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Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, January 6, 2003 (Full transcript)

QUESTION: My follow-up is, why does he want to drop bombs on innocent Iraqis?

MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, the question is how to protect Americans, and our allies and friends --

QUESTION: They're not attacking you.

MR. FLEISCHER: -- from a country --

QUESTION: Have they laid the glove on you or on the United States, the Iraqis, in 11 years?

MR. FLEISCHER: I guess you have forgotten about the Americans who were killed in the first Gulf War as a result of Saddam Hussein's aggression then.

QUESTION: Is this revenge, 11 years of revenge?

MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, I think you know very well that the President's position is that he wants to avert war, and that the President has asked the United Nations to go into Iraq to help with the purpose of averting war.

QUESTION: Would the President attack innocent Iraqi lives?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President wants to make certain that he can defend our country, defend our interests, defend the region, and make certain that American lives are not lost.

QUESTION: And he thinks they are a threat to us?

MR. FLEISCHER: There is no question that the President thinks that Iraq is a threat to the United States.

QUESTION: The Iraqi people?

MR. FLEISCHER: The Iraqi people are represented by their government. If there was regime change, the Iraqi --

QUESTION: So they will be vulnerable?

MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, the President has made it very clear that he has not dispute with the people of Iraq. That's why the American policy remains a policy of regime change. There is no question the people of Iraq --

QUESTION: That's a decision for them to make, isn't it? It's their country.

MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, if you think that the people of Iraq are in a position to dictate who their dictator is, I don't think that has been what history has shown.

QUESTION: I think many countries don't have -- people don't have the decision -- including us.

QUESTION: Are you factoring in when you're doing these numbers, the cost of a possible war with Iraq?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm talking about the tax cut itself. That's what you're question was addressed to.

QUESTION: Right. And ultimately, you hope to not be in a deficit situation down the road, presumably, right?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, clearly, anything dealing with Iraq is such a hypothetical, I'm not in a position to address what a potential cost could or could not be. But regardless of any decisions that are made on Iraq, the economy needs a boost. And that's why the President is going to go to Chicago tomorrow, separate and apart from anything dealing with Iraq, to announce a plan to give the economy a boost.

QUESTION: You also call for cuts in spending, though, in addition to this.

MR. FLEISCHER:The President is going to continue to ask Congress to hold the line on spending. The President has announced a series of priorities which involve increases in spending for education, increases in spending for homeland security, to fight bioterrorism, to provide more money for first responders. All of those are the priorities that the President has announced that he'll continue to work with the Congress on. And the Congress, as you know, is taking up the appropriation bill that was undone from the last Congress, in the next two weeks. They've already agreed on an aggregate cap of $750 bill for all domestic discretionary spending for the 11 remaining appropriation bills. So the President is encouraged by the fact that they have already agreed to a cap that the administration supports for the upcoming appropriation cycle for 2003.

QUESTION: British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said earlier today that the way he sees it, war with Iraq is less likely now than it was. Does the White House agree with that assessment?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President, as he said over the holidays, remains very hopeful that peace can be pursued as a result of some of the decisions Saddam Hussein has yet to make. And this is about disarmament. And that's why the inspectors are there. They're going about their jobs and they're doing their work, and the President continues to hope that war can be averted.

QUESTION: So the buildup that we're witnessing now, particularly the departure of the hospital ship Comfort today, is that posturing or is that serious?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President has been very serious. And hopefully, Saddam Hussein will get the message that the world community, through the United Nations, has called on Saddam Hussein to disarm, and as the President said, he will either disarm or the United States will lead a coalition to disarm him. That's a serious message. It's not a bluff. And perhaps as a result of it being such a serious message, Saddam Hussein will indeed get that message and disarm peacefully.

QUESTION: Okay, one -- just one quickly on Iraq. You said this morning, the work of the inspectors needs to continue.


QUESTION: For how long?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has not put a period of time on there. The President wants to continue to work with the international community to make certain that the inspectors can do their job. And that requires the compliance of Iraq with the United Nations Security Council resolutions. Saddam Hussein's statements where he accused the weapons inspectors of being -- of carrying out pure intelligence work is an attempt to divert attention from the fact that Iraq still has not shown signs that it will disarm itself of weapons of mass destruction.

QUESTION: Ari, my recollection is, late last week the inspection team in Iraq indicated it hadn't come across anything to indicate a weapons program in Iraq yet. At what point does the United States provide the inspectors with the information they have so they can look in the places where these weapons are supposed to be?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the United States is providing them information and we continue to provide them information. We strongly support their efforts, it's in America's interests that they have the intelligence, the equipment and the personnel to do the job that the international community and the United Nations Security Council have asked them to do. As the inspectors' capability to secure and use intelligence information has improved -- as, i.e., the size of their inspection team has grown, their experience has deepened, their capabilities such as additional helicopters has improved -- we'll be able to increase our level of support. And that's what you're seeing happen now. Much also still depends on Iraq, Iraq's willingness to comply. Inspectors, even with the best of intelligence, met with a country like Iraq that won't comply, still can confound the inspectors' ability to do their job. And one other piece, just on this issue is we continue to provide increased intelligence information to the inspectors. The inspectors are doing their very, very best. And the President is appreciative of those efforts. But bear in mind the environment in which they find themselves working. It is the Iraqis who prevent them from -- who have put in place the hurdles that mean that they -- as you knew in the past, bugging their rooms, monitoring their conversations. And so there is also the issue of what information Iraq is trying to get as a result of anything that could be conveyed. It's not as if it's just a matter between the United States and the inspectors. Iraq's failure to comply plays a role in this as well; otherwise information would end up in Iraq's hands.

QUESTION: Can you prove that?

MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, I think you reported it yourselves throughout the '90s about the fact that the inspectors rooms were bugged and they don't have secure phones everywhere. That's why I said --

QUESTION: It's based on historical record.

MR. FLEISCHER: Sure. And based on Iraqi patterns.

QUESTION: And we have definite proof?

MR. FLEISCHER: And just as -- hold on a moment, Helen -- as I said, just as they're getting additional equipment, more resources, more information is and will be provided. After all, why wouldn't we provide it? We want them to have as much as they can to do their job.

QUESTION: If I could follow just a second. They have to have their report in by the end of this month. And the administration is confident that they've provided them with enough information that they can have a full report on what the activities are in --

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, their ability to have a full report or not is going to be directly dependent on what Iraq does, not what the United States does. It's Iraq's compliance, it's Iraq's cooperation that determines whether the inspectors have the means to do their jobs.

QUESTION: What means of comparison do you have though? If they've come back and say they haven't found anything, what are you compare it to, because there's no other --

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, let's wait and see what happens when they come back.

QUESTION: Thank you. Some questions on the war effort. Is there any evidence that Iran played any role in support for the homicide bombings in Israel? And is the U.S. getting support from elements in Iran for efforts against Saddam Hussein?

MR. FLEISCHER: Nothing has been brought to my attention vis-a-vis the most recent attack in Israel concerning Iran, and I leave it at that.

QUESTION: What about any help for the war effort?

MR. FLEISCHER: Nothing beyond anything that's been previously reported to you.

QUESTION: One more. Do you expect the use of bases in Turkey and Saudi Arabia if the U.N. does not approve military action against Saddam Hussein?

MR. FLEISCHER: Anything dealing with operations or bases, as you know, you need to check with DOD.

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