Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, March 14, 2003 (Full Transcript)
And at 3:00 p.m. this afternoon the President is going to have a rather unusual meeting here at the White House. This weekend is the 15th
anniversary of Halabjah. This is a chemical attack -- an attack on the
people of Iraq with chemical weapons by Saddam Hussein. The President will meet with three people who were affected, either they directly or their families, as a result of Saddam Hussein's use of chemical weapons.
In that single order that Saddam Hussein gave to use chemical
weapons, the Iraqi regime killed thousands of Iraq's own citizens. Whole
families died while trying to flee clouds of nerve and mustard agents descending from the sky. Many who managed to survive still suffer from cancer, from blindness and respiratory diseases, miscarriages and severe birth defects as a result of Saddam Hussein's use of chemical weapons.
The President will meet with these three individuals. They will be available to talk to the press at the stake-out afterwards, to
discuss what a brutal dictator Saddam Hussein is and how, if force is used, the people of Iraq, ill for the first time in decades be able to live in freedom and security with Saddam Hussein no longer engaging his torture.
Two announcements for you. The President will meet with Prime
Minister of Pakistan on Monday, I'm sorry, on March 28th. The leaders will
discuss bilateral, regional, international issues, as well as our close
cooperation between the United States and Pakistan on the war on terror.
One final announcement. The President will travel to the Azores on
Sunday to meet with Prime Minister Blair, Prime Minister Aznar, Prime
Minister Barroso, to discuss how best to proceed to make it unequivocally clear to Saddam Hussein that there will be serious consequences if he fails to disarm. The President has said all along that he will exhaust every option. He is travelling to meet with leaders, to share his assessment of the threat to peace posed by Saddam Hussein's defiance. The leaders will discuss all final diplomatic options.
QUESTION: Ari, what is it that the President thinks
can be done, and what is he prepared to do to revive what appears to be a failing second U.N. resolution?
What is this supposed to accomplish?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, this meeting will discuss all final
diplomatic options. I think you can see this meeting as a sign of the
determination of the President to go the last mile. And meeting with these leaders affords the President the opportunity and the chance to review this diplomacy as it's brought to its conclusion.
QUESTION: What signs does this administration have
that there is any reason to believe that a second resolution can win approval at this point?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we shall see. This remains an
important issue for the future, it's one of the purposes of the meeting. And we shall
see, ultimately, what role the United Nations will play. We shall see.
QUESTION: But, again, Ari, there are no --
MR. FLEISCHER: David, we're going to -- I want to keep
QUESTION: Wait a second, but the question still
MR. FLEISCHER: Last question, David.
QUESTION: Doesn't the American public have a right to
know what signs of any progress there is? Because there are plenty of signs of failure?
MR. FLEISCHER: Sure, we'll see if there are, indeed, signs
of progress to the point where the United Nations will bring it upon itself to
act. As you know, all along I've not made any predictions about it.
Conversations are continuing, and we shall see, ultimately, what role the United
The President continues to hope and work and go the last mile so
that the United Nations will play a role.
QUESTION: The President and you, in his stead, have
repeatedly said he doesn't need this resolution. So why should we not be skeptical of his
apparent attempt to bend over backward to get the resolution? Why is this anything
more than a last minute attempt to look good for the benefit of Tony Blair,
primarily, and to look like he's trying to make peace? He's said he's going to go
to war if he doesn't get it. What's the difference?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because the President does think it's
important to go the last mile for diplomacy. And this is important to our friends and
our allies, and if it's important to our friends and our allies, it's important
to President Bush.
QUESTION: But it's not as important to us, obviously,
because we keep saying he doesn't need it.
MR. FLEISCHER: And that's a statement of fact. The United
States -- and the President has said it repeatedly -- does not need a second
resolution or an 18th resolution, based on legality and based on the fact that
it's important to disarm Saddam Hussein. But because it is important to our
friends and allies, it's important for President Bush.
QUESTION: So this trip is for the benefit of our
MR. FLEISCHER: And if it's for the benefit of our allies,
it is, by virtue, therefore, beneficial to the United States. We are in this
QUESTION: Will you ask -- Ari, will you ask the
President for me and for many, many others, has he really weighed the human cost on both sides,
starting a war to go after one man?
MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, this is not a war to go after one
man. This is a war, if there is a war, to go after one regime led by Saddam
Hussein that possesses weapons of mass destruction that can take the lives of
That's why the United Nations called on Saddam Hussein to disarm.
It is because Iran -- Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction and that is the core
of the issue. They have not disarmed.
QUESTION: How do you know they do, when they haven't
been discovered? We've had inspections, and so forth -- and many other countries have
weapons of mass destruction, including us.
MR. FLEISCHER: And under Resolution 1441, Saddam Hussein
was compelled by the United Nations Security Council to immediately, without condition and without restriction disarm. He has not done so.
QUESTION: You haven't found anything yet in the --
MR. FLEISCHER: That doesn't prove that he doesn't have it,
Helen, it just proves that he's able to hide it.
QUESTION: But that doesn't prove they are either.
MR. FLEISCHER: And the inspectors will also be the first
tell you that during the '90s they missed of what he had, too, if they hadn't
been told about it from defectors.
QUESTION: Ari, you said there's a little more
diplomacy, a little more time left. Chile today, on behalf -- apparently -- of the undecided
nations has proposed adopting five of the British benchmarks, the strict tests
for Iraqi compliance, and extending the deadline three or four weeks. Is
that too much diplomacy, too much time? Or would the President be open to three
to four weeks to test these benchmarks?
MR. FLEISCHER: And, of course, I was asked several days ago
about whether or not the President would be open to extending the deadline 30 to
45 days -- now you could say that's 26 to 41 days. If it was a non-starter
then, it's a non-starter now.
QUESTION: All right, let me just ask you one broader
question here. In the past several weeks we've seen the administration go from discouraging a
second resolution to desperately seeking the vote of nations like Guinea.
We've seen the President go from saying, put the cards on the table, there
will be a vote -- to Secretary Powell saying, maybe not. We've seen European
officials say the administration told them the road map for peace in the Middle
East would not be published until after any war with Iraq -- to the President
walking out into the Rose Garden doing it today. And we had you yesterday
saying there's no travel, and now he's going to the Azores.
It looks like an administration in chaos.
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me begin with your first erroneous
statement. As you said, a nation "like Guinea." I don't know what that means.
Guinea is a sovereign nation and a proud member of the Security Council. And
if you believe in the United Nations and believe in multi-lateralism, then nations
like Guinea deserve their place on the Security Council with an opportunity to
say how they think. That's how the President approaches, with respect, each of
On the rest of your statements, you have seen a continuation of the diplomacy. And what you have seen as the diplomacy reaches its
final path, there are multiple options to reach that final path. The one area
that unites all those options is the President's determination to go the last
mile on behalf of diplomacy
QUESTION: And he's willing to flip-flop several times
to get there?
MR. FLEISCHER: I disagree with your characterization of
QUESTION: Ari, would an Iraq war slow down this
Middle East road map?
MR. FLEISCHER: In fact, the question that said something
about there will be no road map until the end of the war, I'm not aware of anybody
who has made such a statement. The President --
QUESTION: Chris Patton.
MR. FLEISCHER: Do you have anybody in the United States
government who has made such a statement?
QUESTION: He said that he was told by officials in
the United States government.
MR. FLEISCHER: I can't speak to that. I'm not aware of any
United States official who would have said that there will be no road map. The
President has always said -- if you go back to the June 24th speech -- that
what we needed to have was an environment in which both Israel and Palestinians
can have confidence, until they're side-by-side in peace.
As the Palestinians reformed and as the security situation got
better on the ground, the President has observed there was a change in events
in the Middle East, with the naming of a Palestinian prime minister. The
President hopes that this will be a key moment in which the Palestinians,
themselves, are showing more signs of serious, meaningful reform. And if that is
the case, the President has said he will send a road map forward, exactly in
keeping with what he said on June 24th.
QUESTION: You said the new prime minister should have
real authority. Are you worried that Yasser Arafat would have too much authority or too
much influence over the new prime minister?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's a question mark. And it's an important
question mark to resolve. Yasser Arafat has not shown a history of being willing
to relinquish power in reality. And so it is an important issue to
determine whether or not the Palestinians are, indeed, engaging in meaningful
The President hopes so. If they are, this President is prepared to
QUESTION: We're very possibly just days away from
going to war. Yet, the President has yet to share with the American public in any detailed
way his best assessments of what military and civilian casualties might look
like, what the terrorist threat reprisal possibilities are, what the costs of this
war might be, what the burdens of occupation and rebuilding might be.
If a determination is made to go to war, is the President going to
share his best thinking on this with the American people before the
MR. FLEISCHER: We are rapidly approaching the final
And in the event the President makes the determination that he must
go beyond diplomacy and that force must be used, he will, indeed, have much
information to share with the American people.
QUESTION: Including addressing those specific
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to predict every --
QUESTION: Before or after the shooting starts?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to predict every eventuality
of remarks the President will make. But I think the American people will hear
what they're expecting to hear from the President at a serious time like this.
MR. FLEISCHER: Mike.
QUESTION: Following up on your respect for Guinea,
what would be the harm, and would there be any benefit, to having a representative or some
representatives of the six middle, undecided Security Council nations in the
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the meeting is a chance for the
co-sponsors of this resolution to speak and to meet. It's for those nations that are
standing by 1441 as the sponsors of this resolution to meet. So that's the
purpose of the meeting. And that's why they're getting together.
QUESTION: The purpose of the meeting is to get a
resolution, what would be the harm?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not aware that it's even an eventuality
or a circumstance that anybody else has suggested, let alone the leaders
of those nations. So this is a meeting of the leaders that I've mentioned.
QUESTION: British Prime Minister Tony Blair said, in
part, the reason for recommitting to the Middle East peace process is to show a sense of even-handedness -- the suffering of the Iraqi people, the war on
terror, as well as the suffering of the Palestinians and the Israelis. Is
there any recognition from this administration that those two conflicts have
not been treated even-handedly? And I have a follow-up.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's approach has been one that
all parties have responsibilities. And that's what he said on June 24th when he
cited specifically the responsibilities of Israel to peace, the
Palestinians to peace, and the Arab nations to peace.
QUESTION: And how do you respond to the suspicions
that the administration is talking about this recommitment to this road map -- released road map, as a part of the strategy to win support in the U.N. Security Council on
the second resolution?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you could easily ask the question,
if the President didn't go today, you could say, now that the Palestinians have
appointed a Prime Minister, or are on the verge, perhaps, of appointing a Prime
Minister with real authority, why isn't the President saying anything? Is it not
important enough for the President?
The point is, action is taking place on the ground in the Middle
East in accordance what the President called for on June 24th. Failing to
note what took place by the Palestinians would be an omission of the
President's duties to work toward peace between Israel and the Palestinians. I think it
would be surprising if the President did not speak out at a time like this.
QUESTION: But, Ari, is there no recognition that
might even look suspicious at this time, the timing of this to talk about recommitting to the
Middle East road map at the same time they need the votes for the --
MR. FLEISCHER: If you're suggesting that the Palestinians
have chosen this moment to appoint a Prime Minister as suspicious, I think that's
something you need to take up with the Palestinians.
QUESTION: -- the administration's reaction, its
recommitment to the road map?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, if you're suggesting that it's
appropriate for the President to stay silent as the Palestinians are on the verge of,
perhaps, appointing a powerful or independent Prime Minister, I think that's
a rather unusual statement to make that the President should remain silent
at time like this.
QUESTION: Ari, you are tying the release of the road
map -- which the Russians, at least, say has been held up only by the United States
among those in the Quartet -- to your acceptance of the power of the Prime
Minister the Palestinians have chosen. And you're announcing a summit on Sunday
that doesn't involve any of the half dozen members of the Security Council whose
votes you need to get the resolution passed that you want. Where is the
substance in either of these diplomatic gestures?
MR. FLEISCHER: It'll be in the conversations that are held
among these leaders. And, you know, I think this notion that somehow these
undecided nations want to attend the summit is something that's not borne out
by anything that I have seen. I'm not aware that any of them are saying they
wanted to go.
But the purpose of this is to give diplomacy this last final
chance. And that's important for these leaders to pursue.
QUESTION: Ari, why do they need to do this in
person? Why do you need a summit meeting? What needs to be accomplished that can't be accomplished
in a conference call?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because it was the determination of the
three leaders that as it reached the point of finality, from a diplomatic point of
view, where the best course to proceed is to meet with each other, to talk in
These leaders have been talking repeatedly on the telephone -- in
fact, I should have mentioned, the President also spoke to Prime Minister
Blair on the phone today -- and they've been talking repeatedly. They've
reached the judgment that the best process now is to meet in person.
QUESTION: But, I mean, clearly, the President has
been doing a lot of telephone diplomacy because it's effective. So why do they -- I mean, it
looks like it's just a --
MR. FLEISCHER: Because they reached a conclusion that it's
also effective to meet in person and to speak on the phone. I was asked before
this trip, how come he's not traveling? Now he's traveling.
QUESTION: Ari, you speak of a summit of three
leaders. But the Prime Minister of Portugal, Manuel Barroso, who is a host, is going to participate
in the meeting with the other three leaders.
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll be publishing the exact schedule, but
of course the
Prime Minister of Portugal will be there. He is the host of this
meeting. The three co-sponsors, the three members of the Security Council are
the United States, Spain and the United Kingdom.
QUESTION: And the duration. Do you have a -- how
many hours the summit will take place? Is it only on Sunday?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's a day trip. We will be providing to
all the press, as usual, the exact itinerary.
QUESTION: Ari, Tony Blair seems be fighting for his
political life right now.
He was here more than a month ago, supporting President Bush. Why
is the President not thinking of traveling to England to help him, his
friend, who is in trouble primarily because of his actions with the President?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the Azores was chosen as a logical
meeting spot that is roughly in between all three nations. It's, from a logistical
point of view, the easiest place for all three to go.
QUESTION: But when Tony Blair was here, he and
President Bush spoke to the nation from the Cross Hall. Why not do that for Tony Blair? Why
not President Bush go to London?
MR. FLEISCHER: For the exact reason I gave, because this
is a meeting among three leaders, not just two.
QUESTION: Ari, the six uncommitted nations on the
Security Council have some commonality in views, and that's, in general, that they seek more
time, perhaps a specific list of objectives that Saddam Hussein has to meet.
You've fairly clearly ruled out, for now anyway, the possibility
the 30 to 45-day extension is acceptable. But the British -- but there's a
lot of overlap between what the British have put forward as a compromise,
and what some of these uncommitted nations are seeking. The differences would seem to be in the amount of time involved.
Is it fair to say that this will be a topic of discussion on
Sunday? And, more broadly, is the President open to the possibility, anyway, the possibility of some additional time? Not 30 or 45 days, necessarily, but some additional period of time in keeping with the request from the six uncommitted nations and Britain, if he thinks it'll get him the nine votes?
MR. FLEISCHER: The meeting will take place on Sunday. I'm
not going to predict every eventuality of the meeting, or every possibility of
But, suffice it to say, they will, of course, be discussing how to
get the U.N. to act, and to disarm Saddam Hussein.
QUESTION: Ari, in discussing the objectives of this
meeting this morning, you indicated that the main hope at this point for avoiding war is a statement from the United Nations so clear, that from the world community so clear, that it would basically compel Saddam Hussein to go into exile. Is that the only hope at this point of avoiding war?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think there -- I think there are still
two issues that remain at play that have been at the core of this from the very
beginning. One is the complete total and immediate disarmament of Saddam Hussein,
exactly as called for in Resolution 1441. And the other is for Saddam Hussein and all his top leaders to leave the country.
QUESTION: But realistically, at this point, at this
late date, do you hold out any hope that Saddam Hussein is going to disarm in a fashion that would --
MR. FLEISCHER: The only person who can answer that question
accurately is Saddam Hussein. The President hopes so. I think realistically,
the chances are slim.
QUESTION: But he sees something that would happen at
the Azores over the weekend as causing Saddam Hussein to suddenly --
MR. FLEISCHER: Clearly, the more unity there is in the
world, the more the ability of the United Nations Security Council to act meaningfully to enforce 1441, the more pressure there is on Saddam Hussein.
QUESTION: Ari, the President often when he remarks
often talks about several topics. Why didn't he talk about the summit in his remarks this
Secondly, you just explained a more --
MR. FLEISCHER: He wanted to give me the pleasure of doing
that. His remarks were focused on the Middle East. He did not think it would
be an issue that you would fail to note.
QUESTION: He often talks about several issues. And,
secondly, on -- specifically on France, could you --
MR. FLEISCHER: June 24th, he spoke about just peace in the
Middle East, so I really am not sure there is a basis to that -- spoke today about
the Middle East.
QUESTION: Explicitly, why do you think that France
shouldn't be invited? And, thirdly, could you just answer Dick's question about whether the
information will come before the shooting starts?
MR. FLEISCHER: I make no predictions. I can't say anything
about when military action will begin.
QUESTION: I know, but the information about him
telling about the costs, is that going to come beforehand? And, also, about France, why,
explicitly, shouldn't France be --
MR. FLEISCHER: I've always said that in the event the
President makes a decision to use force, he will discuss that with the American
people prior to that taking place. But this is a meeting for those who are
standing by Resolution 1441, and seeking the disarmament of Saddam Hussein
under 1441. This is a meeting for the co-sponsors of that resolution.
QUESTION: World Net Daily reports, under President
Bush, the Justice Department now admits its predecessors, the Clinton Justice Department,
conspired to print factually false information in a Justice Department letter to
deprive James Sanders of his civil rights in connection with his investigation of
the crash of TWA Flight 800. This is case #EDMY01CB5447JS.
MR. FLEISCHER: Lester, what's your question?
QUESTION: Does the President -- is the President
glad that his Justice Department has so exposed the Clinton Justice Department?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not boned up today on KD34963421.
Lester, you need to address that, as you well know, to the Justice Department, not to the White House.
QUESTION: Ari, 182 days ago, the President told the
United Nations: we expect quick resolution to the issue of Iraq disarmament. And he set a
deadline of days and weeks, not months and years. Six months later, he's still
waiting. On January the 15th, he announced, time is running out. On February
the 22nd, he announced, time is short. My question is, since it is now March
the 14th, with no resolution in sight, how can you deny that the President has
created a serious credibility gap?
MR. FLEISCHER: Number one, I think you need to be precise
in what you say the President said, and apply it to the events the President said
need to take place. On September 12th, the President said that it should be
weeks not months for the United Nations Security Council to act by passage of a
resolution based on his September 12th speech. That, indeed, happened when the
Security Council, within weeks, not months, passed the resolution the President asked
them to pass. On January 30th, when the President was asked how much
longer will the current stage last, he said, weeks not months. I think what you've
seen in both cases is the President is speaking precisely.
QUESTION: Ari, I just wanted to ask you why the
President thinks now is an appropriate time to open the diplomatic window for Saddam to get out of town?
And whether you'd like to see that language reflected in something
the U.N. does, or whether it's just something that should be reflected by
what the coalition leaders do in the --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to get into any speculation
about individual wording of any resolutions, or do any public negotiating, other
than to say that the world would be very well served if Saddam Hussein were to
QUESTION: But do you foresee the coalition leaders in
the Azores addressing the issue of exile and how to achieve that?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you have to allow the meeting to
take place on Sunday.
QUESTION: What's the coverage plan for Sunday?
MR. FLEISCHER: We're still working on that detail. I'm
aware of several of the conversations that have been underway. I'm trying to work
through some of the logistical issues that I've been told are present. I want
to dig deeply into this. And my approach is always to have the Washington White
House press corps travel with the President.
QUESTION: Ari, do we have any assurances from Tony
Blair that if we don't get this second resolution that he is with us? And is this meeting on
Sunday, is it any part of it for the President to sort of relay to Blair that
it's no time to go wobbly if we, in fact, don't get a second resolution?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think Prime Minister Blair has shown
nothing but strength and leadership in the cause of disarming Saddam Hussein so peace can be maintained. So I don't think that's even -- that's not an issue.
QUESTION: But when you say it's -- that the second
resolution is more for our allies. I mean, that's about Tony Blair. And I guess I'm saying if we're willing to go without a second resolution, can Tony Blair go without a second resolution?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that's a question you need to
address to the United Kingdom, not to me -- I don't speak for Tony Blair. The
President has been abundantly plain on this issue and he has said the United States
does not need a second resolution. But because it's important to our allies, that
makes it important to him.
QUESTION: Thank you. I have two questions, if I
may. If the United States gets reliable intelligence that Saddam Hussein plans to strike first, has the President given the Pentagon permission to attack before Saddam does?
MR. FLEISCHER: I do not discuss operational issues.
QUESTION: Ari, what's the status of Monday's
deadline, now that the resolution remains on the table at the United Nations?
MR. FLEISCHER: No change in that status, no change in the
deadline. That remains the resolution that's on the table.
QUESTION: Do you still hope for a vote early next
week? Is that still the administration's hope?
MR. FLEISCHER: No change from what I said yesterday. The
President continues to push forward on that.
QUESTION: Ari, does the President support NASA's
plans for another shuttle flight as early as this fall?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President will be guided by the
independent and the judgment of the experts at NASA. They are conducting their
independent review of what has taken place. The President is not the scientist who makes these determinations, but he will be guided by the judgment of the
scientists at NASA who are in charge of making these judgments.
QUESTION: So if those officials tell the President
that it's not too early to do that, he would accept that?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I do not even know if this rises
to the level of the President having to make a decision about space shuttle
flights. The President clearly, in the past, did not author -- make the
decision that a space shuttle would fly. Those are decisions that are made by
other officials, not the President.
QUESTION: Ari, how does the President define the
progress of diplomacy so far with Iraq? Is he disappointed?
MR. FLEISCHER: With the diplomacy toward Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it remains to be seen. The
President is going to discuss all final diplomatic options now with our allies. And we will see whether or not the President will end up, because of the United
Nations Security Council's actions, as either disappointed or pleased. That is up
to the United Nations Security Council.
QUESTION: Ari, the President said in his press
conference it's important for countries to show their cards and show the world where they stand on Iraq. Is that still important to the President, or have events changed
sufficient to make him reconsider that?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it is important. The President is
continuing, as I indicated, to push forward. As Secretary Powell said, there are
options, and we will pursue these various options as the President pushes forward.
QUESTION: Ari, the President said in his State of the
Union address, the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought
significant quantities of uranium from Africa. And since then, the IAEA said
that those were forged documents --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry, whose statement was that?
QUESTION: The President, in his State of the Union
address. Since then, the IAEA has said those were forged documents. Was the administration aware of any doubts about these documents, the authenticity of the documents, from any government agency or department before it was submitted to the IAEA?
MR. FLEISCHER: These are matters that are always reviewed
with an eye toward the various information that comes in and is analyzed by a
variety of different people. The President's concerns about Iraq stem from
multiple places, involving multiple threats that Iraq can possess, and these
are matters that remain discussed.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.