Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, March 5, 2003
QUESTION: Ari, just so we can be clear. The
statement that came out of Paris this morning sure looked definitive
when you read it. Are you insisting that this is not a veto threat by
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm pointing out that as the ongoing
process of diplomacy continues, you can learn a lot about the future by
looking at the past. And we have seen similar statements made in the
past by various officials, and I think the one day we'll know for
certain where nations stand is when it comes time to raise hands and
vote in the United Nations.
QUESTION: These -- two of these countries have veto
power and they have said they will not allow a resolution to pass that
authorizes force. Do you doubt their word?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, they continued on in that
statement as they said that, as members of the Permanent Security
Council, we will fully assume responsibilities. Last October,
President Chirac said, France is a member of the Security Council and a
permanent member will assume its responsibilities. Actually, the same
language in that sentence. My point is, I think it's not accurate to
leap to any conclusions about how these nations will actually vote when
it comes down to it and when the members of the Security Council have
to raise their hands and be counted.
QUESTION: But when you told us President Bush was
confident of the outcome --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
QUESTION: -- what you meant was that you were
confident that these nations will allow this resolution to pass?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President continues to be confident in
the ultimate outcome. He certainly hopes that no nation will use its
And let's spend a minute talking about exactly what would be
vetoed. Because the resolution -- if it does get vetoed -- if the
resolution that is pending before the United Nations Security Council
reiterates everything that passed unanimously in Resolution 1441, and
then it adds this sentence -- the Security Council decides that Iraq
has failed to take the final opportunity afforded to it in Resolution
1441 -- what is the substantive matter there that would be vetoable?
That's the question, and this is the responsibilities that are on all
15 members of the Security Council when they decide what course of
action to take, whether they would object to that sentence, or not.
QUESTION: So are these empty threats? Is this
posturing so that these nations can cover their own concerns?
MR. FLEISCHER: I characterize it no other way than I did,
which is that people shouldn't leap to conclusions about what the final
outcome will be. You've seen diplomacy before, you've seen a variety
of statements before, and you know there's one day when we will all
find out what the outcome is. That day has not yet arrived.
QUESTION: When do you think it will come?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has not made a determination
about that. The first step will be to listen to Mr. Blix's report on
Friday, and then following that, an assessment will be made about what
the exact time will be to proceed with the vote.
QUESTION: Ari, since there is an atmosphere of the
imminence of war in this White House, and since we have no direct
access to the President, will you state for the record, for the
historical record, why he wants to bomb Iraqi people?
MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, I dispute the premise of your
question, first of all. There's regular -- there's regular access to
the President. The President is asked questions all the time. And
when the President --
QUESTION: He hasn't had a press conference for
MR. FLEISCHER: And when 14 of your colleagues spend 36
minutes asking scores of questions to the President just two days ago
QUESTION: Well, that's not a news conference.
MR. FLEISCHER: -- they asked the President a similar
question, although they phrased it a little differently than you did.
They asked the President why does he feel so strongly about the need to
use force, if it comes to that, to disarm Saddam Hussein. And the
answer from the President was that, given the fact that the world
changed on September 11th, the threat to the American people was
brought immediately to our home and to our shores and to our families,
the President thinks it is in the interest of peace to make certain
that Saddam Hussein does not have weapons of mass destruction which he
can use against us, either by transferring them to terrorists or using
QUESTION: There is no imminent threat.
MR. FLEISCHER: This is where -- Helen, if you were
President you might view things differently. But you have your
judgment and the President has others.
QUESTION: Why doesn't he prove it? Why don't you lay
it out? When have they threatened in the last 12 years?
MR. FLEISCHER: They have attacked their neighbors. They
have gassed their own people.
QUESTION: Twelve years ago.
MR. FLEISCHER: They have launched attacks.
QUESTION: With our support.
MR. FLEISCHER: And September 11th showed the United States
is vulnerable to those who would attack us. And one of the best ways
to protect the homeland is to go after the threats abroad.
QUESTION: You haven't linked terrorism to Saddam
Hussein, in terms of 9/11.
MR. FLEISCHER: It's not -- the threat is what took place
on 9/11. You don't have to make a direct linkage between Saddam
Hussein and 9/11 to know that others who are planning can try to do it
again, Saddam Hussein included.
QUESTION: It sounds as if you're saying about Russia,
France and Germany, that when they say, we will not allow the passage
of a planned resolution which would authorize the use of force, they're
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I'm saying exactly what I've said. I
urge you not to leap to any conclusions about what the final outcome of
the vote will be.
QUESTION: What is the conclusion to be drawn about
the meaning of the words, the plain meaning of the words that they
uttered today, that they don't mean them?
MR. FLEISCHER: If you think the story is written and done,
then I can't change your interpretation of it. But I'm suggesting to
you that you might want to think twice before you leap to final
conclusions. There's a lot of diplomacy going on involving many
different people in many different countries. And you have not heard
the final word from any nation.
QUESTION: Okay, quickly, the meeting with General
Franks this morning, can you tell us a little bit about that, what was
that aimed at?
MR. FLEISCHER: This was a meeting of the National Security
Council to discuss a variety of military matters that are pending, and
I really can't go into it anywhere beyond that.
QUESTION: Senator Daschle said that the President, in
their meeting this morning, discussed timetables on Iraq. Can you tell
us what the President has for a timetable, whether he has a date
certain for making a decision, what other components might be part of
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the timetable is, one, to listen to
what Mr. Blix reports; two, to make a determination about the timing
to proceed at the United Nations Security Council on when the vote will
take place. And beyond that, it would just be speculation about any
other timetables that come into play. The one timetable that the
President identified that remains operative is when on January 30th he
said, weeks, not months.
QUESTION: The timetable issue, is it -- not asking
you to give us the timetable, but is it something that he is discussing
with leading members of Congress, to prepare them for whatever the plan
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't believe the President got into any
QUESTION: Going back to the veto question. If
they're saying they would not support or allow a resolution to come to
a vote that authorized force, would it be an option that you are
looking at to parse the wording of the resolution in a way that left
open a sort of more vague wording that they --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that's a very interesting question
to put to the ministers. The language of the resolution that has been
offered by the United States at the Security Council reads, decides
that Iraq has failed to take the final opportunity afforded to it --
in Resolution 1441. Resolution 1441 warned that Iraq had to fully and
immediately comply without conditions and without restrictions. It was
its final opportunity to comply, and if it did not comply -- and this
is binding on Iraq --
that Iraq would have to face serious consequences as a result of
continued violations. That's 1441.
And then the language before the U.N. now say: decides that Iraq
has failed to take the final opportunity afforded to it in Resolution
1441. That's the language. It's hard to imagine an objection to that
language. And I don't speak for those other nations, but I reiterate,
the President is confident in the ultimate outcome of this. Secretary
Powell, just as recently as yesterday, said he's increasingly
optimistic about the outcome of this. And there you have it.
QUESTION: Does the administration believe that that
language authorizes the use of force?
MR. FLEISCHER: It enforces Resolution 1441, which says,
there will be serious consequences if Iraq fails to disarm.
QUESTION: Ari, who at the White House has been in
touch with the French, the Germans, the Russians this morning? You
made a reference to a lot of diplomacy going on and you're implying
that there is something going on behind the scenes that's not apparent
from this --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you can be assured that every day,
through a variety of means, people are talking to different nations
around the world -- whether it's at the United Nations, on the
ambassadorial level at the United Nations; at the State Department,
through the embassies around the world, including in these countries;
or whether it's occasional phone calls from people higher up in
government. All of the above can be happening on any given day.
QUESTION: But you can't tell us specifically this
morning or today or --
MR. FLEISCHER: I report to you on the President's
conversations. You know, as well as I do, that there are spokespeople
for the other agencies who keep track of all their various people. I
don't; I don't keep track of every individual at the State Department.
QUESTION: And one last try. Do you see this as an
attempt at a compromise with these nations? Are you trying to forge a
compromise to accept a --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think this is part and parcel of ongoing
And I don't think this should come as a surprise to people. Last
fall, when you covered the debate leading up to 1441, many reported
that there are threats of veto from France, from Russia and from China;
little signs of movement in the French position. "In a statement that
some interpret as a veto threat, President Chirac said that he would
push for a resolution in line with the interests of the region as we
see them. If it did not succeed, President Chirac continued, 'France
is a member of the Security Council, and as a permanent member, will
assume its responsibilities." So what you see is part and parcel of
Now, one other point about what you have seen in the past on
resolutions, which clearly indicate that the United States and some of
the other nations in the Security Council don't always see it
eye-to-eye, but it doesn't always lead to a veto. We are where we are
today, with the role of the inspectors in Iraq, and the fact that
UNMOVIC was created to inspect Iraq and has been sent in for the
purposes of inspecting Iraq's compliance.
The U.N. resolution that created UNMOVIC was 1284, which was
adopted on December 17th, 1999. It was adopted with only 11 votes in
favor of it. Four countries abstained; two of those countries are
France and Russia. They abstained on even the creation of UNMOVIC.
They did not support the creation of UNMOVIC.
Resolution 1134, which passed on October 23rd, 1997, found that
Iraq was in flagrant violation of previous resolutions and condemned
their cooperation with the special commission the United Nations had
set up, and it demanded immediate, unconditional, and unrestricted
access to any and all areas, facilities, equipment, records, and means
of transportation within the mandate of the special commission. That
passed with ten votes in favor, and France and Russia abstained. They
did not support the condemnation of Iraq, nor did they support
demanding immediate, unconditional, unrestricted access to any and all
There's a history of France and Russia not seeing this eye-to-eye
with the United States. You are seeing that continue to varying
degrees. I urge you not to leap to the conclusion that this is
determinative matter that a veto will follow. This is part and parcel
of diplomacy. This is based on previous actions that led to
abstentions by France and Russia in the past, where, as I indicated
-- it's notable -- France and Russia abstained on the creation of
the inspectors themselves.
QUESTION: So you expect abstentions?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't predict what other nations will do.
I simply say the President remains confident in the outcome.
QUESTION: Ari, as far as war is concerned, the
President is under pressure from many people not to go to war because
of millions will be homeless, millions will be jobless, and thousands
may die. Last year, if you remember, India and Pakistan were on the
brink of war -- but the President was the one who persuaded them not
to go to war, in which they did not. So how is the President taking
this one, advice from around the globe?
MR. FLEISCHER: How is the President pursuing this one,
QUESTION: -- advice -- is he taking any advice or
MR. FLEISCHER: You're comparing the situation in Iraq and
the situation between India and Pakistan?
QUESTION: Yes, but this is the President who
persuaded those nations not to go to war. They listened to him. But
now, as the world is telling him not to go war --
MR. FLEISCHER: Vis-a-vis Iraq --
QUESTION: -- how that he is doing, not to go to
MR. FLEISCHER: The difference is Resolution 1441. The
difference is that the nations around the world joined together after
the President went to New York and they called on Iraq. And again,
when you talk about the vote that is coming up at the United Nations,
it's important to go to the substance of what they are voting on. What
they are voting on is enforcing 1441. I can only keep saying it; 1441
called on Iraq to fully and immediately comply. It did not say
partially comply, and it did not say slowly comply. It said fully and
immediately -- without conditions, without restrictions.
As we've seen, there are umpteen conditions Iraq keeps inventing
and putting on the inspectors; umpteen restrictions, including bugging
the inspectors, they keep imposing. They said it's the final
opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligation. Final
opportunity. It didn't say penultimate. It didn't say third last
chance. It said final. It said it's binding on Iraq. It didn't say
it's for discussion or negotiation; it said binding. And finally, it
said Iraq would face serious consequences as a result of continued
violations. As we all know, they have continued to violate. And so
the resolution pending before it is very simple and straightforward and
it simply states, 1441 shall be enforced and Iraq shall
-- had its last chance to comply. That's different from the
situation with Pakistan and India.
QUESTION: We understand there was a meeting today in
the Situation Room between the President, Secretary Rumsfeld, General
Franks. Could you tell us what the upshot of that was? Was there
discussion of an ultimatum? And secondly, in view of the attack in
Israel today, is there not a rising concern that there could be more
such militant attacks as we edge toward war?
MR. FLEISCHER: Number one, the question was previously
about the meeting. And I've answered as best I can, we don't discuss
National Security Council meetings and what happened. I indicated
General Franks was there and they discussed military plans. On the
second point --
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't discuss what takes place in National
Security Council meetings. And don't take that to mean that was or was
not discussed; it's just a policy, we don't discuss it.
On the situation in Israel, even prior to any discussions of
anything happening vis-a-vis Iraq there were suicide bombings. And the
President condemned those. The fact of the matter is this is the first
suicide bombing in some two months, and in the last two months you've
seen a steady buildup toward the potential for the use of force in
Iraq. So I think there's no basis to make any connection between
QUESTION: Ari, on the ongoing diplomacy on the part
of this administration and perhaps by the President, any new tactics,
strategies, new arguments, or is it pretty much the same old stuff
we've heard for two years?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I keep reporting to you the phone
calls the President makes, and the State Department reports out the
phone calls that President (Secretary) Powell has and the various
meetings that take place. And this is really being pursued as a matter
of deep and important substance, and as a diplomatic matter. And it's
a debate worth having. And that's why the President created this
process and is going and talking to our friends and allies about this
18th resolution, or second resolution at the United Nations.
I've described to you an ample number of times today the substance
about what has been voted on unanimously and what this follow-on
resolution calls for. And the discussions really focus on the need to
disarm Saddam Hussein; this is what this comes down to.
QUESTION: So, really, nothing new?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it's ongoing diplomacy. And the same
question could have been asked, how come we were successful last fall
when everybody thought that somebody would veto the resolution last
fall. And I previously read to you similar statements in 1990,
interestingly enough, when the United Nations considered the resolution
after the invasion of Kuwait; there were similar warnings of potential
veto threats, all of which did not materialize.
QUESTION: But we compromised.
QUESTION: You said the NSC meeting today was to
discuss a variety of military matters that are pending, a phrase that
would seem to be eight months pregnant with meaning. (Laughter.) Was
the same thing discussed with the congressional leaders?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm trying to do the math. When does eight
months go back to? (Laughter.) And are you suggesting there will be a
baby born in one month? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Perhaps less than a month. Was the same
general set of issues discussed with congressional leaders?
MR. FLEISCHER: I just don't go into the specifics of
anything that's discussed in National Security Council meetings.
QUESTION: No, no, no, I'm not talking about NSC, I'm
talking about the congressional leaders.
MR. FLEISCHER: The congressional leaders meeting focused
much more broadly than the National Security Council meeting. Their
meeting talked about a variety of issues around the world. I can talk
to you -- they talked about the capture of Khalid Sheik Mohammed and
what that meant in the success in the war on terror. They discussed
other issues internationally. So it's more a broader meeting.
QUESTION: You've indicated -- one more thing, if I
could. You've indicated repeatedly the President was likely to give a
speech before any military action --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
QUESTION: -- if, in fact, it comes to that. Would
you expect in that speech for it to be much like it was with the
Taliban in Afghanistan, that he would give the Iraqi leader one last
chance to do something before any move to military action?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not prepared to speculate about what the
topic of a speech not given could be. There are several events that
would be intervening if the President makes a decision to use force
between now and then, in any case. So I will not speculate.
QUESTION: There are some who argue that members,
undecided members of the Security Council could be moved if, in fact,
the U.S. did make assurances that there would be some kind of deadline
set. Is that at all being considered by the White House, particularly
in light of the fact that it might bring some of the undecided votes
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I've read to you the language of the
resolution that is pending. And we always consult, we always talk to
our allies. We have not said to anybody that everything is in stone,
but I'm not aware of anything that would lead one to that conclusion
that you've raised, Jean.
QUESTION: I don't think that the suggestion is that
there would be an amendment to the resolution, but that it would be an
assertion from the White House. Is that being considered at all?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I'm just not going to speculate on
anything that may or may not happen down the road. I just can't
accurately do that.
QUESTION: But you're not ruling it out?
MR. FLEISCHER: I just can't accurately tell you what may or
may not happen down the road in every step.
QUESTION: Is it significant to the White House that
the leaders of France and Germany and Russia did not use the word
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I think it's important to
analyze their words precisely and carefully, to analyze the words of
the United Nations resolutions precisely and carefully, and not to leap
to conclusions about the ultimate outcome.
QUESTION: Ari, given the problematic situation in the
Security Council and the months that have been consumed now by going
through the process there, does the President in any way regret his
decision to work through the U.N. on this?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. No. The President went into this
knowing how the United Nations works and how slow the United Nations
can be, but how important the United Nations is. And in the many
conversations the President has had with our European allies and
others, he recognizes that there is an important role for the United
Nations to play.
He only hopes that the United Nations will play that role. He
hopes that the United Nations will not have passed a resolution that
said, "full and immediate," only to indicate it didn't mean either
"full" or "immediate." He hopes the United Nations did not pass a
resolution that said "without conditions or restrictions," only to find
out what they really meant was full of conditions and full of
restrictions. He hopes they didn't pass a resolution that said "final
opportunity" only to be a resolution that said one of many
opportunities. He hopes the United Nations understood the seriousness
with which they passed 1441.
And I think everybody, when they passed 1441, recognized the
consequences. As you've said, there's been a certain time to this
When they voted, they were keenly aware of the buildup. They were
keenly aware of how serious the President was about preventing Saddam
Hussein from using the weapons he has to attack the rest of us. They
understood the context when they voted on it. This is a test of whether
they meant it.
QUESTION: Given all that, is he not frustrated by
what's going on now?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I said, the President -- I think the
best way to understand the President's point of view is, he created
this process in the first place by asking the United Nations to get
involved. And he's pleased they have gotten involved. He hopes they
will play a productive role. But whether they agree or disagree, the
President is determined to protect peace by making certain that one way
or another, Saddam Hussein is disarmed.
QUESTION: Ari, you correctly note that the French are
using language now similar to language that they used last fall prior
to the first vote -- vote on Resolution 1441. But the circumstances
are obviously different now. Back then, there was the hope that Saddam
would comply. We've had continued assertions from the White House that
he hasn't, and clear signals that the buildup to war is progressing.
And that the circumstances then, in terms of this debate, are a little
bit different. There's not much room to roam now for anybody on the
Security Council. So given that, aren't --
isn't the language, isn't the possible message being sent by the
French and others who are reluctant perhaps a little stronger and a
little different? To that end, is a goal of the diplomacy now simply
to get as many votes as you can and make sure to avoid a veto?
I have a second question.
MR. FLEISCHER: -- of course, yes. The goal is to get as
many votes as we can. The goal is to get nine votes or more and not
have a veto.
QUESTION: Back when this whole process began, the
President decided to go the U.N. route last fall. Did he expect at the
time that it would prove so difficult to build consensus within the
Security Council and the world at large? Has he been surprised by the
reluctance of --
MR. FLEISCHER: Frankly, no. Well, keep in mind, again,
what I just reported to you, that on October 23, 1997, France and
Russia abstained on demanding the immediate, unconditional,
unrestricted access to all areas, and that France and Russia abstained
in 1999 on the creation of UNMOVIC and the inspectors themselves. So
the President went into this knowing that not everybody sees the issue
the same way because historically they have not. The President is
determined to go into this and to end this in a way that is respectful
of our allies. No matter what position they take, we will continue to
have important relations with them beyond any decisions that are made.
And so the President understood perfectly, he's referenced it often
that this is the process of the United Nations. And it's a process
that he made the call to bring the United Nations front and center in
this matter. And at the same time that he says that, he expresses his
confidence in the ultimate outcome of it. And as I've said before, I
think we will all know what the ultimate outcome is the day the vote it
QUESTION: Again, going back to the Security Council
vote. You just said that the goal of the United States is to get as
many votes as you can. Has the President expressed in any, way, shape
or form his frustration for countries like -- allies like Mexico,
which has not expressed to this point the way they will vote? Or is
-- the President has spoken with President Fox in the past few days
today? Or if there's any meeting scheduled for any time?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President spoke with President Fox from
his ranch in Texas some two weekends ago. And again, the President
looks at this as the ultimate outcome will be the day of the vote when
member states, at that time, for all the world to see, raise their
hands and state their positions.
QUESTION: This is about Iraq. On Monday, the UK
Telegraph reported the murder of General Muhammad Sa'id al-Darraj, a
senior missile engineer in charge of Iraq's mobile Scud missile
program, shortly after meeting with Saddam's officials. Would you
comment on that?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's the first I've heard about it. But
one thing is for certain with Saddam Hussein, he is brutal. When you
talk about human rights and killing Iraqis, you can look first to
Saddam Hussein as the world's worst human rights violator, one of the
world's worst human rights violators, who has killed his own people.
Today, for example, when the President meets with the Commissioner
on Human Rights, I anticipate one of the topics the President will
raise is the horrendous treatment of the Iraqi people, the repression
of the Iraqi people by Saddam Hussein, which includes killing those who
would have any disagreement with him.
QUESTION: Ari, it was reported in a French newspaper
this week that President Chirac has privately told colleagues that he
had made up his mind that Bush had made up his mind to go to war, and
that he would not want to use a veto and, therefore, the phrase he used
was "shoot Bush in the back."
You've been very complimentary from the podium about President
Chirac being very candid with the President. Do you know if President
Chirac or any other representatives of France have privately assured
the President or the United States that that is the case, that France
would not use the veto?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, in the event that anybody received an
private assurances, I'm sure you would not be asking me to make public
anything that was private.
QUESTION: Is that the reason why --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has had an overall approach to
this, knowing what he knows and knowing the conversations that he's had
with the Presidents of nations, that he has a sense of confidence about
the ultimate outcome of this. But it would not be my place to speak
for any one leader.
QUESTION: Thank you. Ari, I know you have answered a
lot of my questions, but with the threat of the French or Russian veto,
will the President go forward with the second resolution anyway?
MR. FLEISCHER: I've addressed that many times, and once the
Blix report is over, it's received, we will make a determination about
the timing of it. But it's all systems go.
QUESTION: Ari, I didn't quite understand a couple
references you made earlier. You talked about how France made a number
of statements suggesting their position before a vote, which they
ultimately gave their assent. In that case, the reason the French did
not veto or abstain was because there was protracted number of weeks of
negotiations and some give-and-take on the language in the resolution.
Is that same process operable here?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, two points on that. One is, what's
the objection to the language that's been offered? It's very simple
and clear language, to enforce Resolution 1441. But, two, we have
never suggested that the language is written in stone. We, of course,