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Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, January 14, 2003 (Full transcript)

QUESTION: Any reaction to Blix's comments that he regards the January 27th report as simply another interim report, and that it will take him well into March to finish the inspections or to proceed to a point where he can make a so-called comprehensive report? Does this delay the timetable?

MR. FLEISCHER: From the beginning, the President has made very clear that the burden is on Saddam Hussein to comply and to disarm. Nothing has changed that. The burden remains with Saddam Hussein. The issue is not how long the inspections will last; the issue is whether Saddam Hussein this time is finally willing to disarm. He's been given a final chance to disarm. And, regrettably, we've seen no evidence that he has made the strategic choice to disarm and to come into compliance with the United Nations. We first saw this is in the Iraqi declaration, which the world agreed was inadequate, and Saddam has not complied and, therefore, time is running out.

QUESTION: So that means that you'll wait until the inspectors have finished their work?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I indicated yesterday, the President has not put any specific date on how long he thinks the inspectors will do their job. But as I've made plain today and as the President has said repeatedly, Saddam Hussein> is not disarming and, therefore, time is running out.

QUESTION: Well, what do you mean by "time is running out"? How long can you let 200,000 U.S. troops sit in the sand?

MR. FLEISCHER: The question is how long will it take for Saddam Hussein to come clean and to prove to the world that he's disarming.

QUESTION: Why do you go so far out of your way to say that the burden is not on the inspectors? I mean, does the President think that the inspectors are doing any good? Does he care what they say or what they conclude? Or does he simply believe either Saddam Hussein puts up or shuts up and the U.S. gets ready to go to war?

MR. FLEISCHER: Of course, the President thinks that they're doing good, and that's why he wanted them to go there. But the fact of the matter is if Saddam Hussein is hiding his weapons from them, it makes it very hard for them to fulfill their mission. And this is why the inspectors will be the first to tell you, if Iraq fails to cooperate, it makes their mission very, very difficult to prove whether Saddam Hussein does or does not have the so-called smoking gun. Because smoking guns, as we know, can be hidden.

QUESTION: Well, then, what is the United States doing specifically to help the do a good job? What's the evidence of that good job that they're doing, and what specifically is Saddam Hussein holding out on?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the question is Saddam Hussein has had a history of failing to cooperate with the inspectors. He has the ability and the means to hide the weapons that he has developed and that he is developing. I think the declaration that he made is proof positive that he has withheld information about his weapons of mass destruction program, programs that these previous inspectors said were there when they were forced out of the country in 1998. And now Saddam Hussein still has failed to account for the weapons that's there. And these are statements that come from Hans Blix and Dr. ElBaradei about what is -- the gaps that are in the declaration.

QUESTION: What help are giving, if we know about all this?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as Dr. Blix said yesterday, that he is satisfied with the help that he has been getting from the United States government.

QUESTION: But Dr. Blix and Dr. ElBaradei are the experts. They're the -- that's why they're there. They're the experts. They say they need months to get that proof positive, to get the answer to the question. Why does the President think he knows better?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President has made plain that the burden does not fall on the inspectors; the burden falls on Saddam Hussein to comply with the inspectors. And that's the judgment of the President, having judged Iraq's past behavior, their ability to fool the inspectors, to deceive the inspectors, to hide things from the inspectors, and Saddam Hussein's motives, moving forward, in terms of whether he has indeed changed and is at this time cooperating. The President has seen no proof that this time he is complying and willing to disarm.

QUESTION But the inspectors aren't saying they're being fooled, they're being duped. Does the President think that he knows better than they do as to how effective their work can be?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think the inspectors have raised a number of concerns that they have, and they have said they don't believe they're getting full cooperation and compliance from Saddam Hussein. They have found problems that they have cited. And the President is content to let them continue in their work, of course. And the President is looking forward to the January 27th date. He believes it will be an important date. And as I said yesterday, the President hasn't put a specific date on when he believes the inspections will come to some type of conclusion or not. But the President's message is clear to Saddam Hussein, that he needs to comply.

QUESTION: It's not up to the inspectors to judge how effective their own work is and can be; it's up to the President to say if their work is over --

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think it's something that we're going to continue to work together on.

QUESTION: One on Iraq and one on welfare reform. On Iraq, you say today that time is running out. But many of our allies are saying that the inspectors need more time. How is the White House going to manage that disconnect of expectations by the rest of the world?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the inspectors have more time. But time is running out. This is a question of not allowing Saddam Hussein to string the world along forever. And I don't think the two are at all hard to understand or incompatible.

QUESTION: But I think that some of our allies would consider into mid-March if that's what the inspectors feel they need some time, that that would not be stringing along the world forever.

MR. FLEISCHER: And I said yesterday the President has not put a specific date on this. And the President will, of course, continue to consult and talk with our allies and friends about the situation in Iraq, as he regularly does. But it's fair to say that, just like I said, time is running out.

QUESTION: But all I wanted to know is, does this tell us anything about the way in which the White House is communicating convinced the American people of the case against Iraq? Is this something that's of any concern to you?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I hardly think that at all. I think, frankly, that there are a number of news organizations, well represented in this room, who have shown the President to be at such a consistent high popularity level that you've stopped even reporting those facts to your readers or viewers. Actually, viewers. And so there's all kinds of numbers of polls out there.

QUESTION: Could you try to explain again to the world why North Korea is less of a threat than Iraq to the United States and to the --

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President's judgment about why diplomacy can be successful in North Korea and why he is less optimistic that that is the case with Iraq is borne by the behavior of the leader of North Korea versus the leader of Iraq. Iraq has a recent history of acquiring weapons of mass destruction and then using them to kill its neighbors, to invade countries, to bring attacks to others -- Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Israel, Iran. There's virtually not a neighbor left for Iraq that they have not attacked in the past 10 to 15 years.

That is not the case with North Korea. You have to go back to the Korean War to find examples where North Korea has physically, actually launched military assaults against its neighbors or the region. And so the President does view the two as different levels of threat or risk. And those are the judgments the President makes. And I think those judgments are borne out by the successful way he's working with the allies around the Korean Peninsula.

END 11:14 A.M. EST


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