Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, February 19, 2003
QUESTION: Ari, will the administration consider it a
victory if it gets a simple majority vote, without -- sans a veto and so forth on a second
MR. FLEISCHER: In the United Nations Security Council?
QUESTION: On a second resolution.
MR. FLEISCHER: The standard by which resolutions pass the
Security Council at the United Nations is nine votes in favor, with no abstentions.
That, of course, is the standard by which a resolution passes.
QUESTION: The Turkish Parliament has now put off a
vote on whether to allow the U.S. to use the bases there. How much more time is left to
negotiate this package?
MR. FLEISCHER: One, we have not received any official
notification from Turkey about whether they will or will not vote it this week. So
this remains an issue that is at this minute an open matter, that is not
resolved. And we'll see, ultimately, what the Turkish decision is. I'm aware of a
television interview in which -- it was explained that nothing is
scheduled. It did not say that nothing would happen. So this remains an open issue. We
will see, ultimately, what the outcome is. It's open.
QUESTION: The President, as he repeated yesterday,
says that the U.S. feels it does not need a second U.N. resolution to take military action.
But you suggested this morning that he does intend to go through with
offering a second resolution. Is that correct?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
QUESTION: Could you repeat that? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: You said this morning that the President --
The position that the President has taken is that he believes that
it remains very important for the United Nations Security Council to be an
effective organization. And the President has said to our allies that we
intend to work through the United Nations, and we will.
The President intends to work with our friends and allies to offer
a resolution, either this week or next, at the United Nations
Security Council. And the President has made repeatedly clear that the preferable
outcome is for the United Nations to act. If the United Nations Security Council
fails to act, the President, along with a coalition of the willing, will enforce
Resolution 1441 by disarming Saddam Hussein.
QUESTION: But why does he keep saying that he doesn't
MR. FLEISCHER: For exactly the reasons I just outlined.
QUESTION: Can you comment on the op-ed in today's
Wall Street Journal by the head of the Iraqi National Congress saying that U.S. policies and
plans for a post-Saddam Iraq are, in his words, unworkable and unwise?
MR. FLEISCHER: The United States has made it abundantly
clear, and I reiterated today, that in a post-Saddam Iraq, it is important that
people from both the inside and the outside have a role in the future
government of Iraq. Not any one group over another group; no preference for one person
over another person, but for an Iraq to evolve and emerge that is led by people
from both within and without.
QUESTION: But he's saying here that the plans would
keep Saddam's -- this is reading from his op-ed -- keep Saddam's existing structures of
government, administration, and security in place, albeit under American
officers, and saying that this is leaving out the Iraqi people from determining
their own future.
MR. FLEISCHER: Then I think that's a misunderstanding of
what the plans would be because the future of Iraq will, of course, be decided by
the Iraqi people. In the event there is military action, you can expect, of
course, for every effort to be made to maintain the various infrastructures
that are part of Iraq. Iraq is a developed society. Iraq has electricity in all
its towns and villages. Iraq has taken its tremendous oil wealth, and except for
the fact that much of it has been used for military purposes, they actually
have built some levels of infrastructure that get food, that get medicine,
that get supplies to people inside Iraq. And it is, of course, the intention of the United States government
to make certain the people of Iraq are not the victims in a war that would
have been started by their leaders. And so, we will continue to work with
Iraqis both inside Iraq and outside Iraq to provide for the best administration
of Iraq as possible.
QUESTION: Are you down-playing the role that the
Iraqi National Congress would play?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I indicated, there is no preference
for any one group over another, or any one individual over another. And that
can sometimes lead to some criticism from some corners who, of course, would like
to be the preference.
QUESTION: Has the administration or U.S. officials
had conversations with other governments and countries sort of surrounding Iraq -- I'm talking
specifically about Syria and Iran -- about what their involvement would be,
even in terms of just sealing off borders or what you may need? Have there been
MR. FLEISCHER: You may want to check with the State
Department on that.
There's nothing that I have that comes to mind on specific
attention on that matter. I can tell you that we made an announcement several weeks
ago about humanitarian aid in the event of refugee situations and we always
work through international organizations to make certain that if there is a
refugee situation, that we are able to handle it as best as possible, again
through international means.
QUESTION: But as far as you know, no one from the
U.S. government has talked to Syria specifically, or Iran specifically, about --
MR. FLEISCHER: You may want to check with State on that.
QUESTION: Ari, on the U.N. resolution, a second U.N.
resolution, one of the forces that's at work, it seems, is increasing rancor and nastiness
within the Western alliance. You've got newspapers here showing France and
Germany as weasels at the Security Council, people calling France "surrender
monkeys." Then you've got a lot of anti-Americanism on the streets over in
MR. FLEISCHER: Are you asking me if I can be responsible
for the American press?
QUESTION: No, but I am asking if you can be -- can
speak for the responsibility of top officials of the Bush administration --
Secretary Rumsfeld, who has dismissively referred to France and Germany as
old Europe; and today, Secretary Powell, who warned France not be afraid of its responsibilities. Is that the rhetoric of a great power, and is
that really the most effective way of building alliances?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that there's no question that when
you look at the decades-long alliance between the United States and Europe there
are moments in that alliance that are the reflections of democratic disagreements
between nations that virtually always see things the same way, but
occasionally they don't. And during that time I think that it's part and parcel of
democracies to speak frankly. And that has happened in numerous cases; it's happened between
France and other nations. And as the President has said, in the end, this is
an alliance of shared values, and in the end, no matter what happens vis-a-vis
Iraq, we will remain a close alliance.
QUESTION: But is it possible that the attitude which
emanates not from the
press, but from the administration, of "you're with us or you're
against us," kind of dismissive superiority to some of the oldest American
allies, is contributing to the problems in forging a common front against
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think you have some stark differences
and you're seeing the differences discussed openly, and what's wrong with
that? That's one of the strengths of our alliance, one of the strengths of our
democracies, that we can differ. And, again, when you take a look at this, the
differences are really with Germany and France and Belgium -- and that has now
been settled vis-a-vis NATO. And those are differences that are reflective of a
minority of countries. There is agreement between the United States and most of the
nations of Europe. The European governments stand very strong with the United
States. There are differences with France. And I don't think what you're
hearing about somebody saying afraid of responsibilities is a very powerful or
strong message that people could object to. I think these are the types of
differences that, if they emerge, are the differences that come time to time between
great democracies and do not put any particular deep strain on the
alliance. That's how I think the French would approach it the same way.
QUESTION: Ari, on the second resolution, has the
administration gotten any indication that France would not veto the second resolution?
MR. FLEISCHER: It would not be my place to speak for France
and what they would do or wouldn't do. And certainly, that's their right to see
the text of it and, at that point, to make whatever judgments they want to
make. But the President again believes that in the end, the United Nations will
want to play a constructive role and will be an organization that is relevant. He
will be the case still.
QUESTION: And does the administration have a
timetable in terms of when the U.N. Security Council members would have to act on a second resolution?
Would that be within weeks?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I indicated, they're still -- the
consultations are ongoing. And therefore, it could be -- the resolution could
be tabled this week, it could be tabled next week. And then the President
would not expect a very lengthy debate at all.
QUESTION: Apparently Turkey is asking for an
additional $6 billion, bringing the total aid package to $32 billion. One, what does the White House
feel about that? And secondly, can they enforce the resolutions, i.e. go to
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one, I'm not going to indicate what
the specific level would be. This is a matter of some diplomacy and
conversation. But it is fair to say that Turkey has heard authoritatively what the position
of the United States government is. And now Turkey has a decision to
make, and we look forward to hearing that decision. Turkey, of course, is desirable,
from astrategic point of view, for any military staging, but the military
of the United States is sufficiently flexible that whatever decision is
made, the United States will still be successful in carrying out any military
operations, whatever decision is made.
QUESTION: Last night, Ambassador Negroponte, at the
U.N., came out quite late and said that no decision had even been made about whether or not
to press for a second resolution. You seemed to be saying this morning a
definitive decision has been made to go forward, come what may. Was a decision made
yesterday, last night, that, in fact, you would go forward with a decision?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think as you have known has been made very
clear, and I think if you take a look at the full context of all the various
remarks, you'll see that the President has always said, and meant it, that we
intend to go through the United Nations and to offer a resolution to the United
Nations at the appropriate moment, the appropriate time. And nothing has
QUESTION: So there was no shift in opinion, no firm
decision yesterday about what to do or what not to do?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's been a consistent statement that we've
QUESTION: On the content question, is there any
change in view about the need for any benchmarks in the language in a second resolution? Or is
it simply they're still in material breach and they knew they'd face serious
MR. FLEISCHER: It remains much as I've been describing to
you now for about a week that it would be a rather straightforward, simple
resolution that enforces Resolution 1441, and that 1441 stated Iraq had its final
chance and that if it did not comply with the final chance and disarmed, there
would be serious consequences. They've had their final chance.
QUESTION: And we intend to go forward even if the
French or some other permanent member is threatening veto?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. The President has said that
proceed, and either this week or next week we'll offer a
QUESTION: But I don't think the President has
actually said that. He says, we could take one, but we don't need one. But you are saying
definitively that the U.S. is determined to go forward, will introduce one even if there
is a risk of veto?
MR. FLEISCHER: There's always a risk of veto of anything at
the United Nations. There was a risk of veto of 1441. The President believes
the United Nations in the end would like to be an instrument for peace around
the world, and that the United Nations Security Council, particularly after
what took place in Kosovo, would like to be an organization that is taken seriously
in world leaders' calculations about what steps to take to secure peace.
QUESTION: Is there any regret on the part of the
President and top advisors for having chosen the strategy that's been adopted, pushing through the
MR. FLEISCHER: No --
QUESTION: -- given all the trouble that's been
MR. FLEISCHER: The President understood -- why would
there be regret?
The President understood when he set in motion the path that we are
on now, to go to the Security Council last fall. This was a decision
President Bush, himself, made when he decided to go up to the United Nations and
give a speech on September 12th about Iraq, and place this matter front and
center for the United Nations Security Council to deal with.
The President has an abiding belief in the importance of
international organizations being the world's tool to enforce proliferation
treaties. If it is not, if this regime breaks down, then the world is going to have
to ask itself some serious questions about how can you enforce
anti-proliferation matters around the world. If the United Nations Security Council does not choose to do
anything other than have prolonged inspections, after it's been demonstratively
proven that Iraq is in possession of prohibited weapons, then you have to ask
yourself, what is the purpose of having the United Nations Security Council pass
resolution after resolution prohibiting the possession of such weapons. We
know that Iraq is in possession of prohibited weapons. The question is, will they
QUESTION: If the U.N. fails to endorse what the
President wants, doesn't that hurt the President's credibility --
MR. FLEISCHER: If the U.N. fails to endorse action to
disarm Saddam Hussein, there's a bigger question, and that is, what good does the
United Nations Security Council do if it passes a resolution saying you
cannot have prohibited weapons and it looks the other way when you have them. And as we know, Iraq has not accounted for its VX, it has not
accounted for its sarin, it has not accounted for its anthrax or its botulin.
And as we heard last week, Iraq has also moved two missiles which are in violation
of Security Council resolutions. They continue to have these missiles that are
in violation of Security Council resolutions. They continue to have the motors
for these missiles and they continue to have the castings which made the
missiles -- all in violation. What will the U.N. do about it?
QUESTION: Two questions, one a follow-up. At one
point does the President decide the U.N. Security Council has lost its relevance, and that
the U.S. dues may be reduced? And is there anything new on the situation in
North Korea? Any
new presidential decision on redeploying American troops, moving them to a safer
MR. FLEISCHER: No, there's nothing to report any issue
involving the troops. This is a strategic focus, a longer-term look that DOD is
undertaking about America's basings around the world, and there's nothing new
to indicate on that. Secretary Powell will be heading to the region over the
weekend, and we can expect ongoing consultations by the Secretary in this regard.
Did you have a third question in there? Oh, U.N. dues. And on the
U.N. dues, no, there is no discussion that I have heard regarding the
change in the dues. This is a serious matter of principle, and a serious matter
of responsibility for the United Nations to face up to. We'll see
what the United Nations decides.
QUESTION: But if the U.N. Security Council rejects
the resolutions, then does the Bush administration consider they are irrelevant at that
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think at that point the President
will consider how best to keep the peace, and then you can anticipate at that point
-- much like Kosovo, where the United Nations led a coalition to disarm -- in
this case, Saddam Hussein.
QUESTION: Ari, the Emir of Qatar still holds out hope
that the situation with Iraq can be resolved peacefully. During the President's
conversation today, did that come up? And is the President doing anything to try and ease
the Emir's concerns that a decision has already --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President, himself, said that.
President Bush in his conversation said that he still hoped that this could be resolved
QUESTION: In a related by separate -- in Berlin
today, Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak brought up with Chancellor Schroeder the idea that, yes,
inspections should be allowed to continue on; however, there has to be an end
point at some point for Saddam to comply. Were there discussions between the
United Nations and the Egyptian leader before he went over for these meetings?
And also, is there a concerted effort to try and get Arab allies on board to
urge some of the other countries that still have not made a commitment?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, of course, there's conversations,
numerous conversations, with Arab allies about this. They have a real
interest in this matter and their positions are very important and their positions
are very constructive. They, too, see Saddam Hussein for the threat that he
is. But, no, there was not an immediate conversation with the President and
President Mubarak before President Mubarak's visit to Germany. I think the
President spoke to President Mubarak a couple weeks ago, if I recall. But
his remarks were constructive. Indeed, there must one day come a time when the
world recognizes that inspections forever is not the solution. If the
inspections last forever, it means Saddam Hussein is getting away with having
weapons of mass destruction that he's able to hide from the inspectors. As
Hans Blix himself said in New York last week, the inspectors are not
mission is not to find the weapons.
QUESTION: Ari, I'm still trying to understand the
strategy at the United Nations. You were just telling Jim a minute ago that you're
determined to have a vote, even if you know you may lose it. Do you want to get these
other countries on the record, is that the ultimate goal here?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has said that he intends to
offer a resolution. We will table a resolution this week or next. I can't
predict what the outcome will be beyond that. But it is, as the President said,
important for the United Nations to speak, to have its chance to protect the
peace and to back up the resolutions that they, themselves, passed, if those
resolutions have any value or meaning. And so I think it's very straightforward. The President believes
in the United Nations. The President is the one who went to the United
Nations. Now, it's up to the United Nations. We will see what the United Nations
QUESTION: When you talked about Colin Powell going to
the region a short time ago, you're talking about Asia --
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.
QUESTION: Ari, unless I'm mistaken, it's been
reported that the U.N. inspectors have done an under-the-table deal with Iraq where they will not
only notify them in advance of the U-2 flights, but also the area the planes will
fly over. Is the administration aware of this? And what's the administration
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, under 1441, there are to be no
condition attached whatsoever to the right of the inspectors to fly U-2s and to
conduct their inspections as they see fit. The inspectors do have flexibility on
how they decide to apply that. But I will say that if the purpose is to fly
spy planes with the purpose of observing, it does make it a little question
mark -- if such advance notice is provided, what's the purpose of the advance
notice? Why to give the heads-up? Why does Iraq seek that? I think it also
renders meaningless Iraq's statement that they welcome the unconditional
flying of the U-2, when clearly they have sought conditions.
QUESTION: Is the administration aware of this?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's fair to say that we're aware of
the restrictions that Iraq has imposed.
QUESTION: Ari, following Helen's question, the
military says it needs a decision on Turkey in the next couple of days. Will there be one?
MR. FLEISCHER: We will find out. This is up to Turkey now
to make a decision. And it's an important decision that Turkey is taking
seriously as a sovereign country, and we will find out, ultimately, what the
decision that Turkey takes.
QUESTION: Ari, you say now that Iraq has missiles
that exceed the 150-kilometer range. If that is the case, does the United States want the
inspectors to destroy these sites? Do they need additional proof that this is
MR. FLEISCHER: Number one, it's not the United States that
says that; it's Hans Blix who has reported that. The inspectors conducted tests
using independent teams, as well as their own resources, and they have
determined that not only are the LSUB II missiles in excess of Iraq's allowable
range for any type of missiles, but the castings in which they are made are
prohibited, as well as the rocket motors themselves as prohibited. And now the question remains, what will be done about it. Under
Resolution 687, there is only one thing to be done with it. If, again, the
United Nations resolutions have value, those weapons must be destroyed or rendered
And we shall see, ultimately, what the Security Council does and
what Iraq does. This remains an open matter, and a troubling one at that.
QUESTION: On the fact that the resolution, you said,
is being prepared by the
United States government -- I imagine Great Britain is also
participating in these preparation. Is the language already set? Is it a
negotiable item? And who will present the resolution to the U.N. -- United Nations,
Great Britain, or both countries?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, this is part of the consultative process
that is ongoing. We continue to talk about the exact language to use, the
exact timing that it would be introduced, as well as who it will be who actually
tables the motion, as they say in New York.
And in this sense, this is much like the questions that you were
asking in November that led up to the successful passing of Resolution 1441.
At that time, if you will recall, there was a process underway where we
actually did the wordsmithing, we talked about what phrases should be used, what
phrases should not be used, and you're seeing a repeat of that. We'll see,
ultimately, what happens at the United Nations this time.
QUESTION: Ari, two things. You said last week that,
"Every step will be taken to protect civilian and innocent life in Iraq." But Pentagon
officials have said that under a battle plan called 'shock and awe,' "there will
not be a safe place in Baghdad when we attack." Baghdad is a city the size of
Paris, with five million residents. If there will not be a safe place in
Baghdad when we attack, then how do you plan to protect every civilian?
MR. FLEISCHER: First of all, I think that any construing of
any statements that are made by anybody at the Pentagon to suggest that the
Pentagon does not and will not take every step to protect innocent lives is an unfair representation of what the Pentagon would say. It's well-known how
the United States conducts itself in military affairs. We are very proud of
the fact that any time force is reluctantly used, the force is applied to
military targets and innocents are protected.
QUESTION: Second question. You have admitted that
Saddam may attack our invading troops with chemical and biological weapons. On Sunday,
60 Minutes reported that many military leaders believe that our troops have
neither the proper equipment, nor the proper training to survive a chemical and
biological attack. The report quoted an Army audit that found that 62 percent
of the gas masks examined "had critical defects that could cause leakage." Now, since 100,000 U.S. veterans in the Gulf War may still be
suffering from Gulf War Syndrome -- many of them believe that this is from
inhaling toxic fumes. Tens of thousands of them were exposed to sarin gas
when we bombed a Iraqi munitions dump -- how can the President send troops
into harm's way knowing that they are not adequately protected from a chemical and
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has full faith and confidence
in the Department of Defense and in their planning for the worst. And I think premised in your question is the fact that perhaps you
now are coming around to the realization that Iraq does indeed have weapons
of mass destruction and a willingness to use them. It's not anybody in the
United States government who has admitted -- in your word -- that Iraq
might use these weapons; it's that Iraq has such weapons, they've used them
in the past. And hence the danger not only to the troops who are in the region,
but to people abroad, people in the United States, and friends and allies and
civilians in the region who remain vulnerable to Saddam using such weapons on
QUESTION: Ari, does this new resolution represent a
last chance for the Security Council?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, when you consider the fact that
Resolution 1441 said, "last chance," then what the President is saying to the Security
Council is, this is your last chance to mean what you've previously said.
After all, if you can pass resolutions that say Iraq must comply fully and
immediately, Iraq must comply with all provisions, they may not have any missiles in
excess of 150 kilometers, and then they acknowledge that Iraq has missiles in
excess of 150 kilometers, and they do nothing about it, what's the purpose of
passing all those previous resolutions? Why then would people look to the United Nations as an instrument
of peace, if instead, all it is is an instrument of putting out declarations
that nobody intends to take seriously anyway? So the President believes that
if the declarations are to have meaning and have value, they must be taken
seriously. So this is the President's chance to have the United Nations taken
QUESTION: One more with the U.N. The President
initially said, very carefully, that he would welcome a new resolution. Other administration
officials said that he would support a new resolution, and it sounded as if this
was in theory. And now, you're saying that the United States is going to press
aggressively and take the leading role. I mean, what changed? Why the more
aggressive effort by the United States?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think, just quote the words. I've never
used the words, "aggressively" or "take a leading role." I said that the President
has said that it's important to have a meaningful United Nations Security
Council, and that the President believes that it is important to go to the
Security Council. We will offer a resolution this week or next, and I've made no
predictions about what the outcome of that would be. I've said the President
believes that ultimately the United Nations will want to be relevant and want to
have an effective role. That remains his hope. That's what I've said.
Those are the words that I've used.
QUESTION: But leading role would not be accurate,
from what you told us today, about the --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, as I indicated, we'll determine
exactly, along with our friends and allies, of who the sponsor of the resolution
will be. The United States is working with the United Kingdom right now in the
drafting of such a resolution. So in that sense, if you want to call that a
leading role, I think that might be an accurate description. But I just want to
use my words.
QUESTION: Ari, you mentioned earlier that the
administration could live with a 9-0 vote out of the United Nations. I'm just wondering what value
you would see in a resolution that's passed by nine votes, but vetoed by other
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, clearly, if something is vetoed, then
it doesn't pass. And what I said was, the measure for passage is nine votes
and no veto.
QUESTION: Do you anticipate success in your effort to
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll find out. We'll find out, and as the
he very much hopes so. That's what he would like for the United
Nations to do. And if the United Nations does not see fit to enforce its
resolutions, then the President does not believe the world would be safer with an armed
Saddam Hussein who receives a signal from the Security Council that it's okay to
have arms, that the Security Council intends to do nothing about it.