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Denial and Deception Denial and Deception

Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, February 18, 2003 (Full Transcript)

QUESTION: U.N. Security Council resolution -- diplomats at the Security Council have given us to understand that we might have a resolution as early as Wednesday, that is to say a draft presented by America and Britain. But you were indicating this morning that we might not see one until next week, if at all. Are we backing away from this idea?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, what I said this morning was it could be this week; it could be next. Obviously, Wednesday is part of this week. So the timing remains to be determined. We continue to consult with allies about the exact moment that is most propitious to move forward. It could be this week; it could be next.

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    QUESTION: If it looks like such a resolution would not pass, would the administration decide, forget about it, we're just not going to go that route?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as the President said, we would welcome the chance for the United Nations to speak out on this matter. The President has made it clear that as far as the United States is concerned, it is not mandatory, but it is something that we continue to talk to our allies about.

    QUESTION: One last thing on the resolution, if I may. One thing that 1441 lacked that, I presume you would find useful, was some sort of a timetable, a deadline. Is that the main issue, in terms of deciding whether or not to seek such a resolution?

    MR. FLEISCHER: I'm just not going to entertain any guessing or speculation about the language of it. That remains something that we're talking about in private with the allies.

    QUESTION: Without talking about language, what would you have to put in a second resolution to make it more palatable to the other members of the Security Council, beyond the U.S. and Britain?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the key thing that the President wants to have in there is that it enforces resolution 1441, making clear that final meant final and serious consequences means serious consequences.

    QUESTION: But what do you add to a second resolution to get the rest of the Council to go along?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Well, those are the parameters the President has set.

    And the President will leave the wordsmithing to the diplomats who have a history of working these types of issues through. And we will see what the future holds.


    QUESTION: Regarding the hang up right now with the Turks over U.S. troops being able to use Turkey. Is the President offended any way that the hang up seems to be over money? Does he think that this is a matter of principle, and money shouldn't enter into it?

    MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President understands that Turkey is in a difficult position and Turkey has some important decisions to make. The President respects the government of Turkey and the people of Turkey. The United States and Turkey have a long history, going back decades, of being strategic partners. And we will see ultimately what Turkey decides and what the final outcome is.

    QUESTION: Is the President optimistic that there will be an agreement?

    MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President is waiting to find out what the final determinations will be. I would not characterize him one way or another.

    QUESTION: Would that be a blow if there is no agreement?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Well, let's wait and see what happens. And we'll take it in turn.


    QUESTION: Ari, the President of France yesterday suggested that the European countries that support President Bush's position are infantile and should have shut up, and basically threatened to blackball Bulgaria, a U.N. member, and Romania from the EU for supporting Bush. Do we feel this language is appropriate?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President understands that for some these are trying times. And the President as he approaches diplomacy will continue to remember that we are all one alliance and that at the end of the day we still share values and work together. And the President is very grateful and appreciative to the leadership and the strength of the nations of Eastern Europe. They understand what it's like to live under tyranny and oppression. And the President is very grateful to have them as new partners and new allies, not only in the war on terror but in advancing the cause of democracy.

    QUESTION: And is there a concern that, for example, these kind of threats from the President of France, for example, might make Bulgaria less likely to vote for a new resolution, as you are hoping?

    MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President understands and knows full well that the nations of Eastern Europe are sovereign, are proud, and are able to make their own judgments and to do the right thing on the behalf of the cause of freedom. And the United States of America stands proudly behind the allies in Eastern Europe.

    QUESTION: As far as the statement in general from the EU, what does the administration make of that?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the statement by the EU represents an amalgam of positions. Of course, it talked about this is a final chance for Saddam Hussein and it stressed the importance of disarmament. And I think that, by and large, the statement represented much of what the United States views. Not all the positions that the United States adheres to were put into the statement. A willingness or a desire to appeal to a few. But the President, again, when you look at Europe, it's not very complicated. With a few exceptions -- Germany and France most notably -- Europe stands united, Europe stands together, Europe stands shoulder to shoulder with the United States of America.

    QUESTION: What was the administration's view of what prompted this effort? There was a lot of talk, including by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, that it was important to have some show of unity to bring people together to some extent. What's the administration's view of why this effort got underway, and why it turned out the way it did?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think one of the things that's notable, that will be somewhat of a guide into the future, is the United Nations Security Council last November said this is a final chance. And now the European Union has said this is a final chance. And unless the words "final" are so flexible that they have no meaning, this is Saddam Hussein's final chance, per the United Nations Security Council and per the European Union. And that's an important statement, if it has meaning.

    QUESTION: One last thing for you on the second resolution. Is it your sense that there will be some effort to put in some sort of guidelines, some sort of accomplishments that must happen, that Iraq must do in order for the process to move forward, or will it be a much simpler, shorter statement?

    MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's going to be a relatively simple and straightforward resolution. It would, as I indicated earlier, enforce resolution 1441.

    QUESTION: On that point then, are you looking for outside of a resolution language -- is the United States seeking reassurances from Dr. Blix saying that he will, in the short term, make certain demands of Iraq, like that the missiles that Dr. Blix says are in violation be destroyed in a public way, in a specific time frame?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it's interesting, because these aren't demands, these are legal requirements. This is exactly what the United Nations Security Council set in motion with Resolution 687, as well as 1441. There are no choices, there are no options. There is only one way, unless the word of the United Nations has absolutely no value. After all, if the United Nations finds that you can have proscribed missiles and get to keep them, because they don't do anything about them, then is the United Nations really the instrument of disarmament anymore?

    And that's something Dr. Rice talked about over the weekend, about the importance of the United Nations being effective.


    QUESTION: Turkey's financial demands on the United States seem to amount to tens of billions of dollars. Without going into the specifics of the negotiation with Turkey, what provision is the administration making for the non-military cost of this war? Whether it's foreign aid, eventual rebuilding costs, dealing with refugees, and so forth, all of which appears to be adding up to a very, very significant amount of money, none of which seems to be accounted for in any budgetary proposals or anything else.

    MR. FLEISCHER: These are issues that we continue to talk to Turkey about. And Turkish officials have also had conversations with members of the Congress, as you would expect, about this. And it remains to be seen exactly what the ultimate outcome will be. But one of the most important ways to protect Turkey and make certain that they are -- endure the fewest costs possible was thanks to the action that NATO took over the weekend to begin to provide defenses to Turkey. Without those defenses, whatever cost would be borne would be far, far higher. And the President is grateful that NATO was able now to proceed and provide the assistance to Turkey that an ally like Turkey deserves.

    QUESTION: But shouldn't the American people and Congress have a clearer sense of what the total bill might add up to for all of these things before we get into this?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Dick, I think there's no question that that will be forthcoming in the event that agreements are reached. But until those agreements are reached, this remains a matter of some discussion. And Congress is consulted on this.

    QUESTION: But I'm not talking about just Turkey here, but refugee costs, rebuilding, all of these things extending out over years, potentially.

    MR. FLEISCHER: And I think you received the announcement that we made, oh, some 10 days ago, about the United States already beginning the reprogramming of money -- I believe it was in the reprogramming category -- for humanitarian relief along the areas bordering with Iraq. The humanitarian issue remains a vital issue in the event of war. It is part and parcel of America's planning to go in with humanitarian relief, with food aid, with medical aid to help the Iraqi people. So all of this is part and parcel of the plan.

    QUESTION: But at this point, you don't have a global number or estimate?

    MR. FLEISCHER: It's impossible to have a global number or an estimate for it because that all depends on what the outcome is. So it very well may be insignificant, it might be significant. It's too hard to say.

    QUESTION: But where does it come from?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Sarah.


    QUESTION: Back on the cost issue. If the U.S. does not get a second resolution, does the President believe that U.S. taxpayers will disproportionately bear the burden of the reconstruction costs in Iraq?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the reconstruction costs remain a very -- an issue for the future. And Iraq, unlike Afghanistan, is a rather wealthy country. Iraq has tremendous resources that belong to the Iraqi people. And so there are a variety of means that Iraq has to be able to shoulder much of the burden for their own reconstruction.

    And given the fact that Iraq right now suffers under sanctions as a result of Saddam Hussein's repression and Saddam Hussein's attempts to procure weapons which the United Nations have said are sanctionable -- the fact of the matter is that Iraq's reconstruction will be aided by the removal of Saddam Hussein because Iraq will then be able to take its proper place among nations of the world that trades and trades freely, which all benefits the reconstruction of Iraq.

    QUESTION: What about all of the post-war costs -- you know, peacekeeping?

    Is the fact that, if we don't get a second resolution, isn't it true that the U.S. is going to disproportionately bear the burden of paying all of those costs?

    MR. FLEISCHER: I want to remind you that even with or without a second resolution, as the President has said, this will be a rather large coalition that will go in to disarm Saddam Hussein. But make no mistake, the President of the United States has stated that the United States will be committed to the long-term stability of Iraq, and that we will stay in Iraq as long as necessary -- not one day longer, but as long as necessary to make certain that the transition in Iraq is a transition to a unified and peaceful Iraq. The costs of leaving Saddam Hussein in power far exceed the cost of anything that might involve the disarmament and the reconstruction of Iraq. I don't think it will be very long down the road when Iraq does settle in its place as a different type of nation, a nation without sanctions and a nation that can become a harbinger of good things in the Middle East.

    QUESTION: Won't it be a lot more expensive without France and Germany?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think we'll see what ultimately they decide to do. And, of course, as I mentioned, once sanctions are lifted from Iraq, that provides a lot more means for the rebuilding and the reconstruction of Iraq.

    QUESTION: Ari, how would you characterize the President's personal demeanor as he faces all these war protests, as he faces France and Germany holding up things at the U.N., as he faces a lot of frustrations as he tries to move toward getting this matter resolved with Iraq?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Well, in terms of the war protests, you heard what the President said himself earlier, where the President said that he respectfully disagrees. As he said, democracy is beautiful. And these are the rights of people to protest. Were the people in Iraq to protest so freely, Saddam Hussein would have been gone from power a long time ago.

    As for the relations with the allies, this is part and parcel of ongoing diplomacy around the world. It wasn't easy to get the first resolution last November. There were many nations who disagreed about the exact language that was going to be used. There were many people in the United States Congress who said they would never put a resolution through the United States Congress authorizing the use of force.

    It reminds me also of when the President withdrew from the anti- ballistic missile treaty to pursue the missile defense initiative, when many people said, you can't do that, we will oppose you in doing that -- particularly throughout Europe. And people said at that time that, if you pursue what the President is proposing it will lead to an increased militarization around the world, when the case of missile defense the exact opposite turned out to be the case. We have better relations with Russia and fewer offensive weapons as a result.

    So the President approaches all these issues of opposition in a matter of, one, the importance of standing on principle and, two, respecting those who disagree, but continuing to lead if he thinks it will lead to peace. And I think he's had a pretty good track record of standing on principle and leading in the direction that has helped formulate peace around the world.

    QUESTION: Is he getting a little frustrated with all this?

    MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think the President understands when he went to the United Nations last fall, he set this path in motion. If the President wanted to act unilaterally, the United States could have acted unilaterally last fall. And this was a decision President Bush made to bring the United Nations into this, front and center. And that is where we remain.

    Now, the question is, is the United Nations getting uncomfortable seeing threats to peace they do not control. Is the United Nations getting uncomfortable with the fact that the military mission to remove Slobodan Milosevic had to be done outside the United Nations Security Council auspices, because the United Nations Security Council could not face up to the threats.

    These are the issues the United Nations Security Council has to ask itself, are they comfortable with the role the Security Council is playing in the world, when they were set up, by design, to replace the League of Nations, so they didn't meet the same fate of an organization of international states that was not up to the challenge or up to the task.

    The history in Kosovo is not a good one for the United Nations Security Council. The President hopes that won't be repeated.

    QUESTION: When the President was asked about -- for his reaction to the demonstrations over the weekend, he said, evidently some in the world don't view Saddam Hussein as a risk to peace. In fact, the argument that most, if not -- well, the vast majority of the people who were in the streets over the weekend make, is not that Saddam isn't a threat, but that they simply disagree with the President over how to deal with that threat. Does the President think those people were being insincere? Does he not think that that's their real argument?

    MR. FLEISCHER: No, he thinks that -- he respects them, but he thinks that their position is wrong, that the real threat to peace is Saddam Hussein and his possession of weapons of mass destruction.

    QUESTION: Well, didn't he mischaracterize the main argument of the people on the other side? They don't seem to disagree that Saddam is a threat or a risk to peace --

    MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think that was very visible, if that's the case.

    QUESTION: So you don't think that that's their real argument?

    MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think that was a visible message, if that's the case.

    QUESTION: Ari, this morning on the topic of the protests you drew a parallel to the early '80s protests in Europe against the IMF missiles. But these protests also occurred in Brazil, in Hong Kong, in Seoul, throughout the Arab world, in Canada. Do you think those are also sort of this throwback to the early '80s?

    MR. FLEISCHER: No, my remarks about Europe and the protests in Europe were directly analogous to the situation in the early 1980s in Europe.

    QUESTION: What about Asia, Canada and the rest of the world?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Just as the President said. It's the right of people to protest, wherever around the world they so choose.


    QUESTION: A couple questions on the resolution. I'm unclear on one point, is the administration committed to going forward with a second resolution? Could it be this week? Could it be next week? Could it be never?

    MR. FLEISCHER: No, the administration is committed to going forward.

    The administration is continuing to work with our allies about the exact language and drafting of it. And as I indicated, it could be this week, it could be next.

    QUESTION: And then you suggested that France and Germany are more or less alone in Europe. How would you read the Security Council at this point? Is the United States swimming upstream? Or --

    MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's too -- I think it's too soon to say. Very often at the Security Council, people keep their powder generally dry until almost the day of the vote -- if not the day of the vote. And so I think it's clear that Germany will be "no" vote no matter what. And it remains to be seen about many of the other member states. And that's why it's important to keep talking to them. That's why I also am not going to get into any of specific words that might be in a resolution because we're working that quietly and privately and diplomatically with those countries.

    QUESTION: If the Iraqi people are going to largely be responsible for paying for their own reconstruction, will they be given a lot of freedom, in terms of how that reconstruction is going to be carried out? Or are we going to kind of guide them and tell them what needs to be done?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think what's going to emerge will be a government of the Iraqi people that comes from both inside Iraq and outside Iraq. There are no shortage of people who are dedicated to a different route for Iraq. And I think also one of the great issues that will be seen -- if this does come to war -- is how, when people have the ability to be free, they exercise that right to be free. The Iraqi people have lived under tyranny and under dictatorship. And as the nations of East Europe have shown us just recently, when the yolk of dictatorship is removed, people's God-given rights to freedom emerge. And the President believes that that will be the case in Iraq.

    QUESTION: Does the President believe there is any value in listening to those -- either countries or individuals who do not agree with his position on Iraq?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Well, certainly. And that's why the President has talked to different leaders and continues to do so. I reported to you last week his phone call with President Chirac. And the President will continue to do that. And the President understands that even when people take different opinions, different positions, at the end of the day, because our values between Europe and America are so strong, that even for nations where we disagree, the relations will remain strong. They can get tested.

    Our alliance has been through tests before. France is not a military member of NATO, they're not part of the defense policy committee, because Charles DeGaulle removed France from it in the 1960s. The alliance has survived after that move by France. And there have been strains before in the alliance, there will be strains in the future. But in the end, we will remain an alliance because of the shared values that we hold. In the end, one way or another, Saddam Hussein will be disarmed.

    QUESTION: What about the protesters? Is there any reason to listen to the message they have, even if he doesn't take it into account?

    MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President addressed that earlier.

    QUESTION: The U.N. is predicting that any war on Iraq could displace more than a million Iraqi civilians. They also say that thousands of children would face starvation. Is the removal of Saddam Hussein worth that price?

    MR. FLEISCHER: The question is, Saddam Hussein, left to his own devices, how many people will he kill, how many Iraqis has he killed already? You all know that more than a million died in the war between Iraq and Iran.

    QUESTION: Ari, I want to follow-up on a question earlier. If it would be more persuasive for Americans to hear the President describe in more detail what U.S. involvement in a post-Saddam world would mean for the Iraqi people, what it would cost, how involved we would be, why is he waiting for a decision to be made -- I'm not sure if it's inevitable, why is he not talking to the American people now about that aspect of the benefits that he sees?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the President has talked about this in the past, when he talks about freedom and the fact that he is confident that any outcome in Iraq will lead to freedom for the Iraqi people. And you've heard it expressed from numerous other people in the administration, notably Steve Hadley, in a speech before the Council on Foreign Relations last week up in New York. And you have not heard the final word from the President on this topic, too, I remind you.

    QUESTION: But he would wait until a military strike begins, to talk to the American people about the post-war effect, or post-war benefits?

    MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I would just remind you also, when the allies landed in France in June of 1944, we didn't know what the future government of Nazi Germany would be, but we knew the world would be a better place and a safer place as a result of beating the Nazis in the campaign in which they launched in bringing the war to the soil of Europe, to free the people of France and to free the people of Europe, without a crystal-clear conclusion about what the future of Nazi Germany would be.

    And so this remains an important topic. It is something you will hear about in the future. But it's impossible to say with precision now what the future will hold, just as it was impossible to say on June 6, 1944.