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Denial and Deception Denial and Deception

Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, February 3, 2003 (Full Transcript)

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me make a statement about some events concerning Iraq and other matters, diplomatically, that have taken place: Yesterday and today mark important days of diplomatic achievement at home and abroad. In addition to Secretary Powell's presentation yesterday at the United Nations of the facts concerning Saddam Hussein's concealment of his weapons of mass destruction, the President today would like to thank the 10 nations of Eastern Europe that issued a statement yesterday in support of the United States' effort to disarm Iraq.

People of Eastern Europe know well the dangers and risks of allowing tyranny to go unchallenged, and they stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the people of the United States. The President is proud to have their support.

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    The President also welcomes the vote today in the Turkish Parliament to authorize site preparations at Turkish military bases. Turkey is a stalwart friend and a staunch NATO ally. The Turkish government is facing up to difficult issues in a serious and conscientious way. And the United States respects the principles of the Turkish government in bringing this issue to the Turkish Parliament. The United States wants peace, and we will continue to work closely with the Turkish government to see that Iraq complies with the United Nations Security Council resolution 1441.

    And finally, the President also notes and appreciates the unanimous vote of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to provide their advice and consent to the ratification of the weapons reducing Treaty of Moscow. The President entered office dedicated to improving relations with Russia and to reducing the levels of nuclear weapons required to maintain the peace. The President thanks the senators on the committee for the unanimous, bipartisan vote in support the treaty, and he urges the full Senate to act soon.

    With that, I'm happy to take your questions.

    QUESTION: Ari, can I ask you a follow up something you said this morning? Do you have reason to believe that Saddam Hussein is going to suddenly feign cooperation by agreeing to some things he hasn't agreed to before?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Well, judging by Saddam Hussein's efforts in the past to conceal and to deny and to cheat and retreat, it would not surprise anybody if all of a sudden Saddam Hussein showed a little bit of the tip of his iceberg. I don't think it would surprise anybody if all of a sudden Saddam Hussein, for example, allowed U-2 flights to fly, or all of a sudden showed up with some weapons which he's previously denied ever having. So it would not surprise anybody in the United States government if all of a sudden Saddam Hussein showed up with the little tip of his iceberg.

    QUESTION: Well, if he is to cooperate, how much of the iceberg does he have to show?

    MR. FLEISCHER: All. Complete disarmament -- just as promised to the United Nations when the United Nations Security Council passed its resolutions.

    QUESTION: Since you speak for the President, we have no access to him, can you categorically deny that the United States will take over the oil fields when we win this war? Which is apparently obvious and you're on your way and I don't think you doubt your victory. Oil -- is it about oil?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, as I've told you many times, if this had anything to do with oil, the position of the United States would be to lift the sanctions so the oil could flow. This is not about that. This is about saving lives by protecting the American people --

    QUESTION: We will not take over the oil fields, are you saying that?

    MR. FLEISCHER: The oil fields belong to the people of Iraq, the government of Iraq, all of Iraq. All the resources --

    QUESTION: And we don't want any part of that?

    MR. FLEISCHER: -- of Iraq need to be administered by the Iraqi government. And any action that is taken in Iraq is going to be taken with an eye toward the future of Iraq. And that involves the protecting of infrastructure, providing humanitarian aid. And that needs to be done by the Iraqi people.

    QUESTION: There are reports that we've divided up the oil already, divvied it up with the Russians and French and so forth. Isn't that true?

    MR. FLEISCHER: What's the source of these reports that you cite?

    QUESTION: They're all over the place.

    MR. FLEISCHER: Can you be more specific?

    QUESTION: That we have just -- we will take the oil fields and then we will parcel out the oil.

    MR. FLEISCHER: But you cited some reports. I'm just curious about -- if you can be more specific about the source of these reports that you're citing here today.

    QUESTION: -- have you been reading the newspapers?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Can you be more specific? Anywhere in particular?

    QUESTION: Senator Lugar said it.

    MR. FLEISCHER: No, there's no truth to that, that we would divide up the oil fields. As I --

    QUESTION: Your own people have said something -- but I'm sorry I can't pinpoint it.

    MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, the infrastructure of Iraq belongs to the people of Iraq. And that is going to be respected.

    QUESTION: Why should you decide what is their infrastructure or their government?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Obviously, if the regime changes there will be a new government. And the government will represent the people of Iraq.

    QUESTION: A couple questions, Ari. They're unrelated, so let me take them one at a time, if I could. If Saddam Hussein starts to melt his iceberg and dribble out these weapons, doesn't that complicate things for you in terms of building world opinion to take military action, to say that he is not cooperating, that he is not in compliance with 1441?

    MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think it makes the exact case that Hans Blix made when he went before the United Nations and said that Iraq has showed the tip of an emerged iceberg -- we don't know, is how he put it -- we don't know if the weapon launchers for chemical -- with chemical warheads that were discovered by the inspectors represent the tip of a submerged iceberg, is how Hans Blix put it.

    But if, all of a sudden, something were to show up, after Saddam Hussein denied vehemently, repeatedly, including yesterday, that he doesn't have any weapons of mass destruction, it would underscore the fact that Saddam Hussein is again lying to the world.

    QUESTION: But you know what the arguments will be. The arguments will be, well, the process does seem to be working; he's disgorging this information, he's revealing his weapons; let's let that process continue. And then before you know it, you're into June.

    MR. FLEISCHER: There's only one thing that counts, and that is the complete and total disarmament of Iraq. That way the threat that Colin Powell discussed before the world yesterday can be removed from people around the world, so we don't have to worry about Saddam Hussein using the weapons that remain below water.

    QUESTION: The other question was, the forces that have been put on alert for possible deployment to the western Pacific -- and I know that you don't talk about deployments, so I'm going to ask you the political question here -- is this an indication that the President is willing to consider as an option something other than diplomacy, which he has said is the only option in the past, for dealing with North Korea?

    MR. FLEISCHER: No, it's exactly as I indicated, I think two or three days ago, to the same question, and that was that the President believes that diplomacy is the way to handle the situation vis-a-vis North Korea. That continues to be pursued with our allies in the region -- notably, China, Russia, South Korea and Japan -- all of whom have a very important stake in a peaceful outcome of this; all of who view North Korea's actions as a setback to peaceful dialogue in the region, why they want to pursue peaceful dialogue. The United States, of course, has contingency plans and the United States makes certain the contingencies are viable.

    QUESTION: So is this another example of diplomacy backed up by the credible threat of force?

    MR. FLEISCHER: This is an example of the United States pursuing this through diplomatic means and making certain that we have contingencies that are viable.

    QUESTION: Ari, why didn't Powell share, or the government, U.S. government share the information that Powell presented yesterday to the inspectors prior to --

    MR. FLEISCHER: They did.

    QUESTION: All of that detail was shared with the inspectors?

    MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. Yes, Dr. Rice talked about that last night on her interviews.

    QUESTION: Is there any plan to take whatever information may not have made it into the presentation and give them access to that in the weeks ahead?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Well, clearly, as Secretary Powell has said, there's information that we always keep an eye on vis-a-vis sources and methods. And I'm not indicating that there is information that was provided to the inspectors beyond what was provided publicly, because we still have an abiding interest in helping the inspectors to do their job. And so we work this together as we work with the inspectors. And I think that's one of the reasons that you saw Dr. ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Association, say in London this morning that what's next is there has to be, in Dr. ElBaradei's words, a drastic change in Iraq's behavior.

    QUESTION: Can I just go in another direction? There was a lot of praise on Capitol Hill yesterday for Powell's presentation. But one of the criticisms that a couple of people talked about was the aftermath -- in the event of war, what happens in Iraq afterwards in terms of rebuilding, how we pay for it, who participates in that kind of thing. The President talked a lot during the campaign about he never wanted to use U.S. troops for, in his words, nation-building. We have troops now in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia. Presumably, we would have them in Iraq afterwards. Has the President changed his position about nation-building?

    MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President continues to believe that the purpose of using the military should be to fight and win wars. Our government, broadly speaking, has a variety, however, of agencies that are well-situated, whose mission is to help protect the peace after a war is fought. And by that, I mean, in the event that there is a war with Iraq, the President has made very plain in numerous conversations with foreign leaders, that immediately upon military action, if it comes to military action, plans are in place to provide humanitarian aid and relief to the people of Iraq. It is a fundamentally important part of how the United States and democracies around the world do their business as liberators, not conquerors.

    And what the President refers to, specifically, the number of food distribution points that are in Iraq that the oil-for- food program has already identified, as a means of getting food to the Iraqi people, getting supplies to the Iraqi people, making sure that medical care is provided to the Iraqi people. And I think, again, this is one reason that the interesting reality of events around the world is often the United States is viewed as the liberator.

    QUESTION: So, just under your plan, how long would U.S. troops be in Iraq, if there was war?

    MR. FLEISCHER: The President has said for as long --

    QUESTION: A year, five years?

    MR. FLEISCHER: The President has not put a timetable on it. The President has made clear that we are committed to the future of a stable Iraq, a unified Iraq. And that will remain, if we go to war, American commitment.

    QUESTION: Under your plans for a postwar Iraq, who would administer the food aid? Who would be the governing authority?

    MR. FLEISCHER: The plan would be for a government to emerge both from inside and outside Iraq. And this would be something that we continue to work with groups both inside and outside to develop. But the future of Iraq must be up to the Iraqi people.

    QUESTION: But that takes a while. To stand up a government --

    MR. FLEISCHER: Which is exactly why I indicated that if there is a decision to use military force, the military will remain in place to help provide for a secure military environment, a peaceful environment, so that the civilian apparatus could reemerge.

    QUESTION: So while the civilian apparatus reemerges, the military administers things. And to follow Helen's very interesting line of questioning, would that include the oil fields?

    MR. FLEISCHER: The military would be there to provide for the physical security for as long as that was required, to create that atmosphere throughout Iraq so that peace could emerge. And we would work with the civilian authorities, both inside and outside, during a period of what would be obvious overlap.

    QUESTION: So right now the civilian authorities who administer the oil fields for the Iraqi people, which you say you're interested in, is the U.N. oil-for-food organization. It has modalities of contract and accounts and things like that. Is the administration pledging that the oil fields will continue to be run under that system, for the benefit of the Iraqi people, as it is now?

    MR. FLEISCHER: The future would be administered, as I mentioned, by a number of agencies, including international. There are a variety of international relief organizations whose mission is aimed at providing help to people in all kinds of contingencies around the world.

    QUESTION: And the U.S. military will have a roll in that?

    MR. FLEISCHER: The U.S. military, if there is a war, would be there for the purpose, just like in Afghanistan, of providing the umbrella of security, so that any operation would not be followed by any type of fighting, that the secure environment could exist. And it's unclear how long that would be, but the point the President has made is it will be an abiding American commitment to the unity and the security of Iraq.

    QUESTION: President Putin and Chirac agreed today that a diplomatic solution should be found to Iraq. How do you interpret these machinations?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the President would hope that a diplomatic solution can be found. The question is, if Saddam Hussein is not willing to be a partner to a diplomatic solution, does the world sit by and do nothing, as Saddam Hussein continues to arm up and develop weapons, which as we saw from the Secretary's presentation yesterday, involves some of the most horrible chemical and biological weapons that mankind could ever imagine.

    QUESTION: And is he still undecided about a second resolution?

    MR. FLEISCHER: The President is continuing, through the Secretary of State and through his own efforts, to consult with friends and allies around the world about what course should come next, and that consultation process continues.

    QUESTION: Ari, you have a week, almost a week now before Hans Blix comes back to the Security Council. Can you tell us more specifically what the White House is going to do in that week to press its case?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think what comes next is ongoing diplomacy. The President is serious when he talks about the importance of listening to and leading around the world. The opinions of neighbors around the world -- as I noted with the 10 European nations that came out with their powerful statement of support yesterday -- are important. There are many nations that the President will continue to talk to.

    One thing is for certain -- and this is a trend around the world that you saw starting several weeks ago, and I think it's a trend that is accelerating with Secretary Powell's presentation -- the world is increasingly seeing this from the United States' point of view that Saddam Hussein must disarm. If he does not disarm, a coalition will be assembled to disarm him. That is increasingly the point of view of leaders throughout the world. There may be some corners, some minority opinion that do not believe that. But that is why diplomacy remains important and will continue to be pursued.

    QUESTION: And what is ongoing diplomacy? Is that the President calling leaders --


    QUESTION: And what are you doing in this -- yes?


    QUESTION: What are you doing in this country to convince Americans that this is the right course?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Well, obviously, the President addressed many of these issues head on in his State of the Union address, where the President talked about the risks of letting Saddam Hussein continue to be armed. Secretary Powell, in his presentation yesterday at the United Nations, was viewed by obviously tens of millions of Americans. And the President will continue to speak out, and members of his administration -- as Secretary Powell testified before the Congress today -- will continue to speak out in public about the facts that have been presented.

    QUESTION: According to the press reports and -- officials that credible threats are still there, as far as terrorism is concerned -- here and also in Afghanistan because al Qaedas are coming back from Pakistan to Afghanistan. Fighting is going on there. Now, as far as this credible threat is concerned, is that in connection with anything to do with Saddam Hussein's connection with al Qaeda? Or due to this sanction between the U.S. and Iraq?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Well, even without the situation in Iraq, we have, since September 11th, of course, prior to September 11th, it's clear that there -- al Qaeda is an organization that is dedicated to striking and hitting the United States anywhere and everywhere it can. And this is one of the reasons we have the new Department of Homeland Security, as you know. And September 11th, indeed, brought that home to the American people about how vulnerable we, indeed, are.

    And so the Department of Homeland Security, as well as other agencies of the government, continue to monitor the threat environment to determine whether or not the reporting that we get around the world leads to any conclusions or other analysis. That's why the threat level remains elevated at yellow. It continues to be a concern that people around the world -- regardless of what's happening in Iraq, including what's happening in Iraq -- have a desire to strike. That's something that Secretary Powell talked about yesterday.

    QUESTION: Can I follow just one more? On Sunday a Muslim holiday starts and millions of Muslims will be gathering and going to pilgrim. Any message for the Muslims or how we should take this, because of the holiday, there might be some more threats.

    MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's important to recognize that the Hadj, which is a month-long period, is a time when Muslims throughout the world make a pilgrimage to Mecca and to Medina. And it's one of the pillars of the Islamic faith, is to go on this pilgrimage at least once in life. This is a pilgrimage of peace. The Islamic religion is a religion of peace. There are others, however, represent a minority of a minority of a minority within the Islamic world who subvert Islam's message of peace and instead use the name of God as a way to inspire fear and to try to bring attacks to our country and to other countries.

    This is a time of peace for most Muslims, for almost all Muslims. Unfortunately, the world has seen that there are some who subvert that message.

    QUESTION: To follow up on Elizabeth's question. How crucial is the report that Hans Blix is going to give the United Nations on February 14th for deciding how everything unfolds and how things come together?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the importance of Hans Blix's next testimony will be determined by Saddam Hussein. If Saddam Hussein continues to deceive and to deny and to have arms, then it takes on more importance. And that's why this is all about the actions that Saddam Hussein needs to take to come into compliance.

    As we heard yesterday with the audio tapes that were released, instead of coming into compliance, Saddam Hussein is doing just the opposite. He is engaging in every bit and level of deception and denial that he can possibly, possibly get away with.

    QUESTION: Is there a hope by the White House that Hanx Blix will be as candid as possible about the fact that you don't think that Saddam Hussein is complying with the weapons inspection? I mean, how important is what he says to getting the French and others on board?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Dr. ElBaradei and Hans Blix's jobs are describe the facts as they find them. That is why they've been sent to Iraq. And the facts as they find them are determined by the actions taken by Saddam Hussein's regime.

    QUESTION: Going back to the concern about threats, there have been a number of officials who talked now for two or three days about increased chatter and the usual phrase that we hear. What can you tell us about that? And if, in fact, there is increased chatter, why does that not warrant some sort of increase in the warning?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as a matter of daily review, the intelligence services, as well as the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI are all involved in reviewing both the quantity and the quality of reporting around the world or domestically that might lead to any type of change, up or down, in the threat alert. They review it each and every day. And the alert remains at the elevated level of yellow. And depending on the quantity or quality of information, if there are any changes that are to be announced, they would get announced each day. There's nothing that would change it today.

    QUESTION: But what can you say about reports from a number of officials that there is increased chatter and that there is increased concern?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there is ongoing concern. And the Hadj does mark a period that, for most, is a period of peace. It also marks historically a time when there is increased reporting. And so anything beyond that would come from the Department of Homeland Security as events warrant. There is nothing today that changes the status.

    But I do -- I think it is worth dwelling on one thing. In recognizing the combination of what Secretary Powell publicly revealed yesterday about the intentions and the abilities of some of our enemies, and the statement that one of our nation's enemies made when he was convicted in the United States courtroom, and that was Richard Reid's conviction. I want to read from something that he said upon being convicted.

    This is Richard Reid: "I do not apologize for my actions. I am at war with your country. Your flag will come down, and so will your country." We have to be reminded that the people that we are dealing with are not mere lawbreakers, they are not mere criminals; they are people who, if they could, would be grievous and grievous attack, and they have been trained to do so to the American people and to our friends and allies abroad. And that does put it into an important context that always has to be considered as we review the type of enemies who are trying, trying, to attack us.

    Break in Press Briefing

    QUESTION: Ari, the National Council of Churches, led by a former Democratic congressman, the Reverend Bob Edgar, has enlisted a bishop, Melvin Talbert, of the President's Methodist Church, to do a TV commercial, reported by The Washington Post, in which this Methodist bishop claims, "Going to war against Iraq violates God's law and the teachings of Jesus Christ." And my question is: Since the President is widely known to be a deeply religious person, he surely does not want you to suggest by any evasion that he agrees or does not care about this Methodist bishop's claim. So what is his answer to this bishop's charge of violating God's law?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Lester, the decisions that the President makes about war and peace and about whether or not force needs to be used in Iraq are based on the President's judgments as a secular leader about what is necessary to protect this country. The President is a deeply religious man. But these are decisions that the President will make based on intelligence reports, based on information that he is aware of on how to protect our country from potential attack. That's what's on the President's mind -- particularly since September 11th.

    Break in Press Briefing

    QUESTION: Ari, while Iraq seems to be the main focus of the foreign policy of the United States, North Korea is raising its U.S. rhetoric, against the U.S. Does that worry the Bush administration and do you think this may -- the rhetoric makes the situation far more dangerous?

    MR. FLEISCHER: The real people who have to worry are the people of North Korea -- the people of North Korea, who deserve a better future and a government that represents the aspirations of mankind to have food, to have health care, to have a decent life. And the actions of the North Korean government, sadly, are nothing new. Much of this rattling has taken place in previous decades and previous times. And this President is dedicated to dealing with this and to do so diplomatically, along with allies in the region.

    Break in Press Briefing

    QUESTION: Ari, back on Iraq. If Saddam Hussein does start to reveal some of his arsenal, do we have any way of verifying that he's not divulging all of it? I mean, how are we going to be able to verify that?

    MR. FLEISCHER: I think the question is an interesting one to turn around here. And after you've been lied to and told by Saddam Hussein, and covered his statements on the air where he and his commanders say they have no weapons of mass destruction, what would you conclude if all of a sudden he starts coming out with ones or twos or threes or fours, or allows a U-2 to fly? Obviously, he lied. And if he lied about that, what else is he lying about?

    We're not interested in the tip of the iceberg that Saddam Hussein may show above water. We're interested in the iceberg that remains under water that can sink the lives of tens of millions of people.

    QUESTION: But how will you ever know, if you don't know what the iceberg is and he's not revealing all of it --

    MR. FLEISCHER: I think as anybody who listened to Secretary Powell yesterday knows, we know enough to have enough concerns that the world is now facing a decision about whether force will have to be used to disarm Saddam Hussein.

    QUESTION: Aren't you really saying that war is inevitable then? I mean, if you can't verify it --

    MR. FLEISCHER: The President has not given up -- the President has not given up hope. And one thing we continue to believe is by continuing to have world pressure put on Saddam Hussein, we have not given up hope that he'll either leave the country or that he will disarm to such an overwhelming great degree that people can know.

    But when you consider the fact that the previous United Nations inspectors believed he had 30,000 liters of chemical weapons and biological weapons, of VX, of anthrax, it's going to require a large, large number of acres' worth of parking lots for the world to know that Saddam Hussein has taken his weapons out of hiding, put them out on the parking lot for them to be destroyed.

    QUESTION: In your statement when you started the briefing, you said you want peace, the administration wants peace. Many in this country and around the world want peace. They're going to be demonstrating in the next few weeks for peace. Is it wrong for them, or unpatriotic for them not to want war, as well? I mean, you're saying you want peace, but it looks like you're pushing toward war.

    MR. FLEISCHER: It is emphatically a patriotic act for people to protest on behalf of whatever cause they see fit in our country. And if some differ with the President and call for the use of no force and take to the streets peacefully to protest that, that's the finest tradition of America. It's not new. It's been the way the American people communicate with their government for hundreds of years. We settle our differences in this country through elections and through peaceful protest. And the majority will will prevail. And the President is confident that when he makes his case, if he makes his case as Secretary Powell has made the case, that the American people agree with him about the risks of allowing Saddam Hussein to continue to have the chemical, biological weapons that he has.

    QUESTION: But it's not just about the protest that's scheduled in the next couple of weeks. It's about a feeling, a pervasive feeling that Americans just don't want war -- even after General Powell's speech yesterday.

    MR. FLEISCHER: Of course, Americans don't want war. But Americans have always, throughout our history, shown a willingness to fight for peace when peace was threatened. And in terms of the expressions of support, I think all you need to do to look at the representatives of the people, for example, in addition to the public polling that you all have, and when you see that last year in the Congress, in 2002, the vote in the Senate to authorize force was 77-23, and in the House it was 296-133.

    Break in Press Briefing

    QUESTION: Well, a third question on Iraq -- very quickly. It's now been five months since the President said, weeks, not months.

    MR. FLEISCHER: That's not correct.

    QUESTION: When he went before the United Nations he said he wants to see something within weeks, not months. In that period of time, Saddam Hussein has repeatedly shown he does not want to be part of a diplomatic solution. The members of the Security Council, other than Britain, have shown they don't want to be any part of a military solution. Why are we bothering to keep going to the U.N.? Aren't we just spinning our wheels, or engaging in a public relations contest, since we can deal with other states, such as the other 10, on a more bilateral basis?

    MR. FLEISCHER: That's an important question. Let me first address the premise of it, but I then want to spend some time on the second point you made. One, it's important to be accurate. And when the President in September said weeks, not months, he said, weeks, not months for the United Nations Security Council to pass a resolution or not. They, the Security Council, did that in weeks or months.

    Separately, the President said a couple weeks ago that this matter of dealing with Iraq will last for weeks, not months, in terms of the way Iraq has failed to comply. In other words, the time for diplomacy will run out, and that Saddam Hussein must disarm.

    The reason the President thinks it is so important to work with the United Nations on this is because the President believes that international organizations that are dedicated to nonproliferation and to the peaceful resolution of disputes have got to take and have meaning -- take meaningful action and have meaning. He believes that they have to have teeth. They have to have a way to enforce what they say. Otherwise they would quickly become irrelevant in the reality of the world.

    And that's why the President not only went to the United Nations himself on September 12th, and put the United Nations Security Council front and center in this debate, but he asked and directed the Secretary of State to travel to New York yesterday to go before the Security Council and put the Security Council front and center in the living rooms of the American people.

    The President has noted in several private meetings with foreign leaders that he comes from a region where there are more bumpers that said, "U.S. out of the U.N." than "God Bless America." It's a powerful feeling in some parts of America that the U.S. should have no role in the U.N. It's not the President's view. But the President's view is that for international regimes to have meaning they must be willing to enforce what they say.

    And make no mistake, when the 15 members of the Security Council voted unanimously on behalf of 1441, they understood what "serious consequences" meant, and they understood what "material breach" meant. If they didn't, then they wouldn't have voted for it. There was a clear understanding that that was a very different resolution.

    QUESTION: Aren't they trying to wiggle out of a serious consequence, however, or at least keep putting it off and putting it off, and not having to deal with it?

    MR. FLEISCHER: That's one of the reasons the President is determined to consult with allies about what the next course of action should be.

    QUESTION: One of North Korea and one on Iraq. What is the status of U.S. food and fuel shipments into North Korea?

    MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know if I have a current update with me, but in terms of the food shipments, they continue under the USAID program. The United States remains North Korea's largest provider of food.

    QUESTION: On Iraq, when will foreigners and the U.N. inspectors be advised to leave Iraq, and also citizens be advised to leave the region?

    MR. FLEISCHER: As usual, any decisions about the safety of Americans traveling abroad is handled by the State Department. They would be the ones to touch base with about any announcements.

    QUESTION: -- they will be informed at some time to leave?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it's always under the purview of the State Department to make those determinations and that would come from them.

    QUESTION: Ari, two things. A group of bishops and pastors from the National Council of Churches, the United Methodist Church, Episcopal Church, sent a letter to the President last week. They said they want a meeting face-to-face with him because they're "uneasy about the moral justification for war on Iraq." Will the President meet with these church leaders?

    MR. FLEISCHER: As always, we'll fill you in on the President's schedule, but I want to emphasize again the President is a deeply religious man, and there are many people in a variety of religions who are going to have different thoughts about how to keep the peace and whether or not to go to war with Saddam Hussein. The President will respect their thoughts, and he will act as he sees fit as Commander-in-Chief to protect the country.

    Break in Press Briefing

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