perhaps give more
time without going in, say, immediately?
I think the President has made it very plain when the
President has said that time is running out. And as I've indicated,
the President has not put a more precise timetable on it. If a more
precise timetable will emerge, the President will be the one to inform
the country about that. And that's, frankly, where it stands.
Let me do a follow-up then. But is the President willing to go
against the apparent wishes of European nations and NATO and Canada
and maybe others to act sooner than they would perhaps like the United
States and the coalition to act?
MR. FLEISCHER: Reverse the question, are there European nations who
are willing to go against a larger number of their colleague European
nations who agree with the United States about the approach we're
taking and may finally -- if and when the President makes the judgment
that it is time to go -- will stand with the United States. That's why
I indicated to you that the President is confident that Europe will
answer the call if the call is made.
But again, the focus, the questions all seem to be on the few, not the
many who are supportive of the President's position. And there are,
indeed, many who are in support of the President's position. And I'm
sure they're ready and willing to be found.
You said that there's very little time left and that there's little
maneuvering left for -- it's up to Saddam Hussein to not go the path
of war. But short of Saddam Hussein either stepping down or being
overthrown or killed by the Iraqi people, what are the credible
options that the Iraqi regime has? To go forward and say, okay, well,
there's a new declaration, here's what we really have. Or here's a
site, look for yourself, these are the weapons of mass destruction
we've been hiding -- I mean, those options can't seem to be credible,
have any kind of credibility if Saddam Hussein is not to be trusted.
And that's the heart of the problem. If Saddam Hussein
is not willing to take on the obligations he committed to take on,
then it's proof-perfect that Saddam Hussein remains just as much of a
threat to the world today as he was in the 1990s when he had
possession of the weapons of mass destruction and, as everybody knows,
he used them.
He still has the weapons of mass destruction. And so the issue
remains, again, the world has called on Saddam Hussein to disarm.
Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. And as Deputy
Secretary Wolfowitz is pointing out in New York today, there is
verifiable and visible proof on how nations that intend to disarm act.
Saddam Hussein is acting just the opposite of how the nations that
previously disarmed are acting. We have proof-perfect. Khazakstan did
it. It was done in South Africa. It was done in the Ukraine. Saddam
Hussein is doing the opposite of what the nations that showed that
they were disarming is doing.
-- saying is that it's up to Saddam Hussein to show that he's
disarmed, and then you're saying, he's not to be trusted, he hasn't
disarmed -- what options does he have left to actually change course
MR. FLEISCHER: Disarm. Disarm. Show the world where he is hiding his
weapons and disarm them.
How could you possibly know that if you don't trust what he says or
what he does?
Because we know he has weapons of mass destruction.
Ari, is the President most comfortable -- more comfortable in
Europe, working with the Central European countries who have all
expressed -- or there's been widespread support amongst those nations
for the Iraq policy -- than he is sort of the older line, France,
No, I think the President is comfortable working with
all these nations. And on different issues, there's going to be a
different level of cooperation, depending on the nature of the issue.
And so there are interesting things happening in Europe. There are
interesting changes underway in Europe as the Eastern Europe nations
join Europe and join NATO and join the EU. Europe is a changing place;
it always has been. Europe is a more peaceful place than it was in
previous centuries, and Europe is a very -- a place with great
variety. And the fact of the end of communism has brought a tremendous
number of new nations into Europe. And these new nations see things
very much the American way in terms of their approach to us on these
security issues. They understand the price of repression and the price
of oppression. They understand what it was like to live, recently,
under tyranny. And they understand that sometimes it is important to
step up to the fight against tyranny.
QUESTION:You talk about the focus on the few, and not the many in Europe. Are
there long-term ramifications or what do you think they are for
U.S.-German or U.S.-French relations, given the position that they're
taking now with Iraq?
None. I think it's one of the strengths of the alliance
that there are going to be issues on which we differ. And that is what
part of what democracies do, and that's part of why democracies
endure. And they endure beyond the terms of any one leader, they
endure for generations. And that's the great success story of Europe.
That's the great success story that we're watching grow before our
eyes in Eastern Europe.
And so, as I indicated, it's entirely the prerogative of the nation
states to make their own determinations. And I think, still, it's fair
to say that at the end, no one knows what the final determinations
they will make will be. I think if you had gone back to September or
November, after the President went to the United States and said, how
will the nations vote on the Security Council resolution, if you
recall, there was a tremendous amount of unknown in October and
November until the votes were cast. So it still remains a question of
the unknown. But what is known, in terms of the support for the
American position, is that it's widespread and under-covered.
Well, tell us who they are.
I just did.
You said repeatedly the President wants to have the broadest
possible support that he can get among allies in Europe and elsewhere
in the world for any possible action against Iraq. Why then, to
bolster the President's case, not release any intelligence, any
information, new information you've gathered that proves beyond a
shadow of a doubt to any skeptics or any reluctant foreign governments
that he is a clear and present danger and has moved forward since 1998
in his effort to obtain weapons of mass destruction --
I think that over time, the President will continue to
make his case. And I've been asked repeatedly about when the President
gives an address, for example, the State of the Union on Tuesday
night, does the President have a message for foreign governments? The
President is very cognizant of the fact that every time he
communicates, it's a message that's heard abroad. And that's why I
said to you today that the President is confident that Europe, if the
call is made, will answer the call. And there may be some exceptions.
But again, the President begins this confident that the world will
Do you say that -- do you say that implying that there will be some
new evidence? I mean, will there or won't there?
Let events take their course. That's a question I've
never answered before. You're always able to judge the President's
speech every day the President gives a speech. You'll be judging
Secretary Wolfowitz's speech today. There's going to be some important
new information in Secretary Wolfowitz's speech.
This morning at the gaggle, you mentioned some names of countries
you would like to have support from, including Australia, Great
Britain, Italy, countries of Eastern Europe. You also mentioned in
passing Spain. Is Spain one of the countries the United States expects
support from against Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the President, as I said, is confident Europe
will answer the call. Clearly, the public statements that Spain has
made -- and all my references are to public statements -- have been
supportive of American actions. Again, this is why the President has
this confidence. And the President understands that there are going to
be gradations of difference, even with our closest allies on this.
Fundamentally, at the end, when it comes down to it, if the President
makes the judgment that military force is necessary, he is indeed
confident that Europe will answer the call, and much of the world will
answer the call. There will, indeed, be some who won't, and the
President respects that. And he will move beyond that.
On a different subject, speaking of Tom Ridge, there was a version
circulating that the Department of Homeland Security would be moving
its main office out of Washington, D.C., into parts of Northern
Virginia. Now, it's been said that now they will remain in Washington.
Did the White House have anything to do -- did Mr.Ridge consult with
President Bush on this possible move?
I don't do real estate, so I really couldn't answer.
These are questions that -- frankly, I pay some other attention to
other things, but I don't really get involved in the real estate
Again in regards to Iraq and France and Germany, you've said that
it's natural that there may be some countries that stand on the
sidelines and do not get involved. But what about countries now that
are supposed to be allies that are actively trying to obstruct U.S.
action, i.e., France and Germany with NATO -- on NATO aid?
Number one, Germany's position is long known,
well-known, and I don't anticipate anything changing it. That's the
prerogative of the German government. And as I indicated earlier,
there are positions that other nations are taking where it's not quite
clear what the position will be in the end. This is ongoing.
The point that I'm leaving you with is that when you add it all up and
you want to know what does the President think, the President is
confident that Europe will answer the call. And it is possible that
France won't be on the line. That will not stop the President from
continuing to work with France on a number of issues. These are the
legitimate prerogatives that sovereign nations hold, and they are free
to come to their own conclusions and make their own judgments.
Ari, how does the threat of war affect the mission of the new
Homeland Security Department?
No matter what the threat, the mission of the Homeland
Security Department is to work to coordinate the activities of these
various agencies that will now be housed under one roof, making it
easier for them to carry out their mission. And so I think it's fair
to say that work that is carried out inside of each of the existing
agencies, whether it is the Coast Guard, whether it is the Secret
Service, whether it is the Transportation Security Administration, in
the event of any type of military conflict, they, of course, are able
to step up any of their activities to continue to protect the American
people. That will continue even as they work under one new roof.
Do you think it adds any sense of urgency to the challenge that
Ridge and company are going to face?
I think the challenge of the Department of Homeland
Security remains urgent. Since September 11th, even absent anything
that may or may not involve Iraq, it is an urgent challenge that the
American people have turned to the federal government for and said
that it is the role of the federal government, and the President
agrees, to provide the greatest protections to the American people.
That's why the President has made such a focus on Homeland Security
and provided it with the increased funding in his budget that he has.
The New York Daily News, the Schenectady Gazette and WorldNet Daily
have all reported that former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter, who
has called for President Bush's impeachment, was twice in three months
caught by policewomen who he thought were underage girls and he was
charged with attempted endangerment of children. And my question is,
considering that The Washington Post reported another American who was
appointed to the U.N. inspections team is a sado-masochist, and now we
have Ritter, surely, the President -- in his strong opposition to
these two perversions -- regrets that -- the U.N. appointment of these
two, doesn't he, Ari? I mean, you know where the President stands,
I'm sure that the President --
He must oppose that --
The President -- Lester, the President does not
micromanage the personnel process of the United Nations. The President
He's appalled at these two people, isn't he, Ari?
I said the President is focused on the results of the
inspections and what Saddam Hussein is doing.
Ari, did the President initiate the call with President Putin? And
after their conversation, is he more confident now that Russia is
siding closer to the U.S. than with France and Germany?
In terms of who called, typically these things are a
combination, developed at the staff level to say the bosses should
talk. And it's set up as a mutual call. That typically is the order of
these phone calls. But the President, again, is confident that he will
make his case to allies and friends, including President Putin. He
respects what their opinions are. And he will continue work
consultatively and closely with them.
END 1:40 P.M. EST