Excerpts from the Press Gaggle by Ari Fleischer, March 26, 2003 (Full Transcript)
QUESTION: Ari, when you say progress is ahead of schedule
-- what are you basing that on? Or when the President says that.
MR. FLEISCHER: Based on the progress that is being made on
the military battlefield, the advance toward Baghdad, and the success
that we are having engaging enemy units.
QUESTION: Is the President concerned that the stiff
resistance that Iraq -- certain Iraqi units are putting up will
undermine some of the support among some of the countries in the region
that are helping us now?
MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely not. What we're seeing is a
coalition carrying the mission to the enemy, and the President, in his
remarks today, will express America's appreciation for our allies who
are helping out in this effort.
QUESTION: Hasn't the Arab League kind of stiffened
some of its rhetoric in denouncing the military -- U.S. attack on
MR. FLEISCHER: The President remains confident in the solid
support of our allies and friends, even those who aren't publicly
saying what they are doing or thinking.
QUESTION: Ari, will the administration have to boost
the troop strength?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's a question you need to address to
DOD. They handle planning like that.
QUESTION: Isn't it now apparent that there are not
going to be widespread surrenders like some, including the Vice
President, suggested might be expected?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. I don't know what basis anybody might
have for that. We're still in the very earliest stages of the
fighting, and I think a lot more events to be seen and witnessed on the
ground by embedded journalists and others as events unfold.
QUESTION: Didn't we expect those widespread
surrenders even in the initial phases of the war?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I think you have seen already
widespread surrenders. You've seen just under, as of yesterday, 4,000
enemy POWs taken. You've seen the disbanding of a large number of the
regular Iraqi army military units. And so I think you already are
seeing evidence of that, and in days ahead, I think you will likely see
QUESTION: In the President's warnings, though, of the
sacrifices that lie ahead, is this not an acknowledgement that those
sacrifices may well be greater than certainly the administration
planned for and Americans planned for?
MR. FLEISCHER: With all due respect, how many did America
plan for? I mean, you're comparing it to something that was not
previously stated, so I don't know how to answer a question about that,
when you say "more than planned for." There was no -- the President
always said sacrifices would need to be made. It's an unknowable
figure what that is.
QUESTION: Are you adjusting the war message -- the
Post has an article saying you're adjusting your message to prepare for
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know anything about that. As many
reporters knew from over the weekend, we laid out all these public
series of events kind of -- into this week about where the President
was going, what he was going to do. So there's no basis to that.
QUESTION: -- all that mending relations with France
and Germany and some of the other countries --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's always important to continue to
have good relations, and relations with Spain -- I'm sorry, relations
with Germany and France are indeed strained over events in Iraq. And I
think that Germany and France have an interest in mending relations
with the United States; the United States has an interest in working
with those countries. So those are always endeavors that will be
QUESTION: Given the U.N.'s failure to be able to kind
of act on Iraq in the second resolution phase, is the President
doubtful about their efficacy in a post-Saddam Iraq as well at this
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I said yesterday, you have to
approach the United Nations' role in two broad areas. One is on a
security area, maintaining the peace by disarming Saddam Hussein's
regime and enforcing U.N. resolutions. And on that, the United Nations
Security Council failed to act. On the other side of the United
Nations' endeavors is the humanitarian relief efforts, reconstruction
efforts. And the President's focus is, as indicated at the Azores,
that the United Nations should play a role.
The President is focused on what is the most effective way to
provide humanitarian relief, the most effective way to have
reconstruction of Iraq.
And certainly as you witness the military tactics and the precision
manner in which the war is being conducted, that has implications for
the extent of reconstruction necessary. There are other issues, of
course, involving political leadership, et cetera, separate and apart
from the precise military campaign. But the United Nations should have
a role, in the President's judgment. The exact role is something we'll
QUESTION: The reports in the paper today suggested
that Blair interpreted the discussion at the Azores to be a commitment
from the President for a large role for the U.N. in not just delivering
of humanitarian aid through oil-for-food, or something like that, but
in governing of Iraq. Is that a fair --
MR. FLEISCHER: I keep saying the President believes the
United Nations should have a role, and we're discussing what the role
should be. And the statement at the Azores speaks for itself. The
President stands by it; that's why he said it.
QUESTION: -- what do you know about the reports of
massacres of American citizens in Nasiriya, the Army mechanics that
were coming through that were supposedly --
MR. FLEISCHER: You need to talk to DOD on something like
QUESTION: Ari, did the President personally review
this reported shift in strategy to actually go into some of these
MR. FLEISCHER: Talk to DOD about whether that report is
accurate or inaccurate. I think that probably came up in General
Franks' briefing this morning. And just as a matter of policy, I can't
get into what the President is briefed on or not briefed on in these
QUESTION: Does the President have a view on the
reported rebellion in Basra? Does he think that's a good thing, or
does he think it's possibly problematic?
MR. FLEISCHER: You need to talk to DOD about the facts on
events on the ground.
QUESTION: Would he, in general, like to see the
people in Iraq rebel against the government, or does that present a
problem for our forces?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is focused on our mission, and
the mission is to disarm the Iraqi regime and liberate the Iraqi
QUESTION: Ari, you were talking about making progress
or being possibly ahead, but we were never given benchmarks about where
we expected to be. I mean, where did you expect to be on day seven of
MR. FLEISCHER: All I can advise you is listen to the
President's speech and when the President is saying what he's saying
it's because he has reason to say it. And you hear that same message
from the military planners.
QUESTION: Did Blair ask for this meeting?
MR. FLEISCHER: Steve, so often on these meetings, it's --
and I answer this often in this way -- it's mutual. There's talk at
various levels; typically it starts at the staff level, and then it's
raised to the principals in their different capitals, and suggestion is
made, get together. And this is -- specifically, I couldn't tell you.
Typically these things have some type of mutuality to it.
QUESTION: And at what point do you see the U.N.
getting involved in the reconstruction effort?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, exactly as was said in the Azores
statement, that there's a role anticipated for the United Nations both
on the humanitarian relief side and the reconstruction side.
Certainly, in the United Nations, as the keeper of the oil-for-food
program; that's an important program. And so they indeed have a role.
And again, the President's focus is on what is effective, what will
do the most good to help the most people on the ground in Iraq, and who
can best get it done. How can we feed people the fastest and the most
effectively? How can we rebuild the country the fastest and the most
effectively? That's the President's focus. He wants the United
Nations to have a role in that.
QUESTION: Does the President have any reaction,
though, that France and Germany are still the same kind of -- the same
people who are now trying to hold up this oil-for-food program
happening? I mean, they were the ones who sort of killed -- at least
France the administration has fingered as killing the second
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, this is -- this still is part and
parcel of the United Nations process. And the United Nations process
is a process that involves talks. And member states on the United
Nations Security Council and in the United Nations have a right to
talk. So -- Dr. Rice went up to New York yesterday to talk to Kofi
Annan, and we'll continue to work through the process as it exists.
QUESTION: Are the reports that she didn't make any
progress are true?
MR. FLEISCHER: I wouldn't say that. I think that this is
part of the talks at the United Nations. I think if we've learned
anything from the United Nations recently, it's they don't move very
QUESTION: Will there be any -- at the briefing today
at MacDill, will there be a teleconference with Franks, like there was
yesterday at the Pentagon?
MR. FLEISCHER: Don't remember off the top of my head. Let
me -- I'll take a look and see if there is or isn't. I don't know.
QUESTION: Do you know yet who is coming to dinner
MR. FLEISCHER: It's very small. It's, I think, three and
three, if I recall. So it's the President, Dr. Rice, one other
American, and three British. Very small dinner tonight.
QUESTION: And Mrs. Bush?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't remember. I'll see if we can't
QUESTION: Just to be clear, the briefings today, are
they -- they're different than his regular kind of daily updates that
he gets, or his briefings that he has with General Franks? Is this
like a special thing set up because he's going to CENTCOM?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, this is -- this involves -- well, of
course, you have Operation Enduring Freedom is one of the briefings
here, as I mentioned. That's about Afghanistan. And particularly at
the National Security Council meeting, those are the meetings with the
principals. This involves more of the generals based at CENTCOM who
are in charge of various operations.