Excerpts from the Press Gaggle by Ari Fleischer, January 30, 2003
Q On the question of exile for Saddam Hussein, is
the administration prepared to propose something in a specific and
detailed way to back such a move? Or will it simply be satisfied to
say publicly, as the President did today, that that would be a good
thing if that were to emerge out of the region, if the Saudis push
that or if others pushed that and Saddam were to agree? And a second
piece to that, any indications? Is the world getting any indication
that Saddam would agree to such a thing?
MR. FLEISCHER: Number one, it would be a very desirable
event if Saddam Hussein were to leave Iraq. That would be one way for
peace to be preserved. And the President hopes that can happen.
Whether it will happen or not, I don't think anybody can guess or
count on. The only person who know whether that will happen is Saddam
Hussein. And the most likely way to make it happen is through
continued growing pressure on Saddam Hussein. The less pressure, the
less likely it is. The more pressure, the more the likelihood. But
it's very hard to assess how likely it will be. And it's very hard to
understand what Saddam Hussein has done, let alone to predict what he
As for the question about how that would be treated, this
will be an international matter. This is not a matter for the
Americans to decide. It would be something that would be discussed
in concert with friends and allies. And I couldn't possibly guess or
speculate what any outcomes may or may not be.
Q But the pressure is being brought to bear primarily by
the United States. We're the ones who have the troops there in the
largest numbers. So if we're really committed to putting that on the
table, is this administration prepared to put together a concrete
proposal to suggest to Saddam that he might take?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I think the first thing that would
be important is for Saddam Hussein to leave. And again, as I indicated
to you -- you are accurate in pointing out that much of the military
presence is America. But any such matter -- whether it would or
would not come up -- would be an international matter, not a
uniquely American one.
Q Are you saying he has leave first?
Q Ari, on your weeks and months formulation, is this a
rejection of calls for more times for the weapons inspectors? And is
it a deadline?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, number one, the reason the President
said weeks not months is because he does not want to repeat the
mistakes of the '90s, where Saddam Hussein once again games the world,
strings things out and continues to hide his weapons. There does come
a point at which the world can judge whether or not Saddam Hussein is
complying and is disarming. It doesn't take a long time to know if
Saddam Hussein is disarming or not. And the President has expressed
that as weeks not months.
Q Does that mean that the President would not agree to
an extension of the mandate of the weapons inspectors?
MR. FLEISCHER: The extension -- there is no time period
for the inspectors. The inspectors have a mission until their mission
is deemed by the United Nations Security Council to have run its
Q So by saying weeks not months, has he effectively set
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, the President has said that he
has not made a decision about military action, if that's what you
mean. But the President is clearly sending a message to Saddam
Hussein and to our friends and allies that there is no point in
repeating the mistakes that have been made before which allowed Saddam
Hussein to bob and weave, to hide and to dodge, to cheat and retreat.
We will not repeat and return to that era. (Laughter.)
Q I don't know whether I can follow that poetry.
MR. FLEISCHER: What do you have? (Laughter.)
Q Not even going to go there.
Q Cheat and retreat.
Q In terms of this idea of weeks not months, if the
President is as certain --
MR. FLEISCHER: That was inadvertent, by the way.
Q When you got it, you got it. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: I wouldn't even know how I said it if you
Q If the President is as certain as he was in the State
of the Union address on Tuesday night that Saddam Hussein is not
disarming and is playing, as you say, cheat and retreat with weapons
inspectors, why does he feel the need to wait at all? And in terms of
making the decision, what more evidence does he need? Because as you
have been quick to point out, you already have all the authorization
you need to go to war, if necessary.
MR. FLEISCHER: In the phone calls the President is making
to world leaders, and in his meeting with Prime Minister Berlusconi,
the President is emphasizing how important it is to let diplomacy run
its course to the greatest degree that it can solve this problem. The
President is serious about consultation. The President is serious
about diplomacy. He hopes it will work, and he wants to give it time
to work. But diplomacy never works if it's diplomacy forever in the
face of a threat like Saddam Hussein. And that's a lesson the world
has seen over the last 10 years, unlimited diplomacy leads to
unlimited running around by Saddam Hussein to continue to develop his
Q Sure. But you also said zero tolerance last fall.
The President has said that he's in material breach. He's said he's
not cooperating with weapons inspectors.
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.
Q And he is not disarming. He's said that he is in
violation of Resolution 1441. Zero tolerance? Where's the zero
MR. FLEISCHER: The President will let you know when it
reaches the point where it is down to zero. The President has said
that it is the final phase. He does have zero tolerance. If you're
asking why isn't there military action today, the answer is because the
President is serious about consulting with our friends and allies, as
he promised he would do.
Q We do know something that -- you said, the President
wants to let diplomacy run its course, but we know that course won't
extend more than eight weeks from today.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President said weeks not months.
Q So we will be either at war, or Saddam will have
disarmed within eight weeks?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President said weeks not months. I
think Saddam Hussein needs to figure out what that means. And
hopefully, it will help to disarm. If it doesn't, the President has
made clear, he will lead a coalition to disarm him.
Q And it is important for the American people to know,
as well, that it's a matter of weeks then.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President did say it for a reason.
Q And could you just clear up one thing that's caused
some, perhaps misunderstanding and anxiety, and that's, what
specifically is the administration's doctrine for the use of nuclear
weapons in any war with Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's exactly as I said last week and as
Secretary Rumsfeld has said, that America's policy involving nuclear
weapons is to not rule anything in, not rule anything out. We do not
comment about potential use of nuclear weapons.
Q Is there any greater likelihood that nuclear weapons
would be used by the United States in this war than in any previous
MR. FLEISCHER: It is a deliberately ambiguous statement.
Q Senator Kennedy had a speech yesterday. Are you going
to be able to provide the undeniable proof to silence the critics?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I think people will judge the
information that they already have had. I think that most Americans,
even before the State of the Union, agreed that Saddam Hussein was a
threat and that they would support the judgment if the President were
to make it to use force to remove the threat from Saddam Hussein using
weapons of mass destruction that we all know, the United Nations knows
and others know that he has. And we'll just leave it at that.
Q Back to the question of exile. Would the
administration support an effort by the Saudis or by the international
community, generally, that would specifically include amnesty from war
crimes or any other charges?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let's be more specific on David's previous
question. And again, the President thinks it would be in the interest
of peace if Saddam Hussein were somehow to be convinced to leave the
country. But beyond that, I'm not prepared to speculate about what
may or may not happen. Again, that's a matter for not just the United
States to have an opinion about, but the international community, and
I'm not speculating.
Q But without going into details, though, have there
been discussions between administration officials and other nations
about what some sort of exile package might look like?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I'm not going to speculate about
it. I think there are some things that the less said, the better, so
that Saddam Hussein leaves the country. Now, don't take that to mean
one way or another, but I'm just not going to speculate on the topic.
The hope for peace is that Saddam Hussein leaves.
I think it's not only the hope for peace, but the hope for the
future of the Iraqi people. The Iraqi people deserve a government
where they're the people of Iraq. It is the Iraqi people who have to
suffer under a totalitarian state and a brutal regime. It's not just
American servicemen and women and people around the world and people in
the region who would be spared from harm's way if Saddam Hussein were
to leave. That, itself, is important. But what about the people of
Iraq? They would be the biggest winners if Saddam Hussein were to
Q Ari, the President mentioned something that was
mentioned earlier, the aluminum tubes as part of the list of evidence
that the U.S. thinks that Saddam Hussein has got weapons of mass
destruction. But the IAEA and other world officials -- Mohammed
ElBaradei, actually, specifically said that it's just not there, that
is not what that it's intended to be used for in Iraq, that it's
really just conventional. Isn't there a concern that when the
President and the White House make statements like that it's going to
undermine your overall argument of this Mt. Everest of evidence that
you say exists?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. And I'll give you three reasons why,
in the President's judgment. Number one, Mohammed ElBaradei and the
IAEA said that the importations of these tubes is illegal and violates
the policies that Iraq committed itself to, regardless of what
the IAEA has so far judged them to be. They said Iraq's actions in
importing them are, in and of themselves, a violation. That should be
a cause for concern, number one, about whether Iraq is
Number two, on the tubes, the IAEA has said that their
investigation remains open. They have not reached final conclusions
about this. On that point, therefore, to point three, there are
continuing discussions with the IAEA in which information is being
shared about this information. The preponderance of evidence is that
Iraq attempted to procure high-strength aluminum tubes for
uranium enrichment. We stand by that statement.
Our technical analysis at the extremely tight manufacturing
tolerances and high-strength materials indicates the tubes far exceed
any specifications required for non-nuclear capabilities. Iraq
attempted to procure the tubes covertly. The cost of the tubes
is far greater than what one would pay for if the tubes were just to
be used for artillery. Iraq has devoted substantial efforts to
concealing its nuclear program in the past. It's not surprising that
it would attempt to mislead the inspectors on this issue and the
inspectors have left it open because they want to continue to hear from
us and to work on this before final conclusions are reached. The
President stands by every word he said.
Q Is this intelligence that's already been shared with
MR. FLEISCHER: It's an ongoing process.
Q Will Secretary Powell outline some of that? Because
it's an interesting statement --
MR. FLEISCHER: I know you will be there on Wednesday next
week, so you'll find out Wednesday.
Q Ari, Prime Minister Blair is on record saying that he
would like a second Security Council vote on use of force in Iraq.
What's the administration's thinking at the moment about whether a
second resolution would be desirable or possible?
MR. FLEISCHER: And, just as I've indicated, we will
continue to consult with our friends and allies about the next course.
The President does think that the United Nations is important. He
hopes that they will prove to be important by taking meaningful action
that results in the disarmament of Saddam Hussein so this can be
resolved peacefully. But the -- as you know, the President has also
said that if Saddam Hussein does not disarm, he will lead a coalition
to disarm him.
Q But, you've already demonstrated that you think --
the United States -- this is important by sending Secretary Powell
up there next week. On the second resolution, has there been a
decision made on whether we will seek a second resolution?
MR. FLEISCHER: The decision is we will continue to
Q You talked about diplomacy running its course. Could
you just give us some idea what to expect, beginning with Secretary
Powell's comments and running at least through the next report from
the arms inspectors, which will be on the 14th of February? What do
you foresee happening? What does the U.S. want to happen during that
MR. FLEISCHER: There is one thing the United States wants
to see happen and that is for Saddam Hussein to disarm. That's what
this is all about. Everyone of these actions, everyone of these
steps, every shipment of troops is all aimed at one thing; that's the
disarmament of Saddam Hussein so the threat to the world and to the
region can go away.
Toward that end, what you are seeing now is a very active window
of diplomacy involving the President's personal time making a series
of phone calls -- which will continue -- a series of personal
meetings -- which will continue -- meetings and phone calls by the
Secretary of State, by others in the government. You're seeing a very
active diplomacy of a kind that you saw, frankly, around the
September-October period, as well. That will continue. It won't
continue forever. It will continue for a finite period of time as the
President has said.
Following that, I think this is then where the President will have
to make a judgement about whether Saddam Hussein will indeed disarm on
his own, or whether he will have to make the decision to use military
force to disarm Saddam Hussein.
Q In that context, how important then is the next report
from the arms inspectors on the 14th of February?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to speculate about a report
that hasn't been made yet.
Q But it's obviously part of this sequencing and the
last one was quite important. This is the next benchmark, if you
will, about whether or not the Iraqis are actually coming clean. One
would think it would weigh fairly heavily.
MR. FLEISCHER: Today is January 30th and I can't speculate
about a report that is two weeks out in terms of gauging it's
importance. We already know from the last report that Iraq is
Q Ari, when the President made his remarks today, when
he was talking about the issue of exile, he was careful to make the
point the goal here is not just to remove Saddam Hussein, but to
disarm. And so, whoever comes -- if Saddam Hussein leaves, it's not
an automatic that this conflict is over depending on who comes in.
So can you flesh out what the administration's concerns are in that
area in terms of obtaining the goal of disarmament?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, certainly. If Saddam Hussein were to
leave and the son stayed behind and the son had weapons of mass
destruction, the world would be just as much at risk. The President
views this as how to promote peace, and the way to promote peace is to
make sure that there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, just
as they promised and pledged that they would not have them, and to
change the regime.
Q Now, how deep in the regime does this -- would this
have to go?
MR. FLEISCHER: I couldn't speculate a guess. It has to go
to the point of peace. It has to go to the point where Iraq
will join its proper place around the world as a peace-loving
nation. And it has a peace-loving people, and so perhaps there will
be a leadership in Iraq one day with a peace-loving
Q But clearly when the White House aims at the goal of
disarmament and the leadership in Iraq that is also committed
to that, are you all not talking about Saddam Hussein and all his top
advisors are all going to be --
MR. FLEISCHER: I can't speculate -- as I indicated, I
can't speculate and I don't know names.
Q This is really a follow-up to Jean. The President's
words were, speaking of Saddam Hussein and the possibility of his
exile, "and should he choose to leave the country along with a lot of
the other henchmen who have tortured the Iraqi people, we would
welcome that." That -- if you take his words literally, that appears
to set a pretty precise condition that it's not enough for Saddam to
leave, it has to be --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's why it's called regime change.
Certainly, nobody would want to leave in place an infrastructure where
they could just come back and do it again. So the point the
President is making I think is a fairly obvious one, that the regime
leadership has to leave, so, therefore, a new leadership can emerge
that is focused on peace. I think, otherwise, you would just continue
to see turmoil and strife and an Iraq that was to
remilitarize. And the President does not think the world wants to
repeat this position. This is a chance for the world to deal with
this in a fundamental way.
Q How widespread does that have to be? How many people
are we talking about --
MR. FLEISCHER: I can't make those judgments.
Q Can you set some minimum benchmarks --
MR. FLEISCHER: I can set you the principles, and the
principles are, deep enough so that the leadership that emerges is a
leadership dedicated to peace, not war.
Q You mentioned his son. Would his son and the other
family members who are part of the regime, at a minimum, have to go?
MR. FLEISCHER: Ken, I didn't bring the family tree with
Q Lteser has a fifth question which I'll be glad
to carry for him. (Laughter.) The last time Prime Minister Blair
was here, there was a lot of talk about evidence linking Iraq
with continued pursuit of chemical, biological, nuclear weapons,
and they referenced an IAEA report up at Camp David. It turns out
this was a report that actually had been out a couple years before.
Next week, Secretary of State Powell goes to the U.N. Once again we
have assurances that the case convincingly can be made that Iraq
has continued down this path. Will he be able to present to
members of the Security Council new -- and by that I mean evidence
gathered in the last three to six months, by whatever means our
intelligence, intelligence from allied nations -- that will close the
loop on this evidentiary-wise, and prove that this is an ongoing and
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me make a point on this issue of
so-called new evidence versus existing known evidence. It doesn't
matter if it's new or old if it can still kill you. So whether there
is information that is one day old, or one year old that Saddam
Hussein has biological and chemical weapons, the impact is not whether
the information is new or old; the impact is whether he has them or
not. That's what's at stake here. So whether Colin Powell has new
information or old information, the point is, is the information
accurate describing that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass
destruction. That's what's at stake here.
Q Some of those who have been reluctant to go along with
us have, in essence, asked the question, what's the urgency, what is a
sign that this is an imminent, like, immediate threat?
MR. FLEISCHER: And in that point what the President would
tell you is that, one, Saddam Hussein has committed to giving up the
weapons of mass destruction, and if the United Nations is to have a
meaningful place in our world, the United Nations resolutions vis-a-vis
Iraq to give up the weapons of mass destruction must be
enforced. Otherwise, the world can never rest easy because he'll
continue to have them.
Two, September 11th changed everything for the United States and,
indeed, for this President. While the notion of containment may
previously have made some sense prior to September 11th, September 11th
changed everything because it shows that we are indeed a vulnerable
country, that threats to us cannot be contained. As the President
said in his State of the Union speech, imagine if any of the hijackers
on September 11th had not only driven their planes into buildings, but
were armed with a vial, a canister, a crate of a biological or a
chemical weapon. The damage done to our country would have been
massive. The risk remains and the risk is nowhere greater than under
Q Ari, you said that the President has not made a
decision on military action. Hasn't he made a decision, though, that
if Saddam doesn't disarm within these weeks -- however many weeks
we're talking about -- that at the end of those weeks that he's made
a decision that he will have to resort to military action? I mean,
he's made some sort of decision here in the last couple of days.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that it's been well-known for
months when the President says that if Saddam Hussein does not disarm
he will lead a coalition to disarm him. So the question is,
how could disarmament best be achieved. The President continues to
hope it can be achieved peacefully through growing pressure. And
certainly the op-ed that ran today from eight European nations, and
additional letters that have now, interestingly, started to come in
from a couple other European countries, makes the case that pressure
Q Could you maybe describe what decision, if any, he has
made in recent days? His thinking seems to have shifted somehow.
You're talking about weeks, not months; you're talking about -- you
pointed out this intense diplomacy and you likened it to the
September-October period last time, which was right before we waged
war. So what has changed in his thinking? Has he reached a final
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I likened it to September-October when
people said that nobody would follow the United States, and the United
Nations passed a resolution which unanimously people followed the
Q Ari, during the lead up to the Gulf War, Saddam
Hussein was given a deadline for getting out of Kuwait. Obviously
-- or presumably, such discussions of a deadline are part of the
ongoing diplomacy. Could you share with us in general what some of
the President's thinking on the value of a deadline or --
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, what the President has said is this
is the time for diplomacy, and he meant it. In the event he makes the
judgment that diplomacy is insufficient to protect the peace, at that
point, and on the timing of the President's determination, the
President would then come to the country and discuss this at far
greater length. And I'm not going to go beyond that.
Q I'd like to go back to the aluminum tubes. Are you
saying that the administration knows more than the inspectors do? Or
are you saying that you're looking at the same evidence and reaching
different conclusions? Because while you're right, the inspectors say
it's an open case, they clearly say the evidence to date tends to back
the Iraqi view of this, as opposed to the United States view.
MR. FLEISCHER: And it's a matter of some technical
provision, technical matters, and technical people are talking about
Q But do you know more than they do?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know I can say that, yes or no. I
think both the IAEA and the United States are in a position to know
quite a bit, and we work together on these things -- that's the
Q Ari, going back to the statement you made earlier, you
referred to mistakes of the '90s. Who made those mistakes?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that mistakes were made
collectively that allowed Saddam Hussein to think that he could once
again defy the world and keep his weapons of mass destruction. I
think that's one of the issues that was very prominent last November,
when the Security Council voted unanimously for a much tougher
resolution than the resolutions that guided the collective will of the
Security Council throughout the '90s.
Q Well, there were two administrations, obviously, in
the '90s. Are you assigning blame to one of them?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it's just as I indicated. It was the
collective judgments of the '90s that had weaker resolutions in place
that Saddam Hussein was able to defy.
Q Who is to blame for that?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, the collective will that
led to the tougher resolutions.
Q Ari, my question is related to Bob's question,
just a little bit different. Will the President and British Prime
Minister Blair set a deadline for Saddam Hussein to disarm; a deadline
for war if he does not?
MR. FLEISCHER: The purpose of this meeting is to consult,
to listen carefully to Prime Minister Blair's idea. And then Secretary
Powell will, of course, be up in New York. So, no, you will not see
that this weekend at Camp David, no.
Q Senator Daschle and Congresswoman Pelosi, among others
in Washington, and senior members of Tony Blair's own Labor Party in
London have urged the Prime Minister to act as a restraining influence
on President Bush. Is that a realistic assessment of Mr. Blair's
potential influence, and how would you characterize that influence?
MR. FLEISCHER: The United States and the people of Great
Britain have a very powerful bond, and that is shared by the President
of the United States and the Prime Minister of Great Britain. The two
don't see everything eye-to-eye; the two differ on issues sometimes.
And that is a sign of a great and healthy relationship between two
strong democracies. And I anticipate that the Prime Minister will
share his judgments and his wisdom with the President. The President
looks forward to hearing it and the two will work as they always have,
together, to secure peace.
Q On the issue, though, of Iraq, is it at all fair or
accurate to describe Mr. Blair's influence as being in any way that of
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that you have to ask the questions
appropriately to British officials, who can make the judgments about
any of the Prime Minister's thoughts. But I think that this is a
question of to restrain Saddam Hussein, not to restrain anybody
Q Following on from my colleague's question, would you
still agree, as if often said in London, that there is a special
relationship between Britain and the United States?
MR. FLEISCHER: I just indicated that in different words,
but of course there is. And it's a relationship that is special
because of the relationship between the people of the United States
and the people of Great Britain.
Q So how much influence will Mr. Blair have on the
President, when the final decision, or if a decision is taken to go to
war with Iraq -- how much influence --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President very much values Prime
Minister Blair's advice and consultation.
Q Does the United States still have plans in place for
an American or international caretaker to, in effect, take over and
help the Iraqi people after Saddam Hussein?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has made clear that if there
is a decision to use military force, the United States will be
committed to preserving security for the people of Iraq; that we will
work closely with iraqis inside and outside the country to protect the
territorial integrity of Iraq and the unity of Iraq.
Q Ari, if the President is serious about diplomacy and
believes there's a narrow window left for peaceful disarmament, why is
the President only reaching out to those countries that have come out
in support of U.S. policy and a possible war? Why not arrange meetings
with the leaders of France and Germany and other --
MR. FLEISCHER: First of all, there aren't very many
nations to talk to in that regard. It is not a large number. And as
we all know, Germany has said they are unalterably opposed to
support. The President understands that. I've never said there
won't be any other conversation with any other nations.
But to set the record straight, the President is spending more
time talking to people who support his position because most European
Q Ari, when you referred to additional letters just now,
what were you referring to?
MR. FLEISCHER: Additional letters?
Q You were talking about -- you said the eight who
have signed the editorial --
MR. FLEISCHER: I saw one report on the wire that Albania
has sent a letter very similar to the message that was received
earlier. And I also saw a report that one of the Baltic nations has
publicly announced that they, too, stand with the United States. So I
think you're seeing a developing story.
Q Ari, once again, Germany and France have maneuvered
and kept NATO from discussing providing aid to the United States in
case of military conflict. You have said before that the President
accepts that some people will stand on the sidelines, but how does he
feel about what is amounting to actual instruction?
MR. FLEISCHER: Number one, the President appreciates the
overwhelming majority of NATO nations who want to work in support of
the American position. NATO works by consensus and the President is
confident that in the end, consensus will be achieved.
Q -- a military caretaker in Iraq, does that plan still
hold under the scenario that Saddam takes his top lieutenants and goes
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, what holds is that the United States
is committed to the preservation of freedom and security in Iraq. The
United States, if it gets to the issue of military force, will not
walk away. The United States will do what is necessary to help
preserve the peace -- into the future.
And as the President said today, that in the event there is
military action, it will be immediately accompanied and followed by
humanitarian action, food action, medical supplies action for the
people of Iraq.
Q Understood. Should Saddam choose exile, will that
plan for military caretaker still be in effect?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, let Saddam choose exile first.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.