2:30 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I have no opening statement. I do
need to be in the Oval at 3:00 p.m., so I'd like to move as quickly as
we can today. Let's start.
Q Ari, a week ago, President Bush was saying that Saddam was
losing his grip on power. In a way, this seemed to indicate he
believed Saddam was alive. Now the message from the administration is
one of doubt that Saddam is alive. Has something happened in the last
week, or are you just -- are you trying to sow doubt among the Iraqi
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that, as the President has always said, and
members of the administration have said when asked, is Saddam alive, we
say we don't know, because we do not know. The fact that he failed to
show up for his scheduled appearance today raises additional
questions. But I think it's also fair to say, given the fact that we
don't know if he's alive or not, when the President refers or other
people in the administration refer to Saddam Hussein this or Saddam
Hussein that, it's almost now a generalized term for the Iraqi regime,
because we don't know if he's alive or dead.
Q How was General Garner picked to be the -- to head the
post-war Iraqi occupation?
MR. FLEISCHER: My understanding is he was picked by Secretary
Rumsfeld as part of the team that the Secretary has assembled that is
working in coordination with other offices in the United States
government, including AID and State, on the reconstruction of Iraq.
Q Does he have any qualifications? I understand he may be an
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know anything about that, Helen. Given the
fact that the appointment is Secretary Rumsfeld's, you might want to
talk to the Secretary. That's a DOD question.
Q What is the President doing right now to try to resolve
disputes within the administration, specifically Pentagon and State,
over administering aid for the Iraqi people? It appears that some of
it is being held up now at the port in Umm Qasar.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one, there is an existing plan and structure
for the administration of aid for Iraq. And this is something that was
planned going in. This is part -- a follow-up to Helen's question.
General Garner is, of course, working on that from the Defense
Department, and as well as officials from State, from AID. They all
will have a role.
The role really begins with the security of Iraq, and that's why it
begins at DOD, because this is going to become an outgrowth of the
military operation, to liberate Iraq, to disarm Iraq; and from a
security point of view, to allow for the greatest administration, as
quickly as possible by the Iraqi people. That will include a role for
others, including the United Nations, as I mentioned. So it's all part
and parcel of the original plan. And it's just a part of the
discussions that are routine around here, that involve the various
Q What does the President view as the United Nations role?
Will it be restricted to humanitarian aid, or does he see a role for
them in terms of administrating?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the statement that the President made in the
Azores talked about a U.N. role in two part, one part being
humanitarian and the other part being in the reconstruction.
Q As an administrative overseer of the interim authority?
MR. FLEISCHER: In some role. I think the exact role remains to be
seen. Obviously, the United States being on the ground, providing the
security is going to have a substantial role to play, and we want to
make certain and welcome the role that others can play as well. The
exact nature of those roles is yet to be determined.
Q I heard your answer to Randy, that we don't know whether
Saddam is alive or dead. No one is implying that you have definitive
proof. But do you have any more intelligence that leans you one way or
the other? Has there been more intelligence now than there was last
MR. FLEISCHER: There is still nothing hard or concrete to report.
I think when I got asked about this on the day after the military
strike, I said we don't know how Saddam is feeling today. We don't
know how he's been feeling for a couple weeks.
Q Do we know anything more than we did two weeks ago?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think, again, we don't have anything hard,
concrete to report. I think if we did we would want to share that. Or
if Iraq had something --
Q What do we have that is soft and interesting? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: Switch it around, though. If you're in Iraq, if
you're part of the Iraqi regime, if you're part of the leadership
structure, especially, if you had something hard or concrete to report,
such as that Saddam was alive, the question is why aren't they showing
it? And particularly today, after they advertised, Al Jazeera did
report it, that Saddam Hussein would, himself, address the Iraqi people
and he failed to show up, it does raise interesting questions.
But the bottom line is we don't know. We don't know, and therefore
we're going to be guarded in what we say, because we don't know. He
could show up, but he hasn't yet.
Q Can you answer his last question?
Q What do we believe?
MR. FLEISCHER: We believe that we don't know.
Q Following-up on Campbell's question, have you said anything
lately about the French preference to have U.N. administration over all
of postwar Iraq, versus any kind of U.S. control?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, the United Nations will have a
Q But they want to have the controlling role.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not certain that that's an accurate statement
for what the U.N. wants. I think it remains to be seen exactly. The
U.N. is a -- members of the Security Council. But there are some
serious facts on the ground involving the United States and the United
Kingdom and others who are there working with the Iraqi people. But
the fundamental issue is not whether it's the United Nations or the
United States that will administer Iraq, the Iraqi people will
administer Iraq. Iraq can be and should be and will be, in the
President's judgment, administered by the Iraqi people from both inside
and outside Iraq.
Q Has the President taken any role in calling anybody, talking
to anybody about the dispute that is simmering between some active-duty
and off-duty military over the plan of the war?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I don't know if you saw what General Myers
said, but I think General Myers has addressed that issue.
Q I did, but that isn't the question I asked you.
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think the President is bothering on that
level. I think when you see --
Q Really? It doesn't trouble him at all?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think when you see how General Myers expressed it
and Secretary Rumsfeld expressed it as so many layers down, I don't
think anybody could put it more authoritatively, more clearly, or more
concisely than General Myers did.
Q So the President is --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not aware that he's bothering --
Q -- he believes that the war is progressing on plan?
MR. FLEISCHER: There's no question you know where the President
stands on how well the war is progressing, correct.
Q I've got a couple of questions on the periphery of things.
There's a poll out in Le Monde, one of the leading French newspapers,
that a quarter of the French people hope Iraq wins this war. That's
combined with, obviously, overwhelming opposition to the war; the
government's efforts to obstruct U.S. diplomatic and, in some ways,
military efforts. Can the President still consider a country like that
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I haven't seen it and so I'm not going to
comment on anything involving the percentage of French who would think
that. I don't know that to be the case or not to be the case.
Obviously, the foreign minister of France spoke, and then very quickly
updated what he said in regard to his sentiments about it. We have
relations with the government. The government of France has spoken.
Q Another peripheral issue. Franklin Graham, the preacher who
spoke at the President's inauguration, has said and who has also been
quoted as calling Islam a very wicked and violent religion, has said
that he is in contact with United States officials in Jordan for his
charity, Samaritan's Purse, to work inside Iraq as coalition forces
stabilize the south. Is the United States government encouraging
Samaritan's Purse and other explicitly evangelical charities to go to
work in Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, any questions about that would have to be
addressed to State Department or Jordanians or any other authorities.
It's not a White House matter, so I really don't have anything on it.
Q Ari, this morning you said that Saddam Hussein bears some of
the responsibility or the responsibility for civilian deaths in Iraq,
including the deaths of seven women and children at the checkpoint
yesterday. At a minimum --
MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, I didn't apply it directly to the
checkpoint; I made that as a general statement.
Q Is there concern here that, at minimum, incidents like this
hold the risk of inflaming opinion, anti-U.S. opinion in the Arab world
and around the world in general? And does -- do incidents like this
in turn put the U.S. military in an untenable position of having to
choose between self-protection and worrying about all these political
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President's point of view is it's not
untenable that this is part of the difficulty that our military faces,
and the President believes that the military is facing it well. The
fact that Saddam Hussein would use suicide bombers if the regime would
engage in the most despicable tactics that they have does suggest the
very nature of this regime.
And you saw it, it was reported by many of the embeds in Iraq about
putting innocent women on a bridge in between the United States and
Iraqi forces. Now, who would do something like that? What kind of
depravity is that, to take an innocent Iraqi woman and put her in
between a fire-fight? That's the nature of the regime that we deal
with here. So, no, from a military point of view, it's something that
the President knows and the military will be able to deal with and move
I can just tell you, just before I came out here, there was a
report on one of the cables that showed an Iraqi citizen saying on
camera, "Saddam no, America" -- and he gave a thumbs-up, like that.
So we're starting to see some of the more visible signals now from the
public of Iraq as the operation of Iraqi Liberation goes forward and
people feel more free to speak out and I think you'll see more of
Q On a related issue, you've always said that the occupation of
Iraq would not last a day longer than necessary. Given the nature of
the resistance that we've seen on the ground there, including suicide
bombings, forces mingling themselves with civilian populations, is
there some concern here that -- and is it fair to assume that the
occupation is going to be longer, more dangerous, more expensive than
it might otherwise have been?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think it's impossible to make any judgments
about that at this early period of time. I've seen other reports now
about the improving situation in and around Basra. So I think it's
impossible to make any predictions about longer term. The statement
still applies; we'll stay as long as necessary and not a day longer, as
the President has put it.
Q Before the President approved the war plan, did anyone
indicate to the President that the plan might include too few troops to
do the job as safely as possible?
MR. FLEISCHER: Mike, you heard General Myers on that today, and I
don't think he could have addressed it any more authoritatively. From
all the conversations the President has had with the planners, this was
the plan that was agreed upon, it was discussed robustly, everybody
understood what it called for, and was checked off on.
Q And what is your assessment of the progress so far of the
hearts and mind element of the campaign?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I indicated, you're already starting to
see increasingly visible signs of Iraqis speaking out for freedom and
helping the United States and the United Kingdom and Australia. Some
of the information that you've been getting from Iraqis has led to
direct actions on the ground, as the military briefers have shared from
CENTCOM. And so the only reason that Iraqis would be providing that is
if they, themselves, are taking sides. And obviously they're taking
sides with the United States and against the oppressive Iraqi regime.
Q Ari, the Democrats saying that they're hearing from governors
of both parties that there just isn't enough money to pay for the
homeland security laws and the things that they have to do locally.
They proposed doubling the amount of money that the President proposed
in the supplemental. Is that something -- have you talked to them?
Is that something at all that the President would go for, or would it
be something that he would potentially veto if --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as you know, the House Appropriations
Committee is today scheduled to pass the President's proposal for a
supplemental that includes $4.2 billion of increased funding for
homeland security. Here are the facts on previous spending. For 2003,
government-wide homeland security funding was doubled the level
provided prior to September 11th attacks. Prior to September 11th, the
funding was at about $20.6 billion for 2003. The funding almost
doubled to $37.9 billion. So it has almost doubled already,
The President has proposed another increase in the supplemental.
And the President made the proposals he's made, in addition to the
increase proposed in the '04 upcoming budget, above and beyond the
supplemental, because those are the amounts that we have judged to be
the proper and the full amounts necessary to protect the homeland. So
we'll take a look, see what the Congress does with it. But I think
you'll see that a majority will speak out shortly. And the President
looks forward to actually taking his proposal.
Q If he gets a bill that comes from Congress that has more
money, what would he do?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, let's wait and see. We're going to have a
vote today and you'll see whether or not members of Congress on a
majority basis agree with the President's proposal. They'll shortly
have their chance to vote. And we'll see what they say. The President
has proposed rather large increases for homeland security, deservedly
Q Ari, just to follow-up quickly on Saddam's fate. If he were
dead, that clearly would be welcomed by this White House. But wouldn't
that also be not so great in the sense that that implies even though
the top of that government is gone, that the rest of it is still very
much determined to fight?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I guess the question is, do people know it?
I think that once -- if that is the fact, and word gets out around
Iraq, that can have implications. I think, obviously, those who have
made their living at Saddam's side don't want information about his
health to be revealed. They have a stake in keeping him as alive as
can be. And, again, we don't know if he is or is not.
Q And yesterday when the President -- in his remarks in
Philadelphia, was he saying that because of the war that we started in
Iraq, the chances are greater that we may be attacked in this country
MR. FLEISCHER: Okay. I just want to correct one thing. You said,
"the war that we started in Iraq." That's not the President's
approach. Iraq failed to disarm, per the resolutions passed by the
United Nations. And we are acting to make certain that the regime is
disarmed and that Saddam and the regime is changed by the use of
What the President reiterated in Philadelphia yesterday was a
reminder that he has issued previously about the risk that we face as a
country given the world of terrorism. This is something that we saw
on September 11th. It remains with us. We have been making tremendous
efforts to make certain that no more terrorist attacks take place. But
it's a reminder, a timely reminder from the President. Certainly, the
fact that we are engaged in conflict with Iraq and that Iraq would like
to strike us in any way they can adds to the situation, but it's a
combination of factors.
Q I don't want to get in a debate with you, but I think there
would be some people who would say that we actually did start the war.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm aware there are some people who would say
Q On Saddam Hussein again, would you just review the evidence
for a moment, that on the one hand he is alive and well, and on the
other, that he is either seriously wounded or dead? What are the
pieces of evidence for you to look at?
MR. FLEISCHER: It just comes down to, we don't know. We don't
know if he is alive or if he is dead. The ways that you would know is
if you would see him in a live broadcast. If he was alive, if he
showed something contemporaneous, if he would speak about an event that
just took place that day, or the night before, then you might have
information that he is alive and said something contemporaneous. We
have not seen that, but we don't know. Proof that he would be dead
would be if you saw a body. We don't -- we haven't -- we don't
Q Ari, it's no secret that the President really doesn't like to
see shows of disunity amongst his leadership, at least public shows of
that. You had a war plan, everybody signed off on it. We now have had
days in which people inside the military and outside the military have
raised questions about troop levels, et cetera. Does the President
find that counterproductive, and has he asked anybody to cut it out?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I think that General Myers expressed it, and
I think very articulately today, and I really don't have anything to
add beyond that. I can't explain anything that any unnamed colonel
says to a newspaper. There are many, many, many, many colonels out
there. One unnamed one happened to say something. Is that indicative
of a wider school of thought? I think General Myers expressed that
Q But did the -- but does the President find it irritating?
I mean, everybody signed off on this, you're in the middle of a war,
and whether they're named or not named, the chatter is out there.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President does his work with the military
leaders and the military planners, the people who are hard at work on
winning the war. And that's where his focus is, and that's who he
talks to, and that's why he's as satisfied as he is.
Q Did the President ask General Myers to make the kind of
definitive remarks that he made today?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have no idea.
Q Ari, is the White House getting any complaints or concerns
being expressed about -- from the Republicans on the Hill, that the
way the war is going so far might be impacting them politically?
MR. FLEISCHER: Nothing that I've heard of, and I've been in many
of the meetings with members of the Congress. And I have not heard any
Q Nothing at all?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not.
Q Ari, the Camp LeJeune trip has now been formally announced.
I was wondering if you could maybe help explain how this trip is a
little different than, for instance, going down to CENTCOM, or going up
to a Coast Guard installation at the Port of Philadelphia?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the point the President is making is he is
visiting many of the places that are involved in Operation Iraqi
Liberation. And this is why the President thinks it's so important to
go and express the country's support for, not only the servicemen and
women who are fighting for us, but also their families, who are making
tremendous sacrifices with their loved ones being away. And the
President thinks it's very important for him, as both President and
Commander-in-Chief, to spend time with the military and with their
families and to speak to the nation. They are the ones fighting this
Q Will there be a specific time set aside for families, in
addition to the address?
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll give you scheduled updates, yes.
Q Do you anticipate that that's something that may be in the
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, we'll have more for you closer to the trip.
Q Ari, one of the problems that the administration has had in
selling this war, particularly overseas, is doubts about our motives
regarding Iraqi oil. And the President has said repeatedly that it is
a resource that belongs to the Iraqi people, that they'll derive the
benefits from it once this is over. But Prime Minister Blair has put
together a proposal to have the U.N. administer, essentially, an Iraqi
oil trust. Is that something that you can talk to us about?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the U.N. does administer an Iraqi oil trust
Q No, I mean in the post-war set-up, a very controlled
circumstance to make sure that the Iraqi people --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the U.N. just passed something like that.
The U.N. passed something that the oil money that Iraq does receive
currently and will still receive today and tomorrow is controlled by
the United Nations under the Oil For Food program. That remains an
United Nations program. The President was gratified that the United
Nations passed it once again. But certainly, down the road, the
President sees a day when sanctions will be lifted and the Iraqi people
will be free to have all their resources at their own disposal.
Q Ari, can I ask you about something that Secretary Rumsfeld
alluded to, rumors of negotiations between someone in the coalition and
the Iraqi regime? Where are these rumors coming from?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I don't know the exact rumor that he was
citing, but this is a town of many of rumor. Perhaps, one of the DOD
reporters is asking that follow-up to Secretary Rumsfeld in his
briefing now. But I don't know which rumor exactly he cited, but I
think the answer is what's most instructive.
Q Two questions. One, what does the President expect Powell to
get out of the Turkey trip?
MR. FLEISCHER: The visit to Turkey is meant to discuss with a NATO
ally United States-Turkish relations. We are pleased with the fact
that Turkey has honored what it told us it would do. It said it would
not cross the border; it has not. Despite many a rumor that said they
had or they would, they have not. And the Secretary of State is going
to talk to Turkey about the importance of that continuing to be the
practice, which, indeed, Turkey has done. And we enjoy important
bilateral relations with Turkey. They remain a NATO ally.
Q Also you pointed out that Saddam was a no-show today, talked
about you don't know how he's feeling. Torrie Clarke said that we've
seen neither hide nor hair of him. Is the administration essentially
daring the regime to prove Saddam is alive?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, Bill, I just think it's appropriate today,
given the fact that -- certainly my phones lit up and there was a lot
of interest around the White House and here in terms of what I received
from the press corps, about what everybody saw on the bottom of their
screen, "Saddam to appear live at noon." Well, he didn't.
Q Are you taking some measure of satisfaction that it has not
been able to produce him?
MR. FLEISCHER: It is what it is. Either he's alive or he's dead.
Either which way, his regime will be disarmed and his regime won't
Q There have been reports in the Canadian press that the
President might be reconsidering his May 5 visit. Does he still plan
MR. FLEISCHER: It remains a scheduled item, and if there are any
updates, we'll keep you updated. But it's on the schedule and I
haven't heard otherwise.
Q Ari, on the issue of the Supreme Court today, many are
protesting primarily some of what the President is talking about in his
amicus brief filing. What are your thoughts as to some of the
protesters who say many in the military, 50 to 57 percent of the
military that are fighting in Iraq are minorities and, when they come
back, indeed, affirmative action could be changed, they wouldn't be
able to go to the University of Michigan, and the fact that they're
laying down their lives possibly for this country?
MR. FLEISCHER: There's not a connection. We are a nation of laws,
and that's why we have a Supreme Court. And the Supreme Court makes
its judgments on the basis of law and the two sides that have presented
to it, and that is the process that the Supreme Court is in the middle
of now. They don't make their judgments about any segment of the
population involving one important endeavor or another important
endeavor; they make their decisions based on the laws presented in a
Q If I can follow up on that. It's no -- it's no surprise if
the administration got 9 percent of the African American vote in the
last election, and you're looking for a larger percentage of the black
vote come the next election. But could you tell me this: do you think
that it's a slap in the face to African Americans that this amicus
brief came out the way it did, and especially on Dr. King's birthday?
Many are still upset about that.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think that the timing of it, of course, was
dictated by the timing that the Court gave for amicus briefs to be
filed and for the Justice Department to weigh-in. And they did. The
President made the speech, very public speech on January 15th and
expressed his thoughts about this matter, and now it's in the hands of
Q Ari, besides the fact that Saddam didn't show up for the
speech today, what did you make of the rhetoric? What did you make of
the message that the Information Ministry delivered?
MR. FLEISCHER: Nothing new, nothing original. More rhetoric of a
regime that is losing its grip on power.
Q The call for a jihad, the call to fight them to the death,
that sort of thing?
MR. FLEISCHER: More rhetoric by a regime that's losing its grip on
Q On the Arab-Israeli conflict, there was a major co-Israeli
conference that just ended. And the majority opinion there was that
this road map is a non-starter, that it's just a sop to appease certain
parties. Is there any realistic hope for passage of a road map --
MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely. And it's something that was stressed
to the delegates at that conference, it's something that was very
important to the President. The President has said that the road map
is a very important document that will be presented to the Israelis and
the Palestinians in a formal sense shortly, upon the confirmation of
Abu Mazen. And it remains a very important way forward for the two
sides to start to see a way forward in terms of real, practical,
on-the-ground actions on the political side and on the security side.
Q I think it's fair to say that the last few trips that the
President has made have been with a military security bubble. Are
there any plans for him to venture out more directly, into a public
space where people who have strong feelings one way or the other would
be able to attend and see him --
MR. FLEISCHER: I assure you -- and those who travel the
motorcade route, you're familiar with this -- it doesn't matter where
he's going; people are free to come out on the roads and give him the
thumbs-up or the thumbs-down, and they do. Presidents are always
greeted by protesters -- and that doesn't matter whether he's going to
a military facility. Or Philadelphia, yesterday, of course, he drove
through Philadelphia's main streets to get to the place he was going.
There was a smattering of protesters there, some for him, some against
Q Ari, in any of the various TV appearances of Saddam Hussein
on Iraqi TV, has the White House seen any evidence whatsoever that he
has mentioned anything that has occurred since the war began?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, there is nothing that I could point to. There
are some generalized statements, of course, that were made that were
rather vague enough to be anticipated statements. But nothing more
concrete that anybody could report.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 3:00 P.M. EST