Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, February 3, 2003 (Full Transcript)
Does the President agree with Colin Powell's op/ed
piece today, there is no smoking gun?
The administration has always said that we
have a wide variety of reasons to know that Iraq possesses weapons of
mass destruction, particularly chemical and biological weapons. And of
course, the President agrees with what Colin Powell has written.
So he does agree that there isn't any one thing
I think the reason that we know Saddam
Hussein possesses chemical and biological weapons is from a wide
variety of means. That's how we know.
On that issue, is the administration willing to
join Great Britain in seeking a U.N. resolution that would set a date
certain for complete Iraqi compliance?
Well, as the President said Friday, standing
with Prime Minister Blair, a second resolution would be welcome so long
as it accomplishes the mission, and the mission is the disarmament of
Saddam Hussein. And so it remains something that the President has
expressed very clearly that under his authority in the Constitution as
Commander-in-Chief, and under 1441, he already has existing authority
to make the decision. But the President, of course, is in the process
of consultation with our allies, and you'll see a series of more
meetings, consultative process with our allies to determine precisely
what the next course of events should be.
Looks like Hans Blix and maybe Mohamed ElBaradei
will be going back to Iraq next week. Is that something that you are
worried that will throw off your timetable as this week, the big
presentation from the Secretary of State? The last time they were
there, there was this big agreement and Iraq said that they were going
to comply, and it kind of helped shift the world opinion a little bit.
Are you concerned about the timing of this?
No. Under 1441 is, of course, within the
prerogatives of the directors of UNMOVIC and IAEA to travel to Iraq for
the purpose of implementing the resolution. That is their prerogative
and the President wants to make certain that 1441 is enforced.
Can you tell us a little bit more about what's on
the agenda for the Bahrainian meeting this afternoon? And how
concerned is the President about growing public opinion elsewhere in
the world that is against any action against Iraq, particularly
reaction in the Arab world?
Okay. One, in the meeting with Bahrain, the
President looks forward to the meeting. They're a very good ally of
the United States. And I think you can anticipate the topic of Iraq
will, of course, come up. I think they may also talk about peace in
the Middle East, which is something that the President and Prime
Minister Blair continue their conversations about. I think those,
broadly speaking, will be the two areas of conversation that arise.
As for public opinion, as you know, I've said this many times --
the President will be guided by what he thinks is necessary and right
to protect the people of our country, as well as the region, and our
allies in the region, as well. He's consulting very closely, as you
can see, with the leaders of many of these nations. And I think as you
started to see last week, something that we've been indicating to you
for quite some time is starting to manifest itself, and that is
expressions of support for various leaders around the world. And I
anticipate that that will continue.
And so this will remain, just as the President promised, a very
heavy consultative process. The diplomatic window remains a window in
which the President will fully engage, to reach out and enter into
discussions with our friends and allies. And I think he is having
quite a bit of success.
Ari, can you lay out for us some of the details of
the declassification process, who's in charge, where the effort is
centralized, to try to figure out what can be used by Secretary
Powell? And secondly, has the decision been made to use verbates of
communications intercepts of Iraqi officials?
On the second part of your question, I'm not
going to indicate exactly what will be said. That will be for
Secretary Powell to do Wednesday up in --
Can you say whether or not the decision has been
made to use --
I'm not going to get into that. These will
be things that the Secretary himself will reveal and that will be your
indication. But the process has been a week-long, a little bit longer
than that, interagency collaboration that involves the CIA, the NSC,
the State Department, DOD, to review the raw material, the information
that is known, with the eye toward how much can be made public so that
the people of the United States and people around the world can have as
much information as is possible about why we feel so strongly and know
that Iraq has biological and chemical weapons, balanced against the
need to protect the sources of this information so that we do not, one,
lead to anybody getting killed in Iraq as a result of this, or the
source of this information drying up in the future. So it's a very
important series of judgments that get made to each piece of data to
determine whether or not they can or can not be made public.
A little thing for you -- the President often
articulates principles on legislation or on any sort of effort to lay
down the law, if you will. With regard to a second resolution, does
the President have one or two particular principles that would need to
be met for a second resolution to get his support?
Well, it's exactly what he said Friday with
Just as long as it gets done quickly, he doesn't
care what the content is?
So long as it leads to the disarmament of
Ari, ever since the President announced Secretary
Powell's U.N. appearance in the State of the Union address, there's
been a great deal of expectation around that appearance. Was his
statement in today's op/ed piece that there is no smoking gun an
attempt to lower those expectations?
I think people will form their judgments,
having watched the Secretary, and people will come to their conclusions
about it. I think it will be compelling, but I think that these will
be judgments that people make, and that is exactly why the President
wants this done in public. The President wants this information shared
publicly so that individual Americans can exercise their own right to
tune in and make their evaluations as citizens of our democracy about
what it is that the government knows. In the event that the President
decides to use force, he thinks it is vital that the American people
have as great an understanding of the reasons why as possible.
Should we take the Secretary's piece today as, in
effect, a summary of what he's going to say tomorrow?
I think it's obviously a good guide to what
he is going to say Wednesday.
Ari, last week the President said, on Iraq, you are
either with us or you are with the enemy. France and Germany are
clearly not with us. Why aren't they with the enemy?
That's not true. France and Germany are
with us. They just, in the case of Germany, made a decision not to use
military force; and in the case of France, I think France is still
exploring what their ultimate position will be. But clearly, they're
both with us. The question is the use of military force. So I don't
think that's quite doing justice to what the President said.
The President has repeatedly said he wants to bring
democracy to Iraq. But here in the District of Columbia, citizens have
no elected representatives in Congress. On the license plate, there is
a permanent protest. It says "taxation without representation." What
is the President doing to bring democracy to the District of Columbia?
Per the Constitution, the District of
Columbia is a unique entity and the President has expressed no desire
to change the representation that the District of Columbia was given by
the framers. And I don't really think you can equate the District of
Columbia being a democracy with Iraq's failure to be a democracy, and
it's, in fact, of course, a totalitarian state.
Okay, and going back to something from last week
-- can you describe how the President, in coming forward and offering
the idea of exile to Saddam Hussein, squares that in his mind with his
concern about him being the epitome of evil, human rights violations,
and his desire to bring him to justice?
Well, as the President said, that if Saddam
Hussein were to leave Iraq and to take, as the President put it, his
henchmen with him, that would be a very desirable event. That would
save the lives of many. It would improve the lives and the fortunes of
the Iraqi people and give them, for the first time in decades, the
freedoms that they are entitled to. And the President views that, if
it were to happen -- and the President holds no high hopes that it
would happen -- but the President, of course, and I think people
around the world would welcome that event, no matter how evil Saddam
Hussein is. The source of his evil comes first from himself, and
second from his ability to manipulate the levers of power, and to do so
in a tyrannical way, against not only his own people, but the neighbors
in the region, and hence, his threat to peace. Certainly, if Saddam
Hussein no longer has his fingers on the levers which weapons of mass
destruction could be launched, the world would be a safer place.
So if Saddam Hussein were to forfeit his control
over Iraq and seek exile, he could save his life and he could avoid any
kind of international judicial experience, being brought to justice.
Again, I think the world would rejoice if he
left, and let's leave it at that and let's hope he leaves.
Should Americans and allies be prepared for a
greater loss of life in an Iraq conflict this time as compared with
1991, when the objective was simply to push Iraq out of Kuwait?
One, I want to remind you the President has
not made any decisions about the use of force, and the President
continues to hope that that will not be a line that gets crossed.
Is that a factor in his decision-making?
Well, the factor in the President's
decision-making as to whether Saddam Hussein is disarmed or not. That
is the factor. Beyond that, I think it's impossible for anybody to
make any predictions. The United States is very, very, very capable,
and beyond that, I just will not make any predictions.
Just following John's point on North Korea here,
I'm trying to understand how we should interpret this decision to send
new aircraft and the personnel around them. Should we interpret it as
equivalent to what you're doing in Iraq, where you frequently said that
the presence of American troops nearby helps increase the diplomatic
pressure for them to fully comply -- in North Korea's case, that
would mean allowing inspectors back in and doing all those things
you've asked them to do -- or should we instead interpret it as a
concern on the part of the President that North Korea could lash out at
some moment because of sanctions, because of anything else?
I think you should interpret it exactly as I
said earlier, that the President thinks that this can be handled
through diplomatic means, that we have contingencies all around the
world and we always make certain that our contingencies are viable.
You have 37,000 troops there already.
We have contingencies around the world that
involve a number of uses of force structure to make certain that the
contingencies are viable.