Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, February 12, 2003(Full Transcript)
QUESTION: What did you think of North Korea's attempt to
get Britain to be an intermediary between you and North Korea over the
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, this is a matter that North
Korea has taken provocative steps that have caused great concern around
the world, not just for the United States, not just for Japan or for
Russia or China or South Korea or not for England. But this is a
matter to be settled through diplomacy and through multilateral
I want to bring to your attention one interesting point about when,
repeatedly, the administration has made the case that North Korea is
continuing to further isolate itself. Compare what took place in
Vienna today to what took place in Vienna when North Korea previously
engaged in provocative actions in 1993. In 1993, when the IAEA voted
on a similar matter, the vote at that time was 28 in favor, two voted
against, and there were four abstentions against the position of North
Korea. This time the vote was 31 in favor, nobody opposed, and just
two abstentions. So North Korea continues to march backward in time
only to the detriment of the people of North Korea.
QUESTION: Is the administration, as the White House
moves towards trying to craft a second resolution at the United
Nations, are you laying down any red lines, as you did with the
crafting of Resolution 1441?
MR. FLEISCHER: On a possible second resolution at the
United Nations? No, I don't think it's going to be a complicated
matter. I think there will be the usual wordsmithing and discussions
that take place in New York. And it still remains somewhat premature
to get into the exact wording. I think many of the nations that would
be involved want to see what Hans Blix reports on Friday, and then
we'll have more to indicate after that.
QUESTION: But are you going in with any red lines, as
you did with 1441, where you said it has to demand disarmament and
there were a few other things that you said need to be in there.
MR. FLEISCHER: The one thing the President has said that a
second resolution must do is enforce the first resolution, Resolution
1441, which called for immediate compliance by Saddam Hussein, said
there would be serious consequences if there was not immediate
compliance, and said that the resolution would be binding. Not
optional, not negotiable, but binding.
QUESTION: Ari, a philosophical question, if I may,
that our editors would like us to ask the administration today -- in a
variety of venues. Something that the critics of this administration
have said both domestically and abroad when it comes to Iraq is that
they still do not understand the need not only to go to war, but to go
to war now to disarm Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Not just, why war, but
why war now.
MR. FLEISCHER: Why has Saddam failed to comply now? Why,
when the United Nations, understanding full well the seriousness with
which President Bush made his presentation last September, did the
United Nations pass a resolution -- binding on Iraq -- that called for
full and immediate compliance. The United Nations, the world, didn't
say "lengthy compliance." They didn't say "negotiable compliance."
They didn't say "compliance over months." They said "immediate." The
words "immediate" have value and meaning if international efforts to
stop proliferation are themselves to have meaning. The United Nations
said without conditions or restrictions. The United Nations said it
was a final opportunity -- not a penultimate opportunity, but a final
opportunity. The United Nations, as I indicated, said it was binding.
And they said that Iraq would face serious consequences as a result of
So the question is in reverse. Given the fact that Saddam Hussein
has shown no inclination that he intends to comply, at what point does
the world say, the United Nations has meaning, the United Nations has
value, the resolutions count? Or is the message of the world to allow
Saddam Hussein to continue to drag his feet as he builds up his weapons
of mass destruction for the possibility of using them. That's a chance
we don't want to talk.
QUESTION: But you understand that people who disagree
with you on this issue see alternatives to war and do not see the need,
even if there is no alternative, to do it now? They do not perceive
the threat in the same way you do.
MR. FLEISCHER: Mark, I think -- the President, number one,
respects the opinion of people who just don't believe war is ever the
answer. That's their right. And there is a strain of thought that
believes that. And the President respects it. It's a time-honored
part of the American tradition and traditions abroad in some places, as
But having said, there is also a school of thought that there are
some people who use the excuse "why now" for "why ever." They're not
prepared to say, we don't believe ever in the use of military force.
And, unfortunately, as the world has seen, when dangers gather, that
democracies have a burden on themselves to make a determination about
when force is necessary to protect democracy themselves. And that
point may come into reach with Iraq. The President still has not given
up hope that he can settle peacefully. But I think, clearly, Saddam
Hussein has an interest in dragging this out in an effort for people to
avoid making decisions we may need to make to protect people.
QUESTION: Ari, the argument you keep making, and the
President has made it a number of times, is that if the U.N. doesn't
back you on this then the U.N. is, in a sense, irrelevant -- or
irrelevant, you use the word. If you dismiss the U.N. as irrelevant in
this case and, yet, at the same time you don't want to negotiate with
North Korea unilaterally, you're praising what the U.N. -- the IAEA is
doing with regard to North Korea. What happens to those situations
with North Korea and other countries in the future if you dismiss the
U.N. because they don't agree with you on this?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, number one, the President does not
want to dismiss the United Nations. As I indicated, the President
hopes that at the end of the day, and would like to believe at the end
of the day, the United Nations will be meaningful.
And that's exactly why it's important that the United Nations take
meaningful action vis-a-vis Iraq, otherwise the message the United
Nations will be sending to North Korea and to the next North Korea and
to the next North Korea is that international regimes to fight
proliferation are useless. That is not a message the world can
But we have to face the reality about whether or not these
international systems to combat proliferation are working or not. Iraq
is testing the United Nations. The President wants to make certain the
United Nations passes the test. And that's why we are going through
the United Nations.
QUESTION: Can I just follow-up on two earlier
questions. I'm unclear on why do you feel it's important for NATO to
act before the Security Council does? I mean, a lot of the NATO
countries opposed to you have said they want to hear what Blix has to
say first and see what the Security Council decides.
MR. FLEISCHER: Number one, to be clear, Article IV has been
invoked by a NATO member, Turkey. Under Article IV -- and it's only a
couple sentences -- when a nation feels that they may be under threat
it is their right to go to NATO and seek support. So this is a matter
that NATO has before it, because Turkey raised it under Article IV. We
support Turkey in doing that. Turkey feels threatened as a result of
the hostilities that may be imminent because Saddam Hussein will not
disarm. And the purpose of an alliance is to work within the alliance
to protect nations that feel threatened. And 16 out of 19 agree with
Turkey, and agree with the United States. It's a rather powerful
QUESTION: Just quickly on John's question, is any
language at all in the second U.N. resolution being discussed, either
internally or with other countries?
MR. FLEISCHER: It is. I think it's fair to say that there
are conversations underway about the language. I'm not going to get
into the drafting of it in public. And, again, I think it still
remains somewhat early in U.N. time. But it won't be early in U.N.
time for very long.
QUESTION: What is the administration's assessment of
the likelihood of the risk that Saddam Hussein with his back up against
the wall with war seeming almost inevitable, will open up his arsenal
of germs and chemicals and disperse them to terrorists?
MR. FLEISCHER: Does this mean that ABC news is
acknowledging that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction?
QUESTION: We just report the facts and the fact says
the U.N. --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm raising that for a reason, because
there's been suggestions that the United States has not made -- carried
out -- has no proof that he has these weapons of mass destruction.
And, clearly, if the questions shift --
QUESTION: At ABC News? Can you identify when and
MR. FLEISCHER: I will be happy to provide you with
transcripts where the administration claims that Iraq has weapons of
mass destruction, that the administration does have proof that they
have weapons of mass destruction.
QUESTION: What is the administration's assessment of
the likelihood --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm a transcript collector from way back.
QUESTION: -- of the risk -- I'll get back to you on
that. But more importantly, what is the administration's assessment of
the likelihood, of the risk, that Saddam Hussein would disperse
whatever weapons he has to terrorists now that his survival is at
stake, now that his back is up against the wall?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it's always a worry that Saddam
Hussein will do that, whether his back is against the wall, or whether
his back is free and at peace. So the worry remains no matter what,
not because of the actions that will be taken by an alliance, but
because of the actions that will be taken by Saddam Hussein. Because
Saddam Hussein, himself, would do this, even if there was no military
action in play.
QUESTION: Is it possible, though, that by pushing
this issue to the brink of war, the President has made Americans less
safe from these weapons?
MR. FLEISCHER: We categorically reject that as a
possibility in that allowing that is a formula for the United States
forever be blackmailed by anybody and everybody around the world who
would pursue weapons of mass destruction. That line of thought, that
line of logic -- and I'm not suggesting that you're engaging it -- but
that line of logic, if it was applied, would mean that the United
States is forever saying we will be blackmailed. The United States
will never accept that line of reasoning.
QUESTION: So is the President, then, confident that
whatever arsenal exists in Iraq can be completely and effectively
neutralized by his course of action, rather than dispersed by the
violence and chaos of war?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you could rest assured that in the
event that the President makes a determination that the use of force
would be required, we have made crystal-clear that this is about
disarmament as well as regime change, and that part of disarmament will
be to make certain that neither Saddam Hussein, nor any of the people
who would follow Saddam Hussein would ever be able to use weapons of
QUESTION: Ari, you suggested before that the United
States is not interested in allowing a lengthy process of compliance
with the existing U.N. resolution. Does that mean that the United
States would preclude a second resolution that calls for some
additional weeks or months of intensified inspections?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, given the fact that several weeks ago
the President said, this is a matter of weeks, not months, I think the
timetable remains locked in at what the President said. But I think if
you want to take a look at this in terms of the United Nations, United
Nations resolutions and Iraqi compliance, what you have is,
unfortunately, in 2003, history repeating itself to the period of
And I have a document -- I'll be happy to release this to you --
about the fact that Iraq has not complied, they cover up their
compliance in seeming efforts to comply, such as their statements about
unconditional U-2 flights, which we now know from the letter that was
sent by the Iraqis, so-called conditional became -- so-called
unconditional became conditional as soon as the ink was dry on their
letter. It was never unconditional to begin with; it always had
Back to 1996. If you recall, in March of 1996, UNSCOM began a
program of intrusive inspections after a 1995 defection of a family
member of Saddam Hussein. The defection revealed the tremendous amount
of information that Saddam Hussein had previously denied he ever had --
ala the declaration of 2002 where Saddam Hussein denied he had
weapons. That was followed by a series of new inspections, provoking
another statement by the President of the Security Council condemning
Iraq's actions, which led on June 19, 1996, the request of the Security
Council, UNSCOM's head travel to Baghdad and gave Baghdad what they
called the last chance to avoid enforcement actions.
The United States consulted with allies to gain consensus that
Iraq's actions were a material breach of its obligations. Military
preparations begun back in 1996. On June 22, 1996, Iraq tried to cut a
deal, and they did. They negotiated three agreements, a joint
statement committing Iraq to provide immediate, unconditional access; a
program of work that could lead to a report that Iraq had disarmed; an
agreement on modalities for inspecting sensitive sites. The council
then relieved itself of its enforcement actions.
As we all know, that turned out to be worthless and the inspectors
were shortly thereafter, in 1998, thrown out of the country.
A similar pattern is repeating itself in 2003. Under pressure,
Iraq comes up with phony examples of compliance, trying to get leaders
around the world to bite on whether or not they have indeed made a
concession or started anew to comply. They hope that the world will
fall for it and accept it as new evidence of progress or a concession
or a negotiated development. All the while, it's a repeat of the
pattern where Iraq continues its weapons build-up, it continues to not
comply with the inspectors, hoping that this time they can get away
And that's why 1441 was so significant because it said final
QUESTION: So if the price of bringing France and
Germany, say, along and the Security Council is several more weeks of
stepped-up inspections, you wouldn't buy it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, the President laid out a
timetable several weeks ago when he said, weeks, not months. And I'm
not going to go beyond any timetable the President has laid out. But
the clock is ticking.
QUESTION: Can I follow on Iraq, please? After
Friday's U.N. resolution of the U.S. and U.N. meetings that are going
on and resolution on enforcing the new resolution, do you think
President Bush is ready to give Saddam Hussein 48 hours ultimatum to
leave Iraq, if nothing happens at the U.N.?
MR. FLEISCHER: Just as I indicated to Dick, the timetable
that the President set several weeks ago is weeks, not months, and I'm
not prepared to go beyond that timetable.
QUESTION: One on Iraq and one on North Korea. The
German government today said that it finds the tape of bin Laden
disturbing and sobering, but it says there's absolutely no proof in
that tape of any connection between bin Laden and the government of
Iraq, just statements of support for the Iraqi people if there's a
war. Is that proof that you have a tough sell still?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it just shows that Germany,
which is unalterably opposed to the use of force, will still be in
denial about Osama bin Laden's links to Iraq. Given the fact,
especially as Secretary Powell demonstrated that we know that there are
operatives of al Qaeda operating inside Baghdad, and now we have an
exhortation from Osama bin Laden on this tape to people inside Iraq --
as he calls them, the Mujahideen brotherhood, or brothers -- this is
more proof that not only are there ties at the operational level, but
now if you are operating inside Iraq and you hear Osama bin Laden
exhorting you onward, your message is, as Osama bin Laden said in the
tape, himself, Mujahideen brothers, he said, so it is the duty of all
Muslims, particularly in Iraq, to roll up their sleeves and prepare for
Jihad. And he said, it will not hurt under these circumstances if the
interests of Muslims will meet with the socialists in fighting the
crusaders. The socialist he refers to is Saddam Hussein.
So it's incomprehensible in its denial for anybody to interpret the
phrase, it will not hurt under these circumstances if the interests of
the Muslims will meet with the socialists in fighting the crusaders.
The interests of the Muslims meet with Saddam Hussein, that is
QUESTION: Ari, seeing what could be the end result
with the situation with Iraq, many people are getting involved trying
to deal with the issue on diplomatic levels versus war. Today, the
Vatican -- yesterday, I understand, that Reverend Jesse Jackson has
sent a letter to Saddam Hussein citing that 12 years ago they had
successfully released some hostages. What's the White House's view
about private citizens getting involved in this very sensitive
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, the President understands that
many individuals are going to have thoughts that they hold and they
share. It's the right of individual Americans to express their views.
I'm not going to have any comments specifically on the Reverend
Jackson's letter. But, again, the President respects people's rights
to speak out.
QUESTION: Reverend Jackson, in that letter, he did
say he told Saddam Hussein there could be major catastrophes if we go
to war and what the White House is planning on doing. But do you see
any kind of breach of intelligence or anything by a private citizen who
has a relationship of sorts with Saddam Hussein, to be able to cause a
MR. FLEISCHER: No, this is not an intelligence matter.
It's also a matter that the White House doesn't comment on.
QUESTION: I'd like to go back to what you said a few
minutes ago. The President is delighted how much support there is in
Europe for the Turkey position in NATO. But a small number of European
nations have continued to isolate themselves from the rest of Europe.
My question is -- if I get it right -- Britain, France, and Germany are
probably the three most powerful nations in Europe economically and
politically. So I'm not talking of numbers, I know 16 nations back
Turkey. But you will admit that the two nations, especially Germany
and France, do have a major weight in European decision-making.
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the facts of how NATO operates are
clear. NATO operates by consensus among the 19 countries, and 16 of
the 19 countries see it one way, three do not. And I have not done the
math, but I suspect if you added up the populations and GDPs of the
rest of the European nations that have spoken out, you might have a
But still, the point remains, there is an issue of how to best deal
with Saddam Hussein and the threat that he presents. And because two
nations or three nations see it one way does not mean that the 16
nations or the 18 nations that see it a different way will cease their
efforts to work together toward a solution within the alliance on how
to approach this issue. And the President will continue to work with
the alliance and to lead.
QUESTION: On Iraq, you said earlier that no one has
any hope that Germany will change its position. That implies that you
do still have hopes that France and Russia would change their position
on Iraq. What's that hope based on?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think Germany has unequivocally said
that they will not and never will support the use of force in Iraq.
Other nations have not gone as far in their statements. And we will
continue to have conversations with all these nations. And with
Germany, too. At the end of the day, we will remain nations that are
QUESTION: Do you see daylight between the French and
German positions on Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think, again, these are matters of
diplomacy that are being talked through, and the President said that
he'd be willing to go to the United Nations for a second resolution and
we'll see what that outcome is.
QUESTION: Is that a, yes, you do see daylight?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you have to let the events develop.
QUESTION: Ari, back to France. Do you see any areas
of common ground between the U.S. and the French position? Do you
think Chirac has kept open certain options that Germany has already
foreclosed? And, specifically, do you see any promise in the proposal
that the French are circulating at the United Nations in the last 24
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one, we remain in mid-diplomacy here.
And I'm not going to venture in too deep on the play-by-play of
diplomatic discussions. Suffice it to say, when the President said
that we will go to the United Nations for a second resolution so long
as it enforces Resolution 1441, he said it because he does believe in
the importance of the United Nations as an institution and that this is
also the United Nations last chance to show that international
proliferation regimes have meaning, have effect and are not just
documents to be ignored. And so, therefore, it is important to
continue to talk to our allies at the United Nations, and that's what
you're seeing develop as we speak.
Vis-a-vis the proposal to double the number of inspectors or to fly
the U-2, again I draw your attention to the fact that already this
should be unconditional on Iraq. There should not have been any
question of negotiating the U-2 with Iraq; Iraq should have allowed the
U-2 to fly under resolution 1441.
Negotiations did ensue with Iraq. Iraq then came out and said,
just over the weekend, they would allow the U-2 to fly
unconditionally. Before the ink was even dry on the Iraqi letter, we
found out there were conditions attached to flying the U-2 once again.
As for the number of inspectors, if Iraq was serious about
disarming, you would need half the number of inspectors, you wouldn't
need double. If Saddam Hussein has no intention of disarming, doubling
the inspectors just means there are double number of people for Saddam
Hussein to deceive.
QUESTION: So is that what you said yesterday, a
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
QUESTION: And Ari, is there any -- has Chirac held
out any options that Shroeder has foreclosed?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you'd have to talk to President
Chirac to see whatever his position is.