Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, April 1, 2003 (Full Transcript)
QUESTION: 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 leadership?
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.
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: Does he have any qualifications? I
understand he may be an arms dealer?
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.
QUESTION: 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
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: As an administrative overseer of the
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.
QUESTION: 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 week?
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.
QUESTION: Do we know anything more than we did two
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 --
QUESTION: What do we have that is soft and
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
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.
QUESTION: Can you answer his last question?
QUESTION: What do we believe?
MR. FLEISCHER: We believe that we don't know.
QUESTION: 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.
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, the United Nations will have
QUESTION: But they want to have the controlling
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
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: I did, but that isn't the question I asked
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think the President is bothering on
that level. I think when you see --
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: So the President is --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not aware that he's bothering --
QUESTION: -- he believes that the war is progressing
MR. FLEISCHER: There's no question you know where the
President stands on how well the war is progressing, correct.
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: 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 implications?
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
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: 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 know.
QUESTION: 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 view.
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: Did the President ask General Myers to make
the kind of definitive remarks that he made today?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have no idea.
QUESTION: 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
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 of that.
QUESTION: Nothing at all?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not.
QUESTION: 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 right now.
QUESTION: 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.
QUESTION: 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
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.