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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 --
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: And what are you doing in this -- yes?
MR. FLEISCHER: 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
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
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
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
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
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
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.