Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, March 18, 202003 (Full Transcript)
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. Let me fill you in on the
President's day. The President began this morning with a phone call to
President Putin of Russia. They discussed the situation in Iraq. They
underscored the importance of bilateral cooperation, despite the
disagreements the United States and Russia have over the situation in
Iraq. And President Putin reiterated to President Bush his invitation
to visit St. Petersburg at the end of May.
President Bush also this morning called to congratulate Hu Jintao
on becoming China's President. President Bush and President Hu agreed
on the importance of good U.S.-China relations for the advancement of
bilateral interests and international peace and stability. The
Presidents shared views on Iraq and North Korea. President Bush
expressed appreciation for Beijing's efforts to help resolve the North
Korean issue peacefully. President Bush also reiterated his
administration's commitment to a one China policy.
The President then had his intelligence briefing, FBI briefing, had
additional meetings, and has no public events on his schedule today.
I'm happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: Can we get your reaction to some of the
comments that were coming from the Hill? Senator Daschle saying that
he's "saddened that this President failed so miserably at diplomacy
that we are now forced to war."
MR. FLEISCHER: Of course, members of Congress, including
Senator Daschle, are well within their rights to express their
opinions. If you take a look at what Senator Daschle has said about
the inevitability of using force in 1998, and if you take a look at
what Senator Daschle said about the importance of raising the rhetoric
to a higher level and not politicizing the rhetoric, I find his
statement to be inconsistent. But perhaps he has a better
QUESTION: But do you believe he is politicizing this,
that no one has a right at this time to criticize the President?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I just said the opposite. It is within
the rights of every member of Congress to say what they think, to
express their opinions. He certainly is well within his rights to
express his opinions. It just strikes me as inconsistent with previous
things he has said.
QUESTION: Can I also ask you about something Senator
John McCain said on the floor this morning, that he would not support
any tax cuts or spending increases not related to improving the
nation's defenses? The President hasn't yet talked about cost at all
with the American people. Again, we're standing on the brink and he is
still proposing a massive tax cut. At what point is he going to
explain to people what this is going to cost the country in terms of
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Congress is just beginning the whole
process of reviewing the budget. And all of this will become a part of
that in the event that it does lead to hostilities; the administration
would send up a supplemental appropriation bill to the Congress. And
so Congress will then have at its disposal all the relevant facts and
figures to make the determinations for their budget issues as the year
In all cases, the President, as he has stressed repeatedly, is
focused on, and urges Congress to continue to focus on, domestic needs,
whether there is war, or whether there is peace. And those domestic
needs include providing economic growth so that if there is war, when
the war is over, our military has jobs to come home to. And a part of
that is passing the economic package.
QUESTION: President Putin condemned the military
action in Iraq and spoke of it to possibly hurting relations. At the
same time, the Russian parliament pulled down a vote on the nuclear
arms treaty, China is condemning the President's march to war. Did
either one of these divisions come up in his conversations? Did he try
to explain why he's doing what he's doing?
MR. FLEISCHER: The two openly acknowledged that they don't
see eye-to-eye on whether or not force should be used to disarm Saddam
Hussein. They agree about threats in the region, but it's no secret
that they don't see eye-to-eye on whether the use of force is a
required remedy to make Saddam Hussein disarm. But the two of them in
the phone call did stress to each other the importance of maintaining
good U.S.-Russia relations, and the both expressed confidence that it
would, indeed, happen.
QUESTION: Is Russia one of the countries the
President was referring to when he said, these countries share our
belief about the threat with Iraq, but they don't share our resolve?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President didn't specifically define who
he was referring to, so I wouldn't define it for him.
QUESTION: When the President speaks to the nation at
the beginning of hostilities, will he then, for the first time, talk
about what he expects the conflict to cost in terms of lives and in
terms of dollars?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm just not going to be in the business of
predicting future presidential remarks. If and when it gets to that
point, the President would indicate something himself. I wouldn't
predict every circumstance.
QUESTION: Don't you think that the President will
want to give the American public some indication? All we get is --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not saying he wouldn't. I'm just saying
it's not my place today to do it for him.
QUESTION: All we get is a vague thing about a
supplemental. People who were here from Congress yesterday said that
they estimated it would be $80 billion to $90 billion. But there's not
a word out of here, no word from the President.
MR. FLEISCHER: There was no discussion in the meetings with
members of Congress yesterday -- none -- about the level of a
QUESTION: What about American lives? We don't hear
about that yet either.
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the President has said that he hopes
that this can be done peacefully. If there are lives lost, he believes
the American people understand the risks, the sacrifices that people
are prepared to make if it is necessary to use force to disarm Saddam
Hussein. I think people understand that. This has been a very serious
run-up to what may become war. And the American people have heard and
understand the reality and the gravity of the situation. And I think
they understand that.
QUESTION: Is there any doubt that there's going to be
QUESTION: I pick up on that -- what you said. Does
it bother the President that most of the world is against this war, and
half of America? And I have a follow-up.
MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, this is an issue where you and I will
never agree when you state your premise about what the people think.
QUESTION: This isn't you and I. This is a very
QUESTION: There's a new poll showing --
MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, I think there's a lot of public
polling that you can see out there. The recent poll from your neighbor
to the right, ABC News showed that 79 percent of the American people
think that Saddam Hussein is a threat to the United States. I've heard
you say on many occasions most Americans don't think he's a threat to
the United States.
QUESTION: I didn't say -- is said the war.
MR. FLEISCHER: So I understand your strong opinions
clearly. I'm not sure the American people agree with you.
QUESTION: That's a very personal attack. I said the
war. Are they in favor of --
MR. FLEISCHER: I thought it was an accurate observation.
QUESTION: Are you saying 79 percent of the American
people are for this war?
MR. FLEISCHER: What I just said to you is that according to
that ABC poll, 79 percent of the American people think that Saddam
Hussein is a threat to the United States.
QUESTION: That wasn't what I asked you.
MR. FLEISCHER: In terms of support for a war, again,
talking about the public polls, I saw one this morning in USA Today
that put that figure at 66 percent, if I recall.
QUESTION: And one other question, which is, can the
President present any show-and-tell evidence of ties to al Qaeda with
Saddam, and also a nuclear potential immediately or imminently?
MR. FLEISCHER: You heard what Secretary Powell talked about
when he went to the United Nations and has reiterated on a regular
basis since then, as well as others in the administration, about the
presence in Baghdad of al Qaeda operatives, about the involvement of al
Qaeda trained in Iraq involved in the assassination of AID worker Foley
in Jordan. So this has been something that has been discussed very
QUESTION: Why is the -- the CIA and FBI have never
said that, backed that up.
MR. FLEISCHER: Don't think it would have been said if it
hadn't been supported by them.
QUESTION: Will U.S. troops enter Iraq, no matter
what, at this point? In other words, even if Saddam Hussein, in some
off chance, takes this ultimatum, leaves the country with his sons,
will U.S. troops, nevertheless, enter Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President addressed that last night.
And the President made clear that Saddam Hussein had 48 hours to leave,
beginning at 8:00 p.m. Eastern time last night. The President also
made plain to the American people that if Saddam were to leave, the
American forces, coalition forces would still enter Iraq, hopefully
this time peacefully, because Iraqi military would not be under orders
to attack or fire back. And that way Iraq could be disarmed from
possession of weapons of mass destruction.
QUESTION: So the bottom line is, Americans are going
to occupy Iraq, no matter what, at this point?
MR. FLEISCHER: The bottom line is, a coalition of the
willing will disarm Saddam Hussein's Iraq, no matter what.
QUESTION: And up in the north, will the United States
allow Turkish troops to push deeper into Iraq than they are positioned
now along the buffer zone along the border?
MR. FLEISCHER: Our position on this, and this has been made
clear to the government of Turkey, is that no outside forces other than
those under coalition command should enter Iraq.
QUESTION: And then, finally, on the Daschle thing,
are you saying that because Senator Daschle criticized the President's
diplomacy, that's inconsistent with the principle of not politicizing
the war, and that, therefore, from that podium speaking on behalf of
the Commander-in-Chief during wartime,
that shouldn't be done?
MR. FLEISCHER: Speaking from this podium, I received a
question about statements made by a member of Congress, and as I said,
every member of Congress is entitled to state what they think, no
matter what they think. That is their right, and they are entitled to
it, and will always will be entitled to it. I merely point out you can
compare this statement with previous statements made and draw on your
own inferences about whether those statements are consistent, or not.
I say, when you look at what he's previously said, his statements are
QUESTION: But you don't want to discourage dissent in
this country at all?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's every person's right to dissent, and
nothing has been suggested here that would ever say that people don't
have that right. I have not said that here.
QUESTION: Ari, can you give us a little more on the
expulsion of people with ties to Iraqi intelligence that the President
eluded to last night, or discuss how many might be involved? Were
their specific activity they were believed involved in?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have the specific numbers. You may
want to talk to the FBI or the State Department about that. But we
have worked with allied nations about the potential threats that Iraqi
so-called diplomats might present because of concerns that they're not
diplomats, they actually are working intelligence fields. And the
United States is taking actions within our rights. Other nations have
taken similar actions. I believe the first nation to take such an
action, if you recall, was several weeks ago when the Philippines threw
out an Iraqi -- a high-ranking Iraqi diplomat after a terrorist
attack in the Philippines where evidence was right away traced back to
the Iraqi embassy.
QUESTION: So were there people in the United States
who have been expelled as part of this?
MR. FLEISCHER: There were, and the State Department has the
details on that. If I recall, this was made public. It was officials
up in New York.
QUESTION: Ari, just to follow up on something in the
gaggle this morning. Saddam Hussein has defied the ultimatum, and the
Pentagon officials said last night that the President's statement --
speech was worded so that if Saddam Hussein did defy the ultimatum,
there was the option of starting military force at any time before the
48 hours is up. Would you agree with that? Is that how you see it, if
military action could now start at any time because Saddam Hussein has
defied the ultimatum and said he's not leaving?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me make two points: One, Saddam Hussein
has led Iraq to many mistakes in the past, principally by developing
weapons of mass destruction. Saddam Hussein, if he doesn't leave the
country, will make his final mistake. The President continues to hope
On the question of timing, anything involving timing I will refer
to the Pentagon. As a matter of White House procedure, as you're very
familiar with -- I've explained this to many people individually,
I've said it collectively in the off-the-camera session this morning
-- the same policy that was in effect in 1991 will be in effect at the
White House this year, and that is all operational details, including
questions of timing, et cetera, will be matters for the Pentagon to
QUESTION: So you're leaving it open? You're not
ruling it out.
MR. FLEISCHER: I leave it for the Pentagon to discuss. I
remind you of the President's words in his speech was, "a time of our
choosing". That's how the President expressed it. He also talked
about 48 hours for Saddam Hussein to leave the country to avoid
QUESTION: If Saddam Hussein goes into exile, will the
U.S. seek to have him prosecuted for war crimes?
MR. FLEISCHER: That would be a question for the
international community to consider. We hope that that will become an
option that can be considered.
QUESTION: And Secretary Powell said today that there
is roughly 30 countries in the coalition of the willing. That leaves
roughly 160 United Nations members in the coalition of the unwilling.
Why is that?
MR. FLEISCHER: First of all, that's, I don't think, a fair
characterization of other nations to say that they're in a coalition of
the unwilling. Not every nation has the ability to contribute. Not
every nation is in an area that is geographically advantageous
concerning military operations or overflight or basing. So I think it
depends significantly on the ability of these nations to contribute to
a coalition. But I don't think you can accurately say that.
If you were to take a look at -- by that standard, then you would
be able to make the same conclusions about many previous wars,
including the first Persian Gulf War, say that the world was against it
by that standard.
QUESTION: So does the United States have most of the
members it wants, or all of the members it wants?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's fair to say that the United
States, as the President said, would act with a rather robust and
significant size coalition of the willing, by any measurement.
QUESTION: Ari, to follow up on Elizabeth's question,
is it still the administration's position that Saddam Hussein has until
Wednesday 8:00 p.m., evening Eastern Standard Time to leave his
country? And is there are any indications that that window will be
open up until that point?
MR. FLEISCHER: I can only repeat to you what the President
said, and that is, Saddam Hussein has 48 hours, and he made those
remarks at 8:00 p.m. last night, to leave the country to avoid military
QUESTION: How will you validate or confirm whether or
not he has actually done so? Who are you talking with?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that it is not a matter of any
doubt; if Saddam Hussein were to leave the country, I think everybody
would know, and everybody would know rather quickly.
QUESTION: And your reaction to the French
Ambassador's statement to CNN this morning. He was saying that if
Saddam Hussein were to use chemical and biological weapons, this would
change the situation completely and immediately for the French
government, suggesting that the French military could assist the
U.S.-led coalition. Is this a sign, perhaps, of a change in point of
MR. FLEISCHER: One, I thought it was a notable statement.
Two, let us hope it never has to come to pass.
QUESTION: Ari, when you say notable statement, do you
mean we'd welcome their hope?
MR. FLEISCHER: I just note that is a notable statement for
France to say such a thing.
QUESTION: But I didn't hear you say, and we'd love to
have them help us.
MR. FLEISCHER: I also said, let us hope that never comes to
pass, because it is premised on our troops being hit with chemical or
QUESTION: But you'd accept their help?
MR. FLEISCHER: I just said it's a notable statement. I
have not had an opportunity to have it fully studied by the United
QUESTION: Ari, more generally, we have not seen the
President in any kind of informal setting for a while now, other than
with the dogs yesterday. Could you describe for us the President's
mood, what he may be doing to keep focused, and the general White House
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I was with the President before he
made the speech last night and afterwards. And I think the President
is very, very focused. The President, having worked on this issue for
such a considerable period of time, pursued the diplomacy with the
diligence and the importance that the diplomacy deserved, believes now
and is comfortable now with the fact that the moment of truth has
And the President believes in his heart that to preserve peace
around the world, Saddam Hussein must be disarmed. And he is
comfortable with the action that is pending, and is confident that it
will achieve its goal. He is, I think, rather serious these days about
that, focused and determined to achieve that mission, and he's
comfortable with it.
QUESTION: Ari, what is the number of countries that
you believe are willing to participate in a coalition of the willing?
Is it 30? And how do you define participation in the coalition?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we have all along said, in terms of
actual, active combat, there would be very, very few countries. In
terms of providing the necessary means of basing or overflight, which,
after all, is how combat would ensue -- you can't have combat if you
don't have supplies, you can't have combat if you don't have
overflight -- it will be a rather large number. And Secretary Powell
has discussed that today.
QUESTION: And 30 is the number that --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's the number the Secretary said.
QUESTION: And the number that the White House
obviously believes is accurate?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct, that's the number.
QUESTION: There were remarks this morning from Mr.
Aldouri, as well, at the United Nations, in which he said that if there
is a war, how could you have a safe place in the war, and if you're the
invader, how can you ask for a safe place for you. What does the
administration make of that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Say that statement again.
QUESTION: He says, if you are the invader, if you are
the invader, how can you ask for a safe place for you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Who does "you" apply to?
QUESTION: The United States.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not sure I really understand what the
point is, other than, the only way I can -- I interpret that
statement to be, if the United States uses military force, the
President is, of course, very comfortable and confident that we will be
successful in achieving our objectives. I make no prediction about the
length of time. I've seen many people say that this could be
relatively quick. We make no such assumptions. But the President is
confident in the outcome.
QUESTION: One other thing, if I may. When the
President speaks next, do you anticipate that it would be before any
hostilities? Would it be at the end of this 48-hour period? What
should we expect mow?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to speculate about that. We
will, of course, keep you advised, and if we have something, we'll
QUESTION: Back on the coalition of the willing. The
fact that there are so few countries that are actually going to put
their soldiers, their troops on the line in military action, is that by
design, or because the U.S. could not attract more players to that part
of the action?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not going to get into any of these
details until it is revealed and you have the information in front of
you about what countries are doing exactly what, and then I think
you'll be able to make more informed judgments about it. The fact of
the matter is, the overwhelming amount of combat will be provided by a
relatively small number of countries. And that is sufficient to
accomplish the mission. And other nations are free to contribute as
they see fit.
QUESTION: But was that by design?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's a reflection of the
diplomacy; I think it's a reflection of the ability of different
nations to contribute; and I think it's also a reflection of how much
is needed to accomplish the mission.
QUESTION: I'm sorry, could I -- is the President
today trying to grow the coalition of the willing? Can you tell us a
little bit about really what is he doing today? This morning you said
he's going over war plans. But is he also trying to get more nations
to come on board and participate?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think there could be some movement to the
various degrees. The Secretary also talked about nations that are
contributing, but don't want to be publicly named. And so, back to
Jim's question, there could be room for some imprecision on the exact
number as different nations see fit. But I think that the parameters
of it are basically set.
And the President, as I indicated, spent his day on the phone calls
with some of the foreign leaders. In meetings, he has domestic
meetings today, as well. He's meeting with other members of his
Cabinet. And so he's pursuing a variety of items today.
QUESTION: Two questions. One on the 48-hour
deadline. Is it the President's policy that regardless of what
statements have come out of Iraq today, that Saddam has the full 48
hours to think it over, perhaps change his mind and exercise the option
the President offered?
MR. FLEISCHER: The statement spoke for itself. I'm not
going to say anything different from the statement. The statement
spoke for itself. Saddam knows what he needs to do.
QUESTION: Your answer to Suzanne's question suggested
that that's the case, that the President would give him the full 48
hours to perhaps change his mind and rethink the matter. Is that
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to change what the President
said. The President said he has 48 hours to depart to avoid military
QUESTION: It stands -- so it's 48 hours.
MR. FLEISCHER: It stands.
QUESTION: Regarding Senator Daschle's comments, what
in your view is precisely the inconsistency between Senator Daschle's
statement last year that we shouldn't politicize this, and his
statement yesterday that the President had failed diplomatically?
What's the inconsistency?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I would refer you -- and I made this
about several statements when I said inconsistency -- I would refer
you to statements made on February 12, 1998, in the Congressional
Record; statements made on February 5, 1998, as reported in The Chicago
Tribune -- that all deals with the inevitability of the use of force
against Saddam Hussein -- as well as statement on September 25, 2002,
in the Congressional Record about not politicizing the rhetoric and
rising to a higher level.
QUESTION: Well, I understand that what you're saying
is inconsistent between the first statement you read and what he said
yesterday. But are you saying that there's an inconsistency between
the second and what he said yesterday, politicizing the rhetoric?
MR. FLEISCHER: I said it's inconsistent.
QUESTION: In what way is what he said yesterday
politicizing the rhetoric?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because I don't find it consistent.
QUESTION: How so?
QUESTION: How -- the question is how?
MR. FLEISCHER: Larry.
QUESTION: Ari, the President today is obviously
reaching out to President Putin to try to put differences behind them.
Is he making any similar type effort with France and Germany?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as you know, Secretary Powell spoke
with Foreign Minister Fischer and Foreign Minister de Villepin
yesterday morning. And we'll keep you filled in on the President's
conversations and calls. At the end of the day, this is always
important and the President will note this, that we are allies, that we
share common values, and that we work together on many issues. I have
not been shy about saying to everybody here, even in the thick of a
disagreement with France, that France has been a good partner in the
war against terrorism. They have shared information. They have been
helpful in the war against terrorism. On this issue, they see it very
much the opposite and the President regrets that.
QUESTION: Forgive my skepticism. Did I just hear you
say the President continues to hope Saddam Hussein will accept his
MR. FLEISCHER: Of course, he hopes.
QUESTION: Are you saying the President is hoping and
believes he will?
MR. FLEISCHER: I didn't say the President believed he will,
but, of course, he continues to hope. The President continues to hope,
and he knows that the chances are slim, that Saddam Hussein will
leave. But, of course, I think everybody hopes that this can be done
peacefully. It may not. The President has said that the mission would
be to disarm Saddam Hussein. And that's what has brought the world to
this point because Saddam Hussein has not disarmed.
QUESTION: He is certainly proceeding on the
assumption that this is not going to happen?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's a safe assumption. That's correct.
QUESTION: Ari, two quick questions, I hope you have
seen the interview.
MR. FLEISCHER: I did, you gave me a copy of it.
QUESTION: My question is --
MR. FLEISCHER: Not that I'm not a subscriber, but you did
drop a copy on my desk.
QUESTION: My question is that since President has
given an option of choice to Saddam Hussein to leave the country by
tomorrow night, that means we are not interested to capturing him? And
how about the crimes he has committed against his own people, so we
will never know about them, and he will never be brought to justice.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has said that he hopes Saddam
Hussein will leave, and he's given him that period of time in which to
do so. The President also talked about war crimes and not following
orders. That was a very important message, and a message that was
shared with the people of Iraq. If it goes to war, we hope that will
have some effect.
QUESTION: Second question, presidential -- any
advice that for a small investor or for a small businessman, or for
somebody like me? I'm traveling to South Asia next month; what would
be the advice from the President?
MR. FLEISCHER: On your investments?
QUESTION: No, for the people here, the stock market,
or the businessman or a traveler?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have no advice to offer investors. That's
not my place. That's not my job.
QUESTION: Ari, can you give us any tick-tock on the
formulation of the President's speech yesterday? Especially any
deliberations about whether to include a firm deadline of 48 hours?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yesterday I got repeated phone calls from
press saying they heard there was no deadline in there, and it had
always been in there. Obviously, somebody who may not have wanted it
in there was talking to the press and saying, there isn't. So I can't
explain that. But in the drafts -- early drafts that I saw, it was
in there and it remained in there.
QUESTION: Does the President have, or is intending
to, or Dr. Rice, any plans to talk to Israel in a diplomatic way about
the issue of non-response if they're hit; not coming into the war, if
we go to war?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we have, and we will continue to
consult with Israel. Of course, Israel has the right to defend
itself. And we will continue to consult with Israel as they exercise
QUESTION: Ari, how long does the President think the
American people should expect this conflict to last? Is it days, not
weeks? Weeks, not months? How long should the American people be
prepared to support this conflict?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, certainly, the hope is that it would
be short; the hope is it won't be long. But I am not prepared to make
any predictions about that. I'm not in a position where I can give you
any type of certainty about it. I think people have to prepare for the
fact that it may not be short. It's just impossible to state, and I'm
not going to go beyond it and put any type of time frame on it.
QUESTION: I have a question, and then may I yield to
my senior correspondent? (Laughter.) My question is, Israel Prime
Minister Sharon has said that, unlike 12 years ago, if Israel should be
attacked by Iraqi scuds or by Iraq in some other form, that Israel will
retaliate. And there are some international experts who feel that's
quite precarious, that it could escalate any war in the Middle East,
bringing in other Arab nations. Has the President decided, or has he
tried to contact Sharon to dissuade him from retaliating --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's the question I just got asked, and
the answer is the same. We have consulted and we will continue to
consult with Israel.
QUESTION: But beyond consulting, I mean, has he
specifically asked Sharon not to retaliate if attacked?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I've indicated, we will continue to
consult with Israel. Israel has a right to defend itself, and we will
consult with them as they exercise their rights.
QUESTION: Ari, without mentioning any names of
anybody on the Hill, I'd like to know if you could define what
politicizing the debate, politicizing the rhetoric over this, what
constitutes that in the eyes of the White House? Is criticism
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think there's anything surprising in
what I said. There was a strong statement made by a member of Congress
who was within his rights to say whatever he would like to say. And I
pointed out what I view as inconsistencies.
QUESTION: Inconsistencies, Daschle aside, what
constitutes politicizing the debate that's going to unfold about what's
going to unfold in military activity?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the public will judge that. I think
that's the right of the public to make those judgments. My position,
it's my place to say everybody has a right to say whatever is on their
mind. People have a right to criticize, people have a right to praise,
people have a right to oppose, people have the right to support. I can
point out inconsistencies, and then others can explain, or others can
come to their own judgments. I've said what I intend to say on it.
QUESTION: Mr. Fleischer, your forces are using,
unlimited, the Greek air space, the Greek port, the Greek sea, the
Greek base on the island of Crete and a number of other facilities for
your war against Saddam Hussein. The permission was granted by the
Simitis government without prior approval of the Greek parliament. My
question is, are you in a position to protect the security and the
territorial integrity of Greece under these circumstances, since there
is a real threat now with your presence for terrorist attack, as it was
expressed yesterday by President to the world message/
MR. FLEISCHER: Greece, of course, is an ally of the United
States. And I don't deal with hypotheticals but, of course, Greece is
an ally, entitled to rights as an ally of the United States. And I'd
just leave it at that. I'm not aware of a threat.
QUESTION: I know you said you respect the free speech
of members of Congress, but during the duration of any hostilities of
any war, would you expect them to limit some of their criticism?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think these are judgments that
constituencies need to make. Every member of Congress represents a
constituency and they have to make their own judgments about what to
say and leave it to their constituents to judge.
QUESTION: But some Democrats have said that they
would tone down the rhetoric during the actual duration of the war, so
that the troops don't feel that they're not being supported. Would
that be encouraging to you?
MR. FLEISCHER: All I can say is, on this topic, there are
obviously deep splits within the Democratic Party. And there are a
number of Democrats who support the President; there are a number of
Democrats who don't and won't. They are both within their rights. The
Republican Party is rather unified on this measure; the Democrat Party
is not. And that's a reflection of the reality of the two parties.
QUESTION: Ari, on Saturday, the Associated Press,
Reuters and the Washington Times all reported that on Friday in
Baghdad's mother of all battle's mosque, Chief Imam Abdel-Razzaq, in
his sermon which was broadcast on Iraqi government television, said
this, "It is the duty of Muslims today, Iraqi and others, to threaten
American interests, wherever they are, to set them on fire, and sink
their ships. This is jihad in the name of God. Oh God, make Bush and
Blair drown." And my question is, what repudiation or disassociation
of this has the White House heard from any of the world's other imams
or mosques in this alleged religion of peace?
MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, Lester, I saw an interesting
interview on television just the other day where a leading imam who was
based in Kuwait did make statements repudiating such language. And so
I think your statement paints a very broad brush about Muslim leaders
around the world, who indeed represent a religion of peace. The
President knows that Muslims -- Islam is a religion of peace.
QUESTION: With the United Nations human rights now
headed by Libya, and the disarmament to be headed by Iraq, why does the
President believe we should continue spending millions of dollars to
belong to such an organization?
MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, you are half right. Your
statement about Libya is correct. According to the United Nations
protocols, they are on human rights. And Iraq, I'm not sure what the
reason was, but Iraq was not provided the honor of chairing that
group. The United Nations had second considerations about their normal
procedures. Had their normal procedures been followed, indeed, under
United Nations rules, Iraq would have been the chairman of the
Commission on Disarmament, if you can believe it.
QUESTION: Two questions. Could you be more specific
about what the President intends to do to repair the breach with other
nations that occurred during the U.N. debate?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that, number one, the
President is focused on achieving the objective of disarming Saddam
Hussein, which is indeed the stated objective of all nations on the
Security Council in the 15-0 resolution. The fact that some nations
decided not to enforce the resolution is an unfortunate matter. But
the President, working with a coalition, will enforce the resolution.
And as I indicated earlier, the President has had conversations
with other leaders. I think the other leaders look forward to having
conversations with the President. They recognize that they have taken
steps and taken stands that have caused friction in the alliance. But
as I indicated also, at the end of the day, we remain an alliance of
shared values. And I think that will endure.
QUESTION: My second question is, should the American
public be prepared for a long military campaign in Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, certainly, we hope not. But I think
the American public has to be prepared for all eventualities. We
cannot rule out what the duration would be, long or short.
QUESTION: Every other war has been accompanied by
fiscal austerity of some sort, often including tax increases. What's
different about this war and this situation?
MR. FLEISCHER: One, the most important thing, war or no
war, is for the economy to grow. And if the President's judgment is
that the best way to help the economy to grow is to stimulate the
economy by providing tax relief -- which is, interestingly, a notion
that many people have endorsed -- tax relief. There is some debate
about how much tax relief. But the debate to have tax relief is over.
Many people endorse tax relief. So the President is going to continue
to focus on creating jobs for the American people, stimulating the
economy. And that's why he feels so strongly that Congress needs to
pass his plan.
And the plan is, indeed, moving in the Congress. We expect budget
action on the floor of the House this week, and the Ways and Means
Committee will shortly mark it up. So it's actually moving and moving
nicely. We'll see what the exact action is in the Senate, as well.
But it is already moving.
QUESTION: I want to follow up on the question about
the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. In 1991, President Bush, if I'm not
mistaken, actually released oil from the Petroleum Reserve as a
preemptive way to make sure that supplies were stabilized. I just want
to make sure you're saying that won't happen this time.
MR. FLEISCHER: One, I don't remember the history of it, so
I don't know if what you said is accurate; I'm sure you're right, I
don't remember that. But, two, it's just as I said; this is a decision
that is made on the basis of supply, whether or not there is a severe
disruption of supply. The President's stated policy has always been
that in event of a severe disruption of supply, it's appropriate to
release oil from the SPRO.
What has happened on the last couple of months is, if you recall,
the President last year made the decision to actually fill up the SPRO
-- Strategic Petroleum Reserve -- to its capacity, which previously
had not been done. As a result, there have been a series of actions
taken in the market to increase the rate of filling up the SPRO. In
the last several months, the mandatory deposits to be put into the SPRO
were relaxed, creating more supply onto the market, which meant the
SPRO did not increase at as fast a rate as previously anticipated. It
continued to increase, but not by the same rate. So that's a step,
that's an action that's already been taken to increase supply into the
market. Beyond that, I'm not going to speculate. That will be a
matter of whether or not there is a severe disruption.
QUESTION: Would it be fair to say that an assessment
has been made about the current supply and the decision, in terms of
what the President will say whenever he addresses the nation, is tied
into that assessment?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know that I could say that, Alexis.
You may want to address that directly to the Department of Energy to
see what they would tell you on that.
QUESTION: Just for clarification, Mike Allen's
question, he asked if Saddam were to go into exile, would we prosecute
him, or try to prosecute him for war crimes -- you said the
international community would have to decide, but we'd like to. Is
MR. FLEISCHER: No --
QUESTION: Meaning what is the incentive for him to
MR. FLEISCHER: I said it's a decision for the international
community. I think that's exactly how I left it.
QUESTION: No, you said, we hope that's an option.
MR. FLEISCHER: I see. Thank you for the clarification. My
saying on, we hope it's an option, means we hope he leaves the country,
which is something you've heard me say many times before. Thank you
for the clarification.
QUESTION: Okay. One more thing. Your problem -- I
hate to beat dead horse, but with Daschle's comments, is that --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's no way to refer to him. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: You keep saying that he's being
inconsistent. And you're raising comments that he made in 1998. I
mean, we can go to statements the President made during the campaign
that he was going to pursue a humble foreign policy, that he was
opposed to nation building --
MR. FLEISCHER: And you have done all that.
QUESTION: Well, and charge him with inconsistency.
What's wrong with Daschle's --
MR. FLEISCHER: And you regularly do.
QUESTION: -- making a different statement --
MR. FLEISCHER: I accept the premise of your statement that
that is --
QUESTION: -- years later, especially when he's
criticizing the President's handling of the diplomacy with the U.N. and
MR. FLEISCHER: I have no disagreement with the premise of
your question that that's what you do when you find elected officials,
and I would, in the case of the President, explain it. But in the case
of what you're saying on how reporters hold elected officials to
account for their previous statements, I'm sure that you'll do that in
this case, as well.
QUESTION: Some of the petroleum -- the big oil
companies are concerned that if you don't release the -- if you don't
have any release from the Petroleum Reserve early, it will be too
late. If you wait for a supply disruption, then to move that out and
then have it refined, it doesn't get into the system fast enough to
ease the problem. So is that part of the calculation? It is one
reason why they did release it as a preemptive action 10 years or 12
years ago --
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I can't speak for the actions that
were taken 10 or 12 years ago. What I can speak to is the fact that
there has been a conscience decision made over the last couple months
to increase supply on the market as a result of those decisions made to
not fill it up at the same fast rate. Beyond that, the stated policy
is, and I can't tell you anything different from that, that it would be
released in the event of a severe disruption. But there are other
people who have some thoughts about that. Whether that's the
appropriate course or not certainly is an issue, but that's something
you need to talk to the Department of Energy about.
QUESTION: Ari, I think you mentioned earlier that the
United States would be dealing with terrorism for a considerable period
of time. My question is, is the terror alert level likely to remain at
this raised status now for the duration of any war? Can you see a
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that's a question you need to
address to the Department of Homeland Security. It will -- they make
their assessment based on threats. And in the information that
Secretary Ridge shared today, he talked about the threats basically
coming twofold: One is the situation with Iraq, and two is al Qaeda
and their ongoing threat, particularly in the context of hostilities
with Iraq. Beyond that, I think any fluctuations, changes up or down,
the Department of Homeland Security will be your proper place.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.