Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, February 3, 2003 (Full Transcript)
The President began early this morning with a phone call that
lasted 20 minutes with President Jiang Zemin of China. The two
discussed the situation in North Korea, as well as Iraq. President
Bush stressed that time was of the essence in dealing with Iraq, and he
stressed that the credibility of the United Nations was at stake.
The President returned to the White House, where he spoke with
President Jacques Chirac of France. The two agreed on the importance
of disarming Iraq. They agreed to continue consultations. The
President stressed that France is an important ally. And they also
discussed the importance of working together to achieve peace in the
Middle East between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
The President will depart for Camp David later this afternoon. And
let me -- I want to give you a look ahead for about the next two
weeks. During the next two weeks, the President and many members of
his administration are going to focus on two main goals: diplomacy
abroad and jobs at home. There will be number of activities on both
fronts. The President will be discussing the situation vis-a-vis Iraq
in his weekly radio address this weekend. Members of his foreign
QUESTION: Can I ask, when the President said this
morning he wants the U.N. Security Council to make up its mind soon,
to do what? What does he want to see in this new resolution? What
does he want not to be in there?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President, as he has said and as he has
talked with numerous allies, particularly in Europe -- the President
has said that he would welcome a second vote by the United Nations
Security Council that enforces the resolution that is already in place,
which is Resolution 1441, which said that this is Iraq's final chance
to comply, that failure to comply would be seen as a material breach
that would be met with serious consequences -- in the words of the 15
members of the United Nations Security Council.
QUESTION: Does he want language more specific than
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, on the exact language, the process is
now just beginning. It began yesterday with the President's
statement. And I think, as you can anticipate, and you're very
familiar with the United Nations processes, this will now become a
matter of diplomacy. I've indicated to you the President is going to
spend some time, himself, and other members of the administration,
engaged in diplomacy, toward the point of working together with the
United Nations Security Council, to come out with a resolution that is
serious, effective and acceptable. And that's the process that now
QUESTION: But, clearly, he must have in mind some
minimum standard for this resolution, otherwise he thinks it's
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, he does. The standard the President
has set is that the second resolution must enforce the first
resolution, that it must provide meaning to the first resolution.
QUESTION: Does the President think there is anyone in the
world who believes he has not already made up his mind to go up to war
at any cost, no matter what? Does he actually think that nobody has
already made up -- believes he has already made him mind up?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think what's, in the President's judgment,
important, there is one person's mind who matters the most, and that's
Saddam Hussein. The issue of whether or not war comes is a matter that
Saddam Hussein will decide. And so when you say, has the President
decided, the President remains hopeful that war can be averted. And
the President strongly believes that the stronger the show of
international unity and the stronger the creation of the military
presence, building up alongside Iraq, we'll work to convince Saddam
Hussein to do what he always should have done, and perhaps the peace
can still be maintained.
QUESTION: But the President actually thinks that
people think he still might not go to war?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there is really only one person the
President worries about when it comes to, can war be averted, and
that's in Saddam Hussein's --
QUESTION: Why shouldn't he worry about what the
American people think?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, obviously, the President worries
deeply about what the American people think. He is responsible to the
American people and to their protection, per the Constitution, which is
why the President went to the United Nations Security Council last
September. It's why the President worked so hard to achieve the result
of the first tough resolution that the United Nations passed last
November, and why the President directed Secretary Powell to travel to
New York this week to make the presentation of facts.
QUESTION: Why doesn't he let the inspectors complete
MR. FLEISCHER: There's only one person who can let the
inspectors complete his work, and that person's name is Saddam
QUESTION: After talking to the Presidents of China
and France, does the President here feel any more optimistic that he's
going to get their votes in the Security Council on the kind of
resolution that he wants?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not in the business of predicting
the actions that will be taken by sovereign nations, that is up to them
But I think what you are seeing here is a serious diplomatic effort
underway and it's going to continue. And that is, I think, what the
American people and what the world would expect. It is important for
international organizations to have meaning. It is important for
proliferation regimes to work if we're going to send a signal to the
world that we will enforce proliferations regimes so that weapons of
mass destruction cannot be spread or can be easily acquired with
impunity from the very international organizations who at their heart
and soul must be dedicated to the stopping of the Saddam Husseins now
and in the future.
QUESTION: Can I just follow-up? Does the President
feel that these people, such as the Presidents of Russia and France and
China, would voice some opposition, or their officials would voice some
opposition to the American's stand on this? Does he feel that they're
doing it out of sincere beliefs that war is not necessary?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President, of course, believes that the
leaders he's working with are working in sincere faith. And, frankly,
in the days and the weeks leading up to the vote that the Security
Council took in November, there were a variety of different opinions
shared, not all in unison with the United States.
And because of careful diplomacy, because of the President's
dedication to working well with the United Nations, and also to leading
the world, you saw a 15-0 vote. I cannot predict what will be the
outcome this time. But that's the pattern that the President put in
place last time. Nobody know what will happen this time. But that is
why the President approaches it as seriously as he does. Their voices
count, their opinions are important. He will engage with them, as he
did today, in ongoing diplomacy. But make no mistake, he will also
QUESTION: Ari, you mentioned before that the focus
over the next couple of weeks would be on jobs at home and diplomacy
abroad. Left out of that formulation is any mention of explaining and
justifying war to the American people, or preparing them for the risk
that this doesn't go as smoothly as a lot of people might expect or
MR. FLEISCHER: Obviously, anything dealing with diplomacy
abroad gets communicated to the world, gets communicated to the
American people, as well. I don't rule out that you certainly will,
when the President's travels, as you well know, when the President goes
out, for example, and gives speeches around the country, he'll have a
new policy that he may announce domestically, but typically the
President will also discuss international events.
And so the President will continue as he travels to talk about
global affairs as part of his overall remarks.
QUESTION: But more broadly, is he confident that he
has made the case to the American people -- not to France or Russia or
China -- but to the American people, that this is something that he
needs to do and that it's going to entail risks and casualties and
potentially long-term costs?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, the -- first of all, you have
to keep in mind the President has not made the decision that force will
be used. The President has, of course, in his State of the Union,
talked directly to the American people about the nature of the threat
and why it's important that one way or another Saddam Hussein be
The President directed the Secretary of State to travel to the
United Nations, where his speech was watched around the globe, of
course, and tens of millions of Americans saw both the State of the
Union and Secretary Powell's presentations. The President understands
that if there is more to come, the President will continue to honor his
obligation to our democracy, to talk more and explain more.
So, no, you have not seen the end of that story in the event that
the President decides there is more necessary.
QUESTION: Ari, the President has said he would
welcome a second U.N. resolution. Is that desire strong enough that
he would go back to the U.N. and speak directly to the Security
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not in a position to make any
predictions. But I would not suggest to you that because the President
did it on September 12th would be any need for him to do it again. I
think now the burden falls on the shoulders of the 15 members of the
United Nations Security Council to review the facts, to review the
intelligence that has been shared, to evaluate what they know about
Saddam Hussein and his possession of weapons of mass destruction, his
absolute failure to comply with the inspectors -- who were sent there
not to hunt around the country in search of weapons but to verify that
he has actually disarmed from the weapons he has.
The President believes that they will make those judgments, and
this is a real time of telling for the United Nations Security Council
on whether they are, indeed, an effective body in the 21st century.
QUESTION: Can you give us a little bit of readout on
President Jiang Zemin's reaction during that telephone conversation?
Can you do the same with President Chirac? What was his reaction to
what President --
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, the two agreed about the
importance of continuing to consult with each other. And I think that
sums it up.
QUESTION: Did Chirac, for instance, indicate any
willingness to consider something other than endless inspections? Did
he indicate that there was a limit to his patience on Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, again, I appreciate the
opportunity to speak for foreign leaders, but --
QUESTION: I'm only asking you to convey what he
indicated to the President of the United States.
MR. FLEISCHER: I appreciate the opportunity to speak for
foreign leaders. But, no, it's not my place to do that. They had a
warm call and the President again indicated that he respects France and
it's important to continue the consultations, and they will.
QUESTION: You indicated the President wanted any new
resolution to reinforce 1441. Obviously, as you indicated, diplomatic
discussions will determine the exact language and how far it goes. But
is there a minimum that the United States needs to see in a second
resolution? Would it, for instance, have to declare that Iraq is yet
again in material breach? Is there some minimum level here that would
be required for it to actually reinforce 1441?
MR. FLEISCHER: The minimum is that it would to enforce what
Resolution 1441 meant. And what Resolution 1441 meant was it was
final, the words of the United Nations -- final. It said that Iraq is
and continues to be in material breach. And it said if they are in
material breach there will be serious consequences. That's what the
President believes. It must disarm Saddam Hussein.
QUESTION: On the Iraq-al Qaeda connection, if this
Zarqawi guy is such a threat, and we know from the satellite
photographs exactly where the camp is, we have uncontested control over
the air space, why hasn't any action been taken?
MR. FLEISCHER: Number one, you should not in that statement
presume that we know exactly where he is, or at all times exactly where
he is. We may have reporting on where he has been. Now, if you're
asking me to talk about anything that may be a military operation,
that, of course, is something I would never do.
QUESTION: Ari, since a big part of a second
resolution would potentially be to show global support for ultimate
action against Saddam potentially, is it important that the White House
come away with another 15-0 vote, as it received in the first
MR. FLEISCHER: No, first of all, I don't think -- nobody
has said that that is a standard that must be set. And I think it's
fair to recognize that Germany, which is a member of the United Nations
Security Council, has spoken out very strongly on this matter. The
President disagrees on this matter, but the President also respects the
right of nations to disagree. So I have not heard any standards set
about what the vote must be. The United Nations Security Council has
its rules about what makes a resolution pass. And that standard
remains in place.
QUESTION: Publicly and privately, comments from
French diplomats don't necessarily jibe. Privately, some French
diplomats are actually willing to paint a scenario in which they move
into the same camp, or thought, as the White House, as the President.
Did you detect, or did the President detect, at all, from his
conversation with Mr. Chirac whether or not the French are, indeed,
starting to move a little bit closer?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I think that at the appropriate
time, the vote will take place. And at that time we will learn what
the positions are of the variety of nations. I'm not in position to
predict what that outcome will be -- collectively or for any individual
state of the United Nations Security Council.
The importance of it, however, remains paramount in the President's
judgment about whether or not international organizations play a
legitimate role. If they don't, in the case of disarming Saddam --
given his total defiance for 12 years -- at what point would they ever
have any effect? What message would it send to the next would-be
proliferator if their actions are meaningless now?
QUESTION: Very briefly, now that the President has
said the game is over, does he want a deadline in the next resolution
before the Security Council? And if it's not there, will he impose one
soon before the end of the month --
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, again, in response to Mark's question,
we are still within 24 hours of the President making this statement.
And this will be a process. The process will unfold. There will be
numerous suggestions, and numerous writers, and it's a serious
process. I'm not going to predict any specific wordage, but what's
important is the parameter that the President has set which is that
this new resolution must enforce Resolution 1441.
QUESTION: Mr. Fleischer, yesterday -- you praised
Turkey for its support on the war against Iraq, despite that 80 percent
of Turkish -- disagree? I'm wondering -- to say about Greece, since
the Greek government satisfied all your requests regarding the use of
the bases and the air space? Are you satisfied, Mr. Fleischer, at the
way Greece is handling the Iraqi crisis under the capacity, having the
President of the European Union?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I've said previously, the President has
been working, and the State Department, Department of Defense, have
been working around the world talking to numerous allies of ours. And
it's not my place to characterize what they do unless those nations
take a public action. Different nations are contributing and helping
out in different ways. I'd have to review the public information on
Greece to give you a specific answer on it, but my standard has always
been it's not my place to speak for other nations, but the President
knows that there are many who have been very helpful to us.
QUESTION: There's a report in Financial Times that
much of a British report, lauded by Secretary Powell at the U.N., was
actually plagiarized and old information. What's the White House's
MR. FLEISCHER: I haven't seen the report, so I couldn't
comment it. I think Secretary Powell's presentation spoke volumes and
was well received.
QUESTION: On some of the second resolution questions,
in the Gulf War, the U.N. passed two resolutions condemning Iraq's
actions and imposing economic sanctions, but it wasn't until November,
when they passed 678, which basically said two things: it authorized
the use of force, and it set a deadline. So without specific language,
are those two types of things the President would look for, and if not
getting into it specifically, does the administration look to this
resolution as the last resolution?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I realize, as I said earlier,
that this is just almost 24 hours after the President said it. It's a
little too soon to start getting into the exact wording. Now, it's
almost 24 hours and a couple minutes since I was last asked the same
question. My answer remains the same.
It's too soon to indicate, because it is a real process. There
will, at some point, be a time when pens are put to paper and language
is available or language is knowable. That has not happened today.
And that's the -- I think you all understand the process. And I think
you would be surprised if it was a knowable answer this quickly.
QUESTION: Ari, American citizens continue to
privately travel to Baghdad to register their opposition to war, the
possibility of war. What does the President think about this?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, number one, again, it remains the
rights of Americans to speak out. I think that Americans have to be
careful about travel to Baghdad, to be used by the regime of Saddam
Hussein for purposes that would be at odds with America's traditions of
honesty, credibility and being accurate with the American people.
It's important, if people decide that they want to speak out, to
have that freedom within this country. The President accepts that and
understands that and respects that.
END 1:50 P.M. EST