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Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, January 13, 2003 (Full transcript)

QUESTION: Ari, on Iraq, as this build-up continues, the military build-up continues, Americans can only draw one conclusion, and that is, though it's the last resort, this country is very much readying itself for war. So why isn't it time to clarify for the American people why exactly we would take such action, what evidence the administration possesses to link Saddam Hussein with an imminent threat against the country?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President has made it very clear that the role of the inspectors is a very important part of this process. The inspectors need to be in Iraq to do the job that the world has asked them to do. And they're in the middle of their work. The President understands, and is the first one to understand, that in the event he reaches this conclusion that Saddam Hussein has refused to disarm, Saddam Hussein continues to defy the inspectors and to hide his weapons, and that if the only way to achieve disarmament is through military action, the President is the first to understand the need to communicate that message to the American people. And indeed, he is prepared to do so, if it gets to that point.

It has not reached that point at this time. And so I think your question is a good one; it's just not at the time that the President has decided it is that time. This is the course of the inspections.

QUESTION: But why hold out? I mean, what we're seeing every day in our newspapers and on television are troops being deployed to the region and very pointed language towards Saddam Hussein. And yet, we can't know the real payoff here, which is why exactly we are readying ourselves to go to war -- what we know, what the government knows, that the public doesn't.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, because the President is the one who has to make the ultimate decision about whether or not Saddam Hussein has brought the world to the point where the world has no choice but to take military action. The President has not reached any conclusions. And so, it's not a question of why isn't the President saying anything today. At the appropriate time and in the President's judgment, he, of course, will. It's a solemn obligation on the President and he knows that.

QUESTION: Two things. One, going back to Iraq, do you think that your message is out about potential war with Iraq and why? And do you think that the American public gets it now, that this could be a different war, hand-to-hand combat, not in the desert and fighting with tanks and things of that nature? Do you think the American public gets that for this potential war?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think the American public is very keenly interested in things that are happening vis-a-vis Iraq. I think they have tremendous faith and trust in the President and his judgment. They understand the President has information available to him that helps guide the President's actions. And I think that they understand the President has been very patient and has worked through the international community as a way to address the problem in Iraq.

I think that's a fair description of where the American public is. As I indicated to Mr. Gregory, the President, more than anybody, understands the obligation on his shoulders to explain to the American people his thinking in the event it moves beyond current events. And he will do that if it becomes necessary. He understands that.

The American people are the least willing people in the world to go to war. The American people are also people who understand the need to protect ourselves from an enemy that has weapons that may seek to use them again, particularly after what we went through on September 11th. And this is what the President has to weigh, is when it reaches a tipping point in his judgment that the price of inaction is greater than the price of action; the risks of doing nothing will lead to another attack on the United States. These are the difficult judgments the President of the United States has to make. He has not yet made them.

QUESTION: Iraq. The weapons inspectors seem to be saying now that the whole process could take up to a year, if they want to go through the whole process, if they're going to go through the whole process. Is the President that patient?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has not put any type of artificial timetable on how long he believes is necessary for Saddam Hussein to prove to the world that he's going to comply.

QUESTION: But is he willing to wait a year, willing to allow the forces that are in place now and going there -- stay there?

MR. FLEISCHER: I just answered the question. The President has not put a timetable on it.

QUESTION: Ari, getting back to the Iraq question for a minute, if and when the time comes where the President has to explain his case to the public, will it be a sort of furry, fuzzy reiteration of past reports, past --

MR. FLEISCHER: Did you say fuzzy?

QUESTION: Fuzzy -- furry -- (Laughter.)


QUESTION: Furry and fuzzy.

MR. FLEISCHER: Furry -- furry.

QUESTION: Not feel good, just furry and fuzzy -- reliance on past reports? Or will it be new evidence gathered recently that will close the loop in the minds of Americans who are saying, what is the compelling urgency, what is the new evidence that makes this a risk that's --

MR. FLEISCHER: Dick, I'm not going to speculate about events that are not yet taking place.

QUESTION: Let me come back to the timing issue on Iraq, too, if I may. Again, with inspectors talking of up to a year to complete this work, and you're saying the President has not put a timetable on it, does that mean that the troops that he is sending overseas, he's willing to have them sit in their tents and on their -- on their planes and ships and stuff for that length of time? He's not ruling out leaving them in the field for up to a year?

MR. FLEISCHER: It means just as I said, the President has not put a timetable on it. And if the President hasn't put a timetable on it, I certainly won't.

QUESTION: But there are practical limitations for how long you can deploy troops and then just leave them.

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has not put a timetable on it. So, I understand you want me to do it for him; I choose not to.

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