Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, March 4, 2003
QUESTION: All right. Just quickly on timing. Does the
administration intend to call for a vote at the United Nations, whether
or not it looks as if the U.S. has lined up the necessary votes? Will
there be a vote on the resolution that the U.S. and the U.K. have
MR. FLEISCHER: What the President has said is that he
believes that a vote is desirable, it is not mandatory. The President
has said that we want to move forward to listen to the Blix report, and
then give members the opportunity to say what they think and to act.
And so, from the President's point of view, we are consulting with
nations around the world, as you know, talking to them about the second
vote. The timing of it cannot yet be predicted with certainty. But
that's the President's view.
QUESTION: So it's possible --
QUESTION: But there will be vote?
QUESTION: You're backing off it?
QUESTION: You're backing off.
QUESTION: That's different from what you said this
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President has -- I've reiterated
what the President has always said -- I've reiterated what the
President has always said, which is that the vote is desirable, it is
not mandatory. We seek --
QUESTION: -- you said this morning.
QUESTION: Where did he say that \?
MR. FLEISCHER: We seek a vote --
QUESTION: Where did he say that?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know I have said to you that the
resolution is desirable, not mandatory. The President has on multiple
occasions -- in Cross Hall and in photo ops, that you all have been
there -- the President has said that it is desirable, that we are
doing it to work with our friends on this issue, that we seek the
support on a second vote, and that's speaks for itself.
Go ahead, Ron.
QUESTION: The President said a resolution is
desirable, not mandatory. You, from that podium both this morning and
last week, said there will be a vote, regardless of what the outcome is
going to be. Now, if you're going to back off, that's fine. But just
-- concede it to us and let us know why.
MR. FLEISCHER: Do not interpret this as any change in
position. The President has always said, and I reiterate it today --
QUESTION: You're changing the position.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, no, no, let me -- let's work through
this. What I am saying to you is the President has made clear that the
outcome, whether the United Nations votes or does not vote, that we
will disarm Saddam Hussein with a coalition of the willing. That
depends on the actions that the United Nations takes. We are
proceeding with all the plans for the vote. And so I don't see any
difference here. We'll continue to consult with our allies and
friends, listen to the Blix report and then the members will have their
opportunity to be heard --
QUESTION: Last week you said there will be a vote.
This morning you said there will be a vote regardless of whether or
not -- how it turns out. Do you stand behind those words? Or are
you changing your --
MR. FLEISCHER: My words exactly this morning were that,
shortly after the Blix report members will have the opportunity to be
heard at the Security Council, members will have the opportunity to
vote. That's what I said.
QUESTION: You were specifically knocking down a story
QUESTION: That's when you said there would be a
QUESTION: -- if there were not nine votes, the U.S.
would not ask for a vote.
MR. FLEISCHER: And I continue to say that story has no
QUESTION: But you can't guarantee there will be a
vote at the U.N. You're leaving the option open that if we can't get
the support, we'll pull the resolution and go to war anyway.
MR. FLEISCHER: I've said exactly what I've continued to say
the way I've said it --
QUESTION: Try it one more time.
MR. FLEISCHER: -- which is, this morning -- take a look
at the transcript of what I said this morning -- with certainty, what
I said was that shortly after the Blix report, members will be given
the opportunity to vote.
QUESTION: The U.S. won't do anything to impede a
vote, even if it appears that there are not the necessary nine votes to
pass the resolution?
MR. FLEISCHER: We are proceeding. Now, if you're asking me
if all of a sudden support around the world crumbles and there is
absolutely no one for it, I can't predict with metaphysical certitude
every eventuality. But I'm telling you what the President is doing and
how he's focused on it and what the plan is.
QUESTION: Ari, one last try.
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll get there, Elizabeth.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ari. Are you willing to offer
Turkey a more generous package, and how much time do they have?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we continue to talk to Turkey. Turkey
is a NATO ally. The particular package that we've been talking to them
about was predicated on assistance and cooperation in any plan for the
use of force against Iraq. Obviously, it is predicated on that
assistance and cooperation. We'll continue to talk to them as we move
QUESTION: Are you willing to increase the amount in
the package, or is that package pretty much the final offer?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, as I indicated, the particular package
that we have talked to them about was predicated on their assistance
QUESTION: Ari, one last try on the vote. I asked you
this morning, will there be a vote, without question, and you said,
yes. And now you're --
MR. FLEISCHER: You need to read exactly what I said on the
transcript. What I said on the transcript I'll repeat again right
now. What I said is, that the plan is that shortly after the Blix
report, members will be given their opportunity to vote.
QUESTION: I just -- do we have the transcript?
MR. FLEISCHER: Sure you have the transcript.
QUESTION: Last week -- we'll check his transcript,
as well, but didn't you last week say there will be a vote, period?
MR. FLEISCHER: You can check the transcript on it, Ron, but
I've indicated all along that what the President has said is we are
continuing to talk to our allies in advance of the second vote. And I
see nothing that has changed the President's confidence in the ultimate
outcome of the second vote, which is the 18th vote.
QUESTION: Ari, as part of the phone conversation
between the President and the Prime Minister of India, does that have
anything to do with what Prime Minister Vajpayee said yesterday in
Parliament that India is very much frustrated with -- in Washington
because they both failed to caught Pakistan terrorism into India. And
also he said that now we don't know who to believe because President
Bush pledged including General Musharraf that within a year it will be
all stopped, but it has not, and he was saying that as far as Iraq is
concerned, India is with the United States, just like on Afghanistan.
MR. FLEISCHER: As you know, the President and Prime
Minister Vajpayee talk from time to time. It's not predicated on any
one event or another; it's part of what allies do. And the situation
involving Kashmir and the Line of Control has long been a contentious
issue and an issue that involves tension on both sides. And so this is
a matter of ongoing diplomacy by the United States. That was the tenor
of the conversation that they talked about.
QUESTION: Ari, one on Iraq and one on Medicare. If
the President makes a decision to send in the troops, go to combat,
would he first, in one last effort to avoid war, issue some sort of
ultimatum to Saddam Hussein, say, you have 24, 48, 72 hours to leave
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's too soon to say. The President
continues to hope, one, that this can be settled peacefully; but two,
let's see what the outcome is up in New York. Let's see what happens
in the Blix report. Let's see what happens after the second vote takes
place -- or the 18th vote takes place. And I cannot predict the
future more than that.
QUESTION: If I could refine the question about the
vote. The U.S., obviously, has the power to call for a vote. The
sponsors have the power to call for a vote. So how about if we just
ask simply, does the U.S. intend to call for a vote, come what may, on
a second resolution?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, obviously, when I keep referring to
the fact that after the second vote takes place -- after the 18th
vote takes place -- you're hearing very clearly our plan how to
proceed. I'm saying we will continue to keep our ear to the ground,
but all plans, all intentions are indeed to proceed. And that's why
I'm having a hard time understanding how there can be seen as any type
of shift or change here. We'll listen to the Blix report, and then, I
cannot predict to you the timing, but the President has always said
that he is confident in the outcome of this.
QUESTION: Yes, I mean, the question we all have, I
think, is fairly simple, which is, if the situation did not change from
where it is today, and there were five votes, and the whole purpose of
this was to find an expression of support for our allies, and voting on
a second resolution wasn't going to do that, would the U.S. decide not
to call for a vote?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as you know, I've often told you, too,
that this vote is one of these votes where it's kind of hard to tell
exactly how many votes you're going to have, often until the day the
vote is called, isn't it? And so, I think this means that a lot of the
guessing about how many votes will there be, this far out from a vote
that hasn't even been called yet, are just that, guesses. And this is
why I went through the exercise of reading to you, in 1990 similar
statements made, threatening vetoes by China, by France, by Russia, in
terms of the resolution.
And so we've seen this pattern before where people believe that
it's impossible, or that it's a very uphill fight for the President to
achieve a United Nations outcome. And we saw that that speculation was
wrong in 1990. We saw it was wrong in the fall of 2002. And I believe
you'll see again that it's wrong in 2003. And that's why the President
has expressed his confidence in the ultimate outcome of a vote.
QUESTION: Ari, two questions, please. Today, on the
occasion of the Muslim New Year, Iraqi television read a speech of
President Saddam Hussein in which he had extremely harsh words for
President Bush. And I think -- I may be paraphrasing, but I think he
accused him of trying to enslave the people of Iraq.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's just further nonsense. And when you
talk about the conditions of the people of Iraq, Saddam Hussein is the
one who has created a brutal, totalitarian dictatorship in which people
cannot speak, people are not free to exercise their rights. Saddam
Hussein has created one of the worst totalitarian, most violent states
-- after all, he has gassed his own people -- imaginable on this
Earth. I think that it's a fair thing to say that if Saddam Hussein is
removed from power, the people of Iraq will, for the first time in a
generation, be free.
QUESTION: Ari, the man that President Bush has
appointed to be the civilian head of Iraq after military operations,
retired General Jay Garner, is one of about --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has not appointed anybody to
be the civilian head of Iraq.
QUESTION: -- the man who was appointed, maybe it was
Elliott Abrams or somebody else who appointed him -- at any rate,
General Jay Garner is going to be the one heading the civilian
administration. Now, General Garner, with an impressive military
career nevertheless, is one of about a couple dozen generals who are
closely associated with JINSA and have worked very closely with the
Israeli military, among other things, I believe on the Arrow missile
program. Is it really appropriate, with these kind of credentials, to
place him as the face of American democracy in Iraq? And wouldn't that
create the wrong impression?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has not made any appointments
about the face of American democracy in Iraq. I just dispute the
premise of your question. If there are any people who are going to be
involved in any ways about this, you can talk to DOD about some of the
various people who are going to be involved in DOD's operation.
QUESTION: Is this not true, then, that General Garner
will be the head of the civilian side of Iraq in a post, in an
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, the President has made no
appointments about a "civilian head of Iraq."
QUESTION: This is about Iraq. On Saturday, I
interviewed Aziz al-Taee, Chairman of the Iraqi-American Council. He
detailed a compelling body of evidence about the holocaust being waged
against the Iraqi people. Why hasn't the administration focused on
this aspect of Saddam's regime to justify intervention without U.N.
approval? After all, it was the Clinton administration that used
ethnic cleansing as a pretext to bomb and send troops into Kosovo.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the administration has frequently
pointed that out. And Secretary Powell, in his presentation up in New
York, described at some length the crimes committed by Saddam Hussein
against his own people. And this is something the President remarks
about from time to time. What about the cries on the basis of human
rights for the people of Iraq who are suffering under the hand of
Saddam Hussein? That is an important issue for the world to face, as
well, as the consequences of allowing Saddam to have weapons of mass
QUESTION: Ari --
QUESTION: What about going in order?
QUESTION: During the first Gulf War, the anti-war
activists were out across the street banging a drum around the clock.
Now, the "code pink" ladies, mostly, have indicated that -- I mean,
they've kept sort of regular hours. But they've indicated now they're
going to be more aggressive, more noisy, as things progress. First
off, I'm just wondering, is the President, do you know, has he noticed
them out there every single day?
MR. FLEISCHER: He has never said anything to me about it,
so -- I've not heard him talk about that. The President has talked
generally about protesters, of course. The large protests that took
place in Europe, or in other places, the President, of course, has
noticed and seen those. And one of the things that the President has
seen also is, of course, is the President listens to those who differ
with him. He has seen hundreds of thousands take to the streets all
around the world to protest free trade, but he remains a free trader
because he thinks it's right. So he respects the opinion of those who
protest and to exercise their democratic rights, but he will still act
as he sees fit to protect our country.
QUESTION: Thank you. Just to go back to the protest
issue, is the President aware of the global email movement currently
happening to send the Pope to Baghdad, and how might he respond?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well again, the President respects the
opinions of those who differ with him on this. He has heard them, he
listens to them, and he takes all opinions into account for any
decision that he may make. Just as I indicated, I think the free trade
protests are a very good example of people who are well-known, who have
strong opinions, who share those opinions, who exercise their rights to
protest. But nevertheless, the President still makes the judgments
that he makes to represent all Americans.
QUESTION: If the Pope was to be in Baghdad as a human
shield, how might that affect the President's decision?
MR. FLEISCHER: He has no basis on that, whatsoever.