Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer - February 11, 2003 (Full Transcript)
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. It's been a busy day on the
diplomatic and the domestic front, so let me give you some reports.
And then I have a statement by the President I'd like to read to you on
an important domestic matter pending in the Senate.
The President began his day with three calls to foreign leaders.
He spoke this morning with Philippine President Arroyo. Both said they
were looking forward to the state visit of President Arroyo that is
coming up here in Washington in April. President Bush expressed
appreciation for President Arroyo's leadership in the war on terror,
and pledged continuing United States support for her effort to defeat
the Abu Zayef terrorist group. President Bush also praised President
Arroyo's leadership on Iraq, and emphasized that the regime in Baghdad
must disarm or that it would be disarmed by a coalition of the
willing. President Bush emphasized the importance of passage by the
Philippine legislature of effective new legislation to combat
The President, also this morning, spoke with Angolan President dos
Santos. The Presidents discussed their shared view that Saddam Hussein
must disarm and comply with the United Nations Security Council
Resolution 1441. And President Bush also noted the Security Council
must not allow Saddam Hussein to continue violating and ignoring its
resolutions if it's to maintain any legitimacy. The Presidents
affirmed the friendship of the United States and Angola and their
desire to maintain a strong bilateral relationship.
The President, also this morning, touched base with Prime Minister
Tony Blair as the two continue their consultations about proceeding to
make certain that Saddam Hussein is indeed disarmed.
QUESTION: Secondly, back in November at the Prague
summit, NATO agreed to take, "effective action" to assure Iraq's
compliance with Resolution 1441. Do you say this latest blocking
action by Belgium, France, and Germany on putting defensive measures
into Turkey as being an abrogation of that pledge?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not certain -- I think it's too soon
to say this is an abrogation, but it's a setback. And it's not only a
setback for NATO, a setback that the President believes will be
overcome, but it's a real setback for Turkey and the people of Turkey.
And you don't have to search very hard to look in the Turkish press
this morning, or press around Europe to see that these three nations
have invited a significant amount of criticism upon themselves. They
have succeeded in distancing themselves from our good and worthy allies
in Turkey at a time when Turkey needs to have the individual nations of
NATO, and NATO collectively stand up on their behalf.
But make not mistake, NATO consists of 19 nations. Sixteen are
pleased to help Turkey as Turkey invokes its Article IV rights under
NATO. Three have, at least temporarily, sought to delay or block the
NATO action. And I think that perspective is important. Virtually all
of Europe -- virtually all of NATO are on board. There indeed are
some who are not. And the United States is proud to stand tall and
strong next to our ally, Turkey.
QUESTION: How long are you willing to wait before you
take action either on a unilateral basis, as Secretary Rumsfeld
suggested yesterday, or together with the other 16 member nations?
What's the window of opportunity here for getting what you think you
need to get into Turkey?
MR. FLEISCHER: John, I'm not prepared to put any timetable
on it. I think, again, the President believes in the importance of
diplomacy. We'll continue the diplomatic efforts. And at the end of
the day, the President does believe that the right thing will be done
and that nations will honor their obligations to our friend, Turkey.
QUESTION: And can I ask you something that might be
underneath or surrounding this NATO dispute, and that is what a lot of
people, in fact Secretary Powell in his testimony today see as a rising
tide of anti-Americanism -- not among the governments; you cite the
vote of governments in NATO, but among the people, as measured by polls
and sort of anecdotal evidence, as well. How big of a problem is the
sentiment of ordinary people among our traditional allies against the
course of action the President has chosen?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, given the fact that these are
democracies and these elected governments represent the people, these
governments are speaking -- I don't think they would be speaking on
behalf of people and supporting the United States if that was a
position that did not align with their people. So I think that much
can be made of the fact that there may be opposition in some quarters
and some sections, but I think the great under-reported story about
what's happening vis-a-vis the Alliance and Iraq is the amount of
support for disarmament of Saddam Hussein that people choose to
ignore. Similarly, just as it was ignored for quite a considerable
amount of time, how many nations stood with the United States on this
The fact of the matter is there are few nations that are
increasingly isolating themselves and distancing themselves from
important Alliance partners like Turkey. And the fact, though,
remains, in the end, because we are all democracies, and because
democracies are entitled every now and then to a good spat, this will
all pass over and we will all remain as allies. Not everybody may be
there through every stage of the process, but the President is
confident that at the end, even amidst our differences with a couple,
perhaps three, maybe two, maybe one, that we will remain an alliance,
that we will remain unified, and in the end, Saddam Hussein will be
disarmed, thanks to the collective will of all.
QUESTION: You don't see a rising tide of
anti-Americanism among the people of our traditional allies?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me remind you again of something I've
talked about before in this room. If you go back to the early '80s,
you saw even greater manifestations of European positions against the
positions of European -- Western European governments and the
United States. And in that I refer to the hundreds of thousands,
occasionally -- I think in the case of Germany, some million people
who took to the streets to protest the United States's
counter-deployment of intermediate-range cruise missiles to counter
deploy the Soviet Unions intermediate-range cruise missiles that they
put into Eastern Europe. Massive street protests throughout Europe.
The fact of the matter is that this is the way democracies sometimes
speak. And democracies sometimes speak in protest, democracies
sometimes speak in unit. At the end of the day, we work together and
we work together well.
I also suggest to you that what you do see, too, is a difference in
tactics. I think that it is often part of the tactics of one side in
the debate, the left, to engage in their right to peaceful protest and
take to the streets. That does not, as often, appear to be the tactic
used by people who support military action and military force, which
is, again, the reason I think that much of the support you'll see often
goes under-noticed, or under-reported.
QUESTION: Ari, given -- on this bin Laden
message -- and to some extent we understand that it will deal with
some comments or an address he would make to the Iraqi people about
their condition, if that's correct, what does the President conclude
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, based on what Secretary Powell has
said, it gives rise to concern about the ties between al Qaeda and
QUESTION: And does it tell us anything more
concretely about those ties? Or maybe more pressing?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you'll --
QUESTION: -- or where bin Laden is?
MR. FLEISCHER: You'll be in a position to judge for
yourself from what we understand.
QUESTION: On the subject of this purported bin Laden
statement, from this podium you have made the case in the past,
National Security Advisor Rice has, Secretary Powell has, Dick Cheney,
the Vice President did on his trip to Qatar directly to the government,
urged them to lean on Al Jazeera to not play such statements because
they could foment anti-Americanism, could have messages to sleeper
cells around the world from bin Laden. If this tape, assuming the
administration is correct, exists, you want Al Jazeera to play it
because if it exists in this case, it helps the administration and you
have bin Laden talking about his solidarity with Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that the message which was
conveyed to the American news media was to exercise the judgment of the
American news media. As you know these conversations were held
immediately after September 11, 2001, with many of your presidents of
your news organizations. And we asked them to make their news
judgments about whether or not the tapes should be played in their
entirety or played in some type of snippets, so that message, the news
could be delivered, but not in its entirety. Those are judgments that
we leave up to the news media to make the final decisions on. We are
not in a position to dictate or to say.
QUESTION: But in this case you would prefer they run
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the message remains just as we said
before that people should use their discretion and think twice about
playing something in its entirety. There are other ways that people
can be fully informed about the news value, the news content of
something. That remains a decision for you all to make.
QUESTION: Yes, on that same point, on the bin Laden
tape, if I remember correctly, Secretary Powell said -- made a
reference to the fact that the tape, according to his information, was
going to say from this person who purports to be bin Laden that he is
in partnership with Iraq. If, indeed, that is the phrase that this
individual uses, what does the U.S. make of such a statement? And how
is that likely to play into the U.N. debate?
MR. FLEISCHER: Just as I indicated earlier, it gives great
concern about the fact that Iraq and al Qaeda are working together.
QUESTION: You already had that concern. This would
seem to confirm, if, indeed, this person is bin Laden, would seem to
confirm what the administration has been claiming.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. I think when Secretary
Powell went to New York and talked about the evidence we have of ties
between Iraq and al Qaeda, he did so on the basis of knowledge, on the
basis of fact. And he would not have said it if he didn't mean it and
if the United States government and others around the world didn't have
cause to know. And so what the Secretary has alluded to this morning
gives further proof of the concerns that we have about Iraq and al
Qaeda linking up.
QUESTION: Now, if I could, on a second resolution,
obviously, you're facing a little diplomatic headwind here from France,
Germany, Russia, and it appears, China. What are the current plans for
a second resolution? And what do you think its prospects are?
MR. FLEISCHER: Resolutions at the United Nations are always
matters that have headwinds and tailwinds. It can often be a windy
affair. That is the diplomacy. And that is something the President
has dedicated himself to. This would not be a matter taken to the
United Nations if President Bush did not want it to be considered by
the United Nations. And that's why he went there almost six months
It's now been five months since the President went to the United
Nations. The President believes that the world would benefit greatly
if our international organizations are effective in countering
proliferation. He thinks that there is much riding on the actions of
the United Nations because not only would the actions of the United
Nations help to disarm Saddam Hussein, they will send, hopefully, a
powerful signal to the next would-be proliferator that the
international regime set up to stop proliferation actually works.
If it doesn't, imagine the consequences. What leverage, what
authority would the international regimes have to stop proliferation if
it doesn't have it vis-a-vis Iraq, if Iraq is able to thwart and defy?
This is Resolution 1441. This is the very document that the United
Nations passed by unanimous vote that called for the following: full
and immediate compliance by Iraq -- not full and five-month later
compliance; not full and six-month later compliance -- full and
immediate compliance by Iraq without conditions or restrictions.
And as we have often seen in the past with Iraq and with this issue
now involving the U-2, what Iraq one day says is unconditional, 24
hours or less becomes conditional. We've seen Iraq make statements
with its fingers crossed before. The resolution says it's a final
opportunity to comply with disarmament obligations -- final. It
says final. It says it's binding on Iraq. And it says that Iraq will
face serious consequences as a result of continued violations. If the
U.S. can -- if the United Nations can say all those things --
that it's final, that it's binding, and it's immediate -- and not
mean them, what value does a U.N. resolution hold?
The President wants to make certain that U.N. resolutions hold
value. It's not only important to disarm Saddam Hussein; it's
important to pave the way for a good future.
QUESTION: On the resolution, how deeply involved is
the President in drafting the second resolution? Is that an issue that
he and Blair discussed today?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President is not going to be the
micromanager of the process, drafting it. And based on 1441 and the
fact that what I just reported from 1441 being final, being immediate,
being binding, followed by serious consequences, this is not a
complicated matter in terms of the wordsmithing. There will be a
process followed at the United Nations; I'm not going to give the
specific words they may or may not use, but it's not a lengthy matter,
it's not a complicated matter. It can only be lengthy, it can only be
complicated if the words of 1441 have lost their value or their
meaning. The President does not think that should be the case.
QUESTION: Then has he laid out even to Secretary
Powell or to someone else, these are -- some sort of broad outline
or at least specific points that he thinks absolutely must be --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, yes, just as I reported last week,
that Resolution 1441 be enforced.
QUESTION: What did the Prime Minister and the
President discuss? Did they discuss the NATO disputes, world strategy,
MR. FLEISCHER: They talked about the need to make certain
that we work together to continue the diplomacy, to work through the
United Nations on this second resolution. I think, just as I've
reported out to you, you're seeing busy time of diplomacy; that busy
time of diplomacy is going to involve continue conversations between
the President and Prime Minister Blair, as well as the others who you
know have been visiting the White House -- Prime Minister Howard
last night. You're seeing a lot of the heavy diplomacy in front of you
QUESTION: Did the Prime Minister give President Bush
any kind of assessment of where the French, German and Russian
combination is on this?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I don't speak for other leaders, but
as I indicated, at the end of the day, the President does believe the
United Nations will live up to its obligations. The President thinks
it's too important, this is too big for the United Nations to fail.
QUESTION: Did they discuss NATO? Did they discuss
MR. FLEISCHER: They also agreed about the need for help for
Turkey, that Article IV should be respected.
QUESTION: Ari, if part of the motive to talk about
the bin Laden transcript is to get the word out to the public, are you
considering releasing the entire transcript?
MR. FLEISCHER: Are we concerned about that?
QUESTION: No, are you about to release the entire
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think this is something you're going
to see get released by the United States. I think the pattern her has
been that Al Jazeera does. But again, as I indicated to you before, if
you knew that we had this information you would say, why aren't you
providing it, why are you sitting on it, don't people have a right to
know if you have evidence of a new potential bin Laden tape.
QUESTION: -- saying right now, why are you sitting
on it? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: Because these things have historically come
from Al Jazeera and we don't expect that -- to change.
QUESTION: But, historically, you don't talk about
them ahead of time.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not sure that's always the case.
QUESTION: And the second question, back on bin
Laden. Granted you're talking about bin Laden -- but why is bin
Laden such a taboo subject around here? This is like --
MR. FLEISCHER: It seems to be the only subject around
QUESTION: Today. Today. But, typically, there's
-- you hear more Saddam Hussein. You don't hear about Osama bin
Laden dead or alive, or whatever, anymore.
MR. FLEISCHER: Right, right.
QUESTION: Why? Why?
MR. FLEISCHER: For the obvious reasons. Today there's talk
of a new video tape, or a new tape that -- I'm not sure it's video,
I shouldn't say that. A new tape that gives rise to the very questions
that you're asking. But on any given day, the threat doesn't come only
from one person, the threat comes from the network, from the al Qaeda
operatives. And that's why the President doesn't focus on any one
person. But I, April, am never in a position to explain why I get the
questions that I get on a daily basis. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Ari, my question is related to some of the
other questions. But is the President willing to disarm Iraq without a
second resolution from the Security Council?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has said many times that he
wants to work with the United Nations, he would welcome the United
Nations Security Council, however, if the United Nations Security
Council will not disarm Saddam Hussein, a coalition of the willing,
which is a large and grow one, will.
QUESTION: Ari, on NATO again, obviously, the action
by France, Belgium and Germany has caused a serious rift internally
within the Alliance. Probably the most serious in its history. But is
it something more? Is it symptomatic of a post-Cold War NATO in which
there's no one major threat to bind all the countries together, that
this kind of rift might continue on?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I wouldn't say that. I think throughout
the history of NATO there have been various moments of tests involving
the unity of NATO. It would not be the first time that there have been
various nations within NATO that have strong thoughts about the
potential for diplomatic action or military action where there was not
unanimity. But at the end of the day, it has not stopped the United
States and others from doing what they thought was necessary to protect
I remind you in 1986 about the very successful military operation
carried out over Libya after Libya was involved in the bombing of the
Berlin disco. Not all European nations supported the combined nations
of many other nations in bringing justice after the Libyan terrorist
involvement. So these aren't firsts, and alliances survived.
QUESTION: Will you be able to actually get over this
particular one? It seems to be quite bitter.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's why I indicated, it's not a first and
the alliances have survived. These things can test alliances, but in
the end of the day, the President is confident that, because we're a
democracies, we will weather whatever differences there are. But I
want to remind you again, the issue here is 16 nations see it one way;
three do not. That's a powerful statement of where European leaders
are. And we are proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with Europe.
QUESTION: Two things. According to the current
Business Week, the Congress -- estimated that tens of thousands of
Iraqi civilians were killed in result of the first Gulf War. In a
-- poll yesterday, it shows that 54 percent of Americans are opposed
to the upcoming war in Iraq if it means thousands of Iraqi civilian
deaths. So the question is, what is the administration's estimate of
Iraqi civilian deaths in the upcoming war?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not aware of any estimates. I will say
to you that every step would be taken to protect civilian and innocent
life. The greatest risk to civilian life, of course, comes from Saddam
Hussein, who has shown that he is willing to kill his own people with
chemical weapons, that he is willing to put his own people in harm's
way as human shields, and that the greater threat that the President
also has to concern himself with is that the civilians who would be
killed would be Americans as a result of Saddam Hussein carrying out an
attack either directly or through terrorist organizations that he links
up with. That's what's on the President's mind, as well, Russell.
QUESTION: The question is this: President Bush has
said that Jesus Christ is his favorite political philosopher. He said
that during the campaign. Jesus Christ said, turn the other cheek. He
said, the meek will inherit the Earth. And he said, do violence to no
man. How does the President square his militarism with Jesus Christ's
MR. FLEISCHER: One, I think your choice of words is
inappropriate when you refer to President Bush's militarism. The
President is seeking a way to provide peace and to protect the American
people from a growing, gathering threat at the hands of Saddam Hussein
and the weapons he has collected. And the President approaches this
matter per his constitutional duties. His constitutional duties are to
be the commander-in-chief who is sworn to uphold the Constitution and
protect the American people from threats to our lives. And that's the
manner in which he approaches it.
He does view this also as a matter of great morality in terms of
the serious judgment that any President has to make about risking lives
to safe life. And that's the focus that the President brings.
QUESTION: Air, it was very clear before we got the
first U.N. resolution that the President didn't believe that Saddam
Hussein was ever going to disarm himself. So given that, why when we
went for the first U.N. resolution did we not try to get a U.N.
inspection system that was not about verification but was about
disarmament? And what I mean by that is a system by which air strikes
were authorized on places where we thought things were being
transferred out? That U-2 spy planes began flying with the realization
that any shot fired on them would immediately be a cause for war? So
what I mean is use that process if we're trying to avoid war as a
legitimate way to disarm and not just verify?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one, the name of UNMOVIC in and of
itself is verification. That's part of -- that's the V in the
UNMOVIC. And while they're called inspectors, I think it's also fair
to call them verifiers. That is their task -- to go there to
verify that disarmament has taken place, not to inspect around the
country with a magnifying glass trying to find something that's very
hard to find.
QUESTION: So you believe they could not have been
disarmers? There's no way that the process could even set up to allow
that to happen?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the disarmer is Saddam Hussein. That's
what he was called on to do.
QUESTION: Ari, one question on the anti-American
sentiment. The foreign media still reports that the United States
hasn't present real evidence that Saddam Hussein has biological and
chemical weapons. And the foreign media still believes that the only
interest of the United States in Iraq is to control the oil. Why do
you think the foreign media doesn't buy the argument of President
Bush? And second, do you think these reports in some way has been
contributed to the growing sentiment against the United States around
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one, I just differ with the
characterization. I think you're overly broad in saying the foreign
media. There is much in the foreign media. And the foreign media,
just like the American media, takes a variety of different viewpoint.
And I saw a report in Germany this morning that was very critical of
the German government, in one of the most respected German newspapers,
for the isolationism that the German government has brought on itself
as a result of the position they have taken.
And so, you see a variety of different stories and a variety of
different points of views. But again, the elected leaders of these
democracies who represent the people have taken their positions, and,
as I indicated earlier, I think there's a tremendous amount of
overstatement of the opposition and understatement of the support.
QUESTION: Ari, does the President see any merit,
whatsoever, in the French and German plan for more inspectors and more
MR. FLEISCHER: The reason I think that the so-called plan,
which has yet to be formally offered by a few nations, has met with
significant resistance is because it -- to secure the peace, it is
not a question of how many inspectors are inside Iraq; it is not a
question of whether the U-2 is flying or not. To secure the peace,
it's a question of whether or not Saddam Hussein is cooperating. If
Saddam Hussein is giving the runaround to 108 inspectors, why does
anybody think he won't give the runaround to 216 inspectors.
The very fact that people think a U-2 needs to fly is proof perfect
that Saddam Hussein is not cooperating. If he was disarming, you
wouldn't need a U-2 to see it. You'd only need one or two inspectors
in a parking lot to watch the weapons be rolled out. So the very
arguments they make underscore the contention from those around the
world who are worried that Saddam Hussein is indeed not disarming.
QUESTION: So there will be no meeting them halfway.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the United States has made clear
that those proposals are off the mark, do not address disarmament, and
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