Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, January 24, 2003
QUESTION: Does the President, therefore, believe that that
refusal constitutes a material breach of the U.N. resolution 1441?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President does not look at this as a
lawyerly matter of the word. The President looks at this as a
practical matter of whether or not Saddam Hussein has any intention of
disarming. And Saddam Hussein is engaging in a constant pattern now,
and an increasing pattern of defying the inspectors, refusing to
cooperate, showing the inspectors facilities in which he knows that
nothing will be found, but all the while thwarting the goodwill and the
good intentions of the inspectors to carry out their mission by
stopping them from engaging in the practices that history has shown are
the most successful practices in discovering what weapons he has.
QUESTION: What you dismiss as a lawyerly matter is the very
framework that the President is committed to by having that sort of
language inserted into the resolution. So the question is, does he
consider this the end of the line, or has the administration made a
determination that, despite the views of what the inspectors are there
to do, that it is willing to allow the inspections regime to go on a
little bit longer than maybe the President would like in an effort to
shore up support internationally and even here at home for a potential
MR. FLEISCHER: The real issue is, is Saddam Hussein making
the end of the line come even closer by his unacceptable behavior.
QUESTION: Can you answer that last part of the question,
MR. FLEISCHER: What was your last part, David?
QUESTION: Is the administration, despite its views about what
the inspectors are supposed to be doing, what Saddam should be doing,
is the administration prepared to allow inspectors to have more time in
an attempt to shore up support internationally for a potential
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has not put a definitive
timetable on it. They clearly are still carrying out their mission to
the best of their ability. They are working on the time they have, but
time is running out.
QUESTION: The inspectors, as you know, regard the appearance
before the United Nations Security Council on Monday as just another
interim report, not the sort of wrap-up report which was envisioned by
the U.S. when this process began. Do you expect the President to
address that on Tuesday, since the process of the U.N. won't be over
MR. FLEISCHER: Bill, the United States has consistently
called it an important date. I don't know that anybody has said it is
a wrap-up date or a final date or a deadline. I'm not aware of anybody
saying that. It's an important date. We want to hear what they have
to say. And I think that when you look at what the inspectors are
reporting, why they are saying that they have gotten what they call
"some cooperation" from Saddam Hussein, they are also the first to say,
the inspectors, themselves, that they are not given the cooperation
they need when it comes to interviewing the scientists and they are not
given the cooperation they need and demand about being able to fly U2
surveillance aircraft over sites in Iraq. They are not getting what
Iraq had committed to do. And again, under the U.N. resolution, it is
not a question of negotiation, it is an obligation.
QUESTION: Would you address the perception that the U.S.
wants this over with sooner rather than later?
MR. FLEISCHER: There is no question the United States wants
Saddam Hussein to disarm sooner rather than later.
QUESTION: Back to the scientists. The Iraqis say that
they've asked these scientists to cooperate with the inspectors and the
scientists don't want to be interviewed in private, they want the
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I think what they said is, "We did our
best to push the scientists, Lt. General Hossam Mohammed Amin, the
chief Iraqi liaison officer to the U.N. inspectors, said, but they
refused to make such interviews without the presence of Iraqi
officials." In a totalitarian police state like Iraq, that's
laughable. There's no credibility to that.
Saddam Hussein has called the inspectors spies. In Iraq, if the
President of Iraq, who does not exactly have a history of being a
peaceful man toward those who have any dissent toward his opinions,
calls the inspectors spies, he is sending a very powerful message to
his scientists, don't meet with them, because if you meet with spies,
you know the history of what's happened to people who defy my will.
And the environment that has been created by Saddam Hussein as an
environment that is hostile to whether or not the world will see
whether he had weapons of mass destruction, because he wants to hide
what he has from the world.
QUESTION: Are you aware of specific instances of
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, let me share with you two things that
have taken place, and these are very indicative. These are things that
took place in the past that are indicative of the future.
You're very familiar with the case of Hussein Kamel and Saddam
Kamel*, Saddam Hussein's sons-in-law who were killed in 1996 by Saddam
Hussein. They were lured back into Iraq after they left the country.
They were promised that all had been forgiven when they left the
country, brought back in under different pretenses, and instantly
executed at the order of Saddam Hussein.
There's a scientist named Muayad Hassan Naji Janabi. He was killed
in Amman, Jordan, in 1992. He attempted to defect. He wanted to
leave. He was tracked down by Iraqi security agents and executed. And
as you well know from your reporting, this is a common practice for
QUESTION: Are you aware of specific instances of the
inspectors that we have -- that the U.N. mission has tried to talk to
this time around who have been intimidated at some point?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think, given the fact that Saddam
Hussein calls the inspectors spies, what more intimidation do you need
for him to encourage people not to meet with people he calls spies.
Imagine that you're an Iraqi scientist and you have information you
would like impart, and you don't want Iraqi minders sitting there to
impart the information, and you heard your president say, these
inspectors are spies -- that is an atmosphere of intimidation
environment designed to stop them from doing what the United Nations
has called on Iraq to do, which is to make them fully and immediately
available -- which is why the statement from the Iraqi general is a
QUESTION: Who in this country, beside the President and his
courtiers, want to go to war with Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not aware of anybody here who wants to go
to war with Iraq, Helen. But the President very much wants to protect
the peace by making sure that Saddam Hussein cannot engage in war
QUESTION: He's aware that there is widespread opposition to
war in this country?
MR. FLEISCHER: Do you think that the majority of the
Americans are opposed to war with Iraq, Helen?
QUESTION: I think so. What do you think?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think if you take a look at all the public
surveys on this issue, there's a lot of Americans who believe that
Saddam Hussein does, indeed, pose a threat. And they believe --
QUESTION: They'll give their brothers, their husbands, their
MR. FLEISCHER: -- and they believe that if the President,
knowing what he knows, makes the determination that the best way to
protect the American people from the risks that we have seen our nation
is vulnerable to --
QUESTION: So he believes people want to go to war?
MR. FLEISCHER: -- is to disarm Saddam Hussein from having
weapons of mass destruction, the President will make a case --
QUESTION: We have weapons of mass destruction. Eight other
countries have them.
MR. FLEISCHER: And how many resolutions has the United
Nations passed urging us to not have the weapons that we have that have
successfully kept the peace for 50 years?
QUESTION: How many other nations have defied U.N.
resolutions and gotten away with it?
MR. FLEISCHER: None like Saddam Hussein on a measure that
has been this unequivocal, where the world has called on him --
QUESTION: I could give you chapter and verse otherwise.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm aware that you try to.
QUESTION: Does the President feel that relations with
Western Europe, particularly with Germany -- where we have so many
troops based -- and France, demands more of his role now in terms of
contacting either of those leaders, especially in advance of his State
of the Union address?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President will continue to contact
world leaders and to reach out and talk to different people. As you
know, he talked to President Putin yesterday. He looks forward to the
visit of Prime Minister Blair. And we will continue to inform you of
the phone calls and the conversations the President makes. Up and down
the government, Secretary Powell continues to consult very closely with
world leaders, and the President will continue to work with them.
QUESTION: Are you concerned that the angry words back and
forth over the last few days are hurting his cause, as opposed to
helping the promise -- any kind of promise of diplomacy?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, there is a very identifiable
history of the United States relations with Europe, where European
nations, European people were split and divided. The United States,
working very closely with European nations and with European
governments, saw a policy that it thought was in the interest of peace,
developed it, worked it with our allies, advocated it, pushed it
through, successfully so.
In the early 1980s, for example, after the Soviet Union deployed
SS20 intermediate-range missiles into Europe, there were massive street
protests throughout Germany and throughout Europe against the
counter-deployment of Pershing missiles by the United States, along
with European governments -- massive street protests.
We worked together with the European leaders and the European
government. We counter-deployed, put the Pershing missiles into
Western Europe. And it was one of the ways that through peace, through
strength, the world became a much safer, better place, with tens of
millions in Eastern Europe now living free.
Similarly in 1991, in the events that led up to the Persian Gulf
war, there was tremendous opposition. There were many people who said,
let sanctions take place, do not engage yet in military force, let it
take its time. The argument of, let sanctions take place, is similar
to the arguments that people are making now, about let the inspectors
continue their work. Of course, back in 1991, if the argument, let
sanctions take place, had taken hold, Saddam Hussein would still be
sitting in Kuwait and most likely be occupying other nations, as well.
And so the President looks at this as a matter of the importance of
consultation, respecting those who differ with him on this issue, and
building a wide coalition -- and it will be wide -- of those who
see it his way and agree. And make no mistake, he will listen, he will
consult, but he will lead.
QUESTION: Is there any discussion of a possible compromise
under which the inspectors would be given, say, a month more in
exchange for allies reassurances that they won't drag it on any
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, number one, the President has -- it
is because of the President's actions that the inspections are there.
And helpfully so. The inspectors are doing their best in an
environment where Saddam Hussein is doing his worst. The President has
not put a timetable on how long the inspectors should be there. They
were there yesterday; they are there today and working; they will be
there tomorrow and working.
We wish them every success and are providing them with every means
possible to help them to be successful. The problem the world will
have to confront one day is, if Saddam Hussein continues in his efforts
to defy them, to stop them, to not live up to the very obligations that
Saddam Hussein committed to when the United Nations passed these
resolutions, what then will the world do? Will the world choose to do
nothing, or the world choose to recognize that Saddam Hussein is not
cooperating? These decisions have not yet been made.
QUESTION: You said that the President said that Saddam
Hussein, to protect the peace, must allow these scientists to be
interviewed. Does he consider this a cause for war?
MR. FLEISCHER: If the President reaches the point where
these accumulation of events lead up to the conclusion that war is the
only way to protect the peace, the President will say that. He has not
reached that point yet.
But clearly, when you look at the behavior of Saddam Hussein and
when you look at the statements that have come from the inspectors
themselves, it is impossible to reach the conclusion that Saddam
Hussein is cooperating. He is not. And he is not cooperating because
he is hiding, hiding his weapons of mass destruction.
QUESTION: Ari, John Bolton, in Japan, made it clear that the
United States has some evidence that they're going to give over to the
world very shortly. Can you elaborate on that? What kind of evidence
is he talking about, in what form?
MR. FLEISCHER: This is nothing new. This is something that
you've heard many people say. Secretary Powell said it recently about
the United States would make it's case. And in the course of events,
as I've indicated, the President, others in the administration, will
have information to say as developments warrant.
You've seen this week, in the speeches given by Secretary Armitage
and Secretary Wolfowitz the continuation of the importance of dialogue
and reasoning. And that will continue. And the administration will
continue to share with the world and share with the country why we have
such a cause for concern.
QUESTION: -- in speeches, but not really any new hard
evidence about what the U.S. thinks that Saddam Hussein actually has
-- hard evidence in terms of their weapons. Is this something the
President is going to talk about in the State of the Union? Is this
-- do you actually believe that there is hard evidence that exists
that will bring these countries around and bring the American people
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is confident that if it gets to
the point where he does reach the conclusion, and he goes to the
country, he is confident that the country and much of the world will
understand the seriousness and the weight of what he is presenting.
And that is why, if our democracy does go to war, which is a step the
President still hopes can be averted, we will go to war knowing that we
have the support of much of the world.
QUESTION: Is that yes to her question?
MR. FLEISCHER: Jim.
QUESTION: How does the President feel about launching a war
if France and Germany flat out say they won't support it and that he
should not do it?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that in the event it does become a
matter that the President does believe that we have reached the point
of last resort and that force is the only way to get Saddam Hussein to
disarm from the weapons that he has, the President's preference would
be to have all of the world with the United States and with this large
coalition. That may not be possible. That may not be achievable. But
will that stop the President and the coalition from doing what it
believes is necessary to protect the world? No, it will not. We, of
course, want to have the support of as many as possible if it reaches
QUESTION: First of all, thank for commenting on Jim's
hypothetical. We can expect that precedent to be observed in the
future, I'm sure, as well. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: Do you have a hypothetical?
QUESTION: No, I don't. I have two questions about Iraq.
MR. FLEISCHER: You're missing an opportunity to roll off of
QUESTION: First of all, the President, in his speech in St.
Louis the other day, made reference to "the so-called inspectors."
What did he mean by interposing those words, "so-called," in front of
the word, "inspectors"?
MR. FLEISCHER: The exact same thing I said yesterday on that
when I was asked. The President was referring to something very
similar to what Secretary Rumsfeld said over the weekend on one of the
Sunday shows -- the mission of the inspectors is not literally to go
and to inspect, as much as it is, as Secretary Wolfowitz walked through
yesterday, to verify that actual disarmament has taken place.
The inspectors are not armed with magnifying glasses to go out and
look for clues. They are armed with scientific knowledge of how
nations that disarm engage in disarmament. Their job is to go in and
verify that disarmament has taken place. And so, in some sense, the
word "inspector" is a misnomer, but that's the context in which the
President said it.
QUESTION: What would you use?
QUESTION: The statement, you mean?
QUESTION: The Secretary of State has said that the
inspections are not working, as a flat statement. This President has
an MBA. He prides himself on how much he holds accountability dear.
How much longer would he -- even though you say he has no timetable
on this, how much longer would he like to preside over or lend his
administration's support to a program that his own people have said is
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think when you get at what is not
working, you have to ask what the cause of its not working is. And the
inspections and the inspectors have a history of engaging in acts
around the world that do, indeed, work. That was proved by their
efforts in South Africa. What's not working in Iraq is Saddam
Hussein's compliance with Iraq -- Saddam Hussein's compliance with
the inspectors. That's the cause of the inspectors having such a
difficult time doing their job. The solution is that Saddam Hussein
has to change his ways and disarm. Or President Bush, as he has said,
will lead a coalition to disarm him.
QUESTION: My question was about timing, though. My question
was, how much longer would this President, who prides himself on
holding accountability dear, lend his administration's support to a
program which his own Secretary of State has said is not working?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has said time is running out.
He hasn't been more specific than that.
QUESTION: Short of the decision to go to war, are there
interim things that can be done to fix the process from the U.S. side
or the U.N. side?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I said, in the President's judgment,
Saddam Hussein's refusal and his intimidation of his scientists is
unacceptable. It must cease. This is an act of willful defiance by
Iraq toward the United Nations and toward the United Nations
inspectors. Saddam Hussein's defiance of the United Nations about
refusing to allow the U-2's to fly, per U.N. Security Council
Resolution 1441, is not acceptable. So these decisions are in Saddam
QUESTION: There's nothing that the U.S. can take, for
instance, to have a more robust force with the inspectors, for
instance, to try to make the situation more --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President made it very plain,
repeatedly last fall, that this is Saddam Hussein and Iraq's last
chance. They were given that last chance as a result of this vote of
the United Nations Security Council resolution. And this will not be
another 10 years of defiance by Saddam Hussein.
QUESTION: Ari, you've said January 27th is an important
date. Does that mean it's a critical milepost in deciding whether we
should go to war with Iraq? And if it's not, can you be more specific
about what happens next and why it's important?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it's an important date. And I can't be
more specific until the date comes and we know what the inspectors
say. It's important to hear what the inspectors have to report.
QUESTION: Is it considered a milepost in deciding whether we
go to war?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's considered an important date. All the
actions of the inspectors are part of what the President will evaluate
because that's how the world will know whether Saddam Hussein is
QUESTION: Is the White House looking at it as a trigger
MR. FLEISCHER: Important date.
QUESTION: Ari, on Monday, when we listened to Mr. Blix, if he
is supposed to be the Chief Verifier, should we listen with confidence
that they have received all of the U.S. intelligence that we have
available for them to verify and make an interim report?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I believe that Mr. Blix and Dr.
ElBaradei have both said in the past week to 10 days that they have
received actionable intelligence from the United States and they're
satisfied with the intelligence they are sharing. I can't speak for
them, but I know that's what they've already said.
QUESTION: Well, in response to Dana's question, you seem to
suggest that perhaps if the President were to declare war and want the
American people and the world to know why, he would have more
dispositive information at that time to make a persuasive case. That
would suggest that there is something that's not been made available to
the inspectors. Is that correct?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, not necessarily.
QUESTION: But possibly?
MR. FLEISCHER: I would urge you to take a look back at what
Secretary Wolfowitz said yesterday. Secretary Wolfowitz referred to
Iraq's very able capabilities to hide things and to move things, to
have mobile laboratories for the purpose of hiding and moving. That's
information that does not allow you to have 100 percent certainty of
the coordinates of where something may happen to be at any given second
or moment. That would be what an inspector might call actionable. If
it were that simple that we could say the mobile laboratories at this
longitude and this latitude at this exact moment, things would be much
easier. Iraq is more clever than that, and they're aware of our
capabilities in some ways.
And so this is what Secretary Wolfowitz talked about yesterday. So
when you take a look at what can the inspectors act upon versus what do
we know Iraq has, Secretary Wolfowitz addressed that. And therein lies
one of the key issues that Saddam Hussein exploits, knowing that he has
a massive infrastructure, headed by his son, designed to deceive the
inspectors. And so there are differences in terms of what inspectors
QUESTION: How do you know that?
QUESTION: Let me ask you, as audiences listen to Mr. Blix's
report on Monday, what does the President think that we should all be
listening for? What are the key ingredients of this update that we
should all be paying attention to?
MR. FLEISCHER: The key ingredient the President thinks that
the world should look for is whether Iraq is complying. Absent Iraq's
full compliance, the way South Africa did, the world can have no
confidence Saddam Hussein has got rid of the VX gas, the sarin gas, the
botulin, the anthrax, the mustard gas that the United Nations reported
that he had in his possession at the end of the 1990s. Absent
cooperation, absent proof that he's destroyed them, the world can only
make one conclusion, and that is that Saddam Hussein is hiding these
QUESTION: Ari, the LA Times cites U.S. and British officials
saying Secretaries Powell and Straw yesterday seriously considered
giving inspectors several more weeks, in exchange for allies' insurance
that they will not let inspections go on indefinitely, and that this
would help sway the skeptical allies. Are you saying -- are you
discounting that report and saying again there is no timetable for
MR. FLEISCHER: I have no information to verify that report.
You might want to address that to the State Department, but I have no
information given to me to verify it.
QUESTION: Ari, there are reports that Saddam Hussein may be
seeking to take stockpiles of chemical weapons, park them outside Iraq
and hide them there. That, as far as I'm aware, is not an element of
his deception that the administration has cited. Is this something the
administration is aware of? Has it passed on this information to U.N.
inspectors, and would it like the inspections team to be looking at the
possibility that he is squirreling away his weapons of mass destruction
outside the country?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm aware of the reports, and there's nothing
I can indicate one way or another about those reports.
QUESTION: A question about the European allies, sir, how
would the President characterize the critical mood among major European
allies? And secondly --
MR. FLEISCHER: How would he characterize the what --
QUESTION: The critical mood among European allies, like
Germany and France, for example. And secondly, does the President
expect them eventually to come aboard and be convinced by his arguments
about Iraq and disarmament, et cetera? Or is it more like Secretary
Rumsfeld suggested earlier on, it's the old Europe and we better look
to the new Eastern European countries --
MR. FLEISCHER: There's no question that European governments
are divided with most European governments being in favor of the
administration's position that, in the event it becomes necessary
because Saddam Hussein won't disarm himself, a coalition should be
assembled to disarm him. There are important friends and allies that
we have who -- in the case of Germany -- have expressed their
unalterable opposition to the use of the military to disarm Saddam
Hussein. And there are other nations, such as France, who -- it's
unclear what position France will finally take in the end. And the
President respects those nations. But the President also sees a great
many other nations that do see things differently, that are working in
a different manner to help protect the peace.
And the one thing about this debate that I think can't be focused
on enough is Europe is not a monolith. European governments represent
many different points of view. The one point of view that keeps --
seems to be shared is the point of view of those who would oppose the
President -- the President is confident, as I said yesterday, that if
the call is made, that Europe will answer the call.
QUESTION: And Europe also being Germany and France, for
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I said yesterday that's -- I just said
Germany is unalterably opposed. And in the case of France, it's
possible that when Europe answers the call, France won't be on the
line. That's the French prerogative. That's their right.
QUESTION: -- expect to veto in case of a Security Council
MR. FLEISCHER: It's not clear what the next course will be
at the United Nations.
END 11:46 A.M. EST