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Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, December 10, 2002 (Full transcript)
QUESTION: To what extent did the President talk with his Turk counterpart about either Iraq or U.S. use of military bases in Turkey?
MR. FLEISCHER: The two did discuss the situation in Iraq. they both agreed that Iraq is a threat to peace, and the importance of Saddam Hussein disarming. They discussed the United Nations process, which is -- both recognized as a very constructive process in terms of making certain that Saddam Hussein conforms to his international obligations. We have a variety of mutual interests with Turkey as we work closely on how to address this threat.
As you know, my longstanding policy is not to get into any operational specifics. They did discuss ways that we could cooperate, and I leave it at that.
QUESTION: You said cooperative and agreed to cooperate and so forth in terms of the talks with Turkey. Does that mean that Turkey has agreed to allow the U.S. to use Turkish soil to bomb Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I said nothing about any outcome of that nature. It would not be in my position to describe anything --
QUESTION: Your said the meeting was very positive --
MR. FLEISCHER: It was.
QUESTION: And that's what we're asking.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. But I would not say anything more concrete than that. It is not my place to report for other nations.
QUESTION: You didn't. But I'm asking you, is this what you mean?
MR. FLEISCHER: And I'm not answering the question, Helen. (Laughter.) It was a positive meeting. And I don't want you to read into that. But the fact of the matter is --
QUESTION: -- positive, and agreed to cooperate. We know why --
MR. FLEISCHER: Because I'm not giving you the specificity of what cooperation means in that context.
QUESTION: Wasn't he invited here to twist his arm?
MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, I know you have seen diplomatic relations for many years, but often countries look at issues and want to work together because they have mutual agreement about policy. Do not presume that I am indicating what Turkey may or may not do. That is for Turkey, a sovereign government, to decide. And I give you no inclination one way or another about any future decisions that Turkey may or may not make.
But certainly, the President makes very clear in his meetings the threat that he believes the world faces from Saddam Hussein. And the President also believes very strongly that the stronger the world is, the greater the chance of averting war, because Saddam Hussein will indeed react to that strength of pressure to disarm.
QUESTION: -- for 11 years they have done nothing. What is this threat?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, except for develop weapons of mass destruction, hide them from inspectors and full the world.
QUESTION: -- many countries --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, not every country has invaded their neighbors the way Iraq has.
QUESTION: Yes, on Mr. Erdogan -- the administration has been very clear in the past few months that it is concerned about Turkey moving into that adjoining section of Iraq, should there be regime change in Iraq, and that it's very important to you to keep them out of that Kurdish territory. At the end of this meeting now, what is the American understanding about Turkey intentions there? And is there an understanding that Turkey would stay up within its --
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, David, the meeting did not get into that level of discussion and that level of detail. What the President believes is that in the event -- and this is in the event that any military action is taken in Iraq, that it is very important -- and the United States is committed to make certain that Iraq is whole, that there is no division within Iraq.
QUESTION: And did the President make that point today again?
MR. FLEISCHER: He did.
QUESTION: He did. And what kind of response did he get?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's not my position to characterize a response of other nations.
QUESTION: Could you say whether or not Turkey and the United States are in agreement right now with Iraq under all circumstances needs to remain whole and unified?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I think it's not my position to characterize the response of other nations, but I will answer, broadly speaking, I think it was a very positive meeting.
QUESTION: Ari, I'm not asking you to tell us about the response, I'm asking you whether you are convinced now that you and your significant ally here are in agreement on the broad principle of a unified and whole Iraq.
MR. FLEISCHER: The only way to describe whether it was a broad agreement would be two people agreeing, and that would mean I would be commenting on one person's point of view and expressing it for a meaning. And I'm just not at liberty to go into that. I think that's a question you can ask Turkish officials, and I'm sure they'll be more than happy to inform you.
QUESTION: Ari, Iraq accused the U.S. of "unprecedented blackmail" in obtaining the declaration of weapons of mass destruction. And they say, "America aims to manipulate the U.N. documents to find a cover for aggression against Iraq."
MR. FLEISCHER: That is a laughable statement. I think it follows a disturbing pattern where Iraq looks at the combined actions of the world as spoken and expressed and approved by the United Nations, and condemns them. This is Iraq returning to the pattern of dialogue that they practiced in the 1990s, which is where they met the inspectors with, in the case of inspectors physically, with obstruction. In this case, orally, their message to the United Nations is that they reject what the United Nations has done, because the process set up for the distribution of the report was a process authorized by the United Nations.
QUESTION: Ari, former President Carter in his acceptance speech of the Nobel Peace Award today used the occasion to call on Iraq to disarm, to comply with U.N. resolutions. But he also suggested the United States needs to be ready to take "yes" for an answer, and not only as far as Saddam concerned, but also lifting the sanctions. Does the President have a response to the former President's remarks? Did he see them? Was he briefed on them in any way?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think there is nothing the President would rather than do than know that "yes" would be an accurate answer that the world could take. That's what he's waiting for. The President wants to make certain that Saddam Hussein has disarmed. And this is why this is, as the President said, Saddam Hussein's chance to prove to the world that he will, this time, disarm.
QUESTION: Did the President tune into the former President's remarks? Was he briefed on them in any way? Did he have any further response?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know off the top of my head.
QUESTION: Ari, what exactly happened in the United Nations regarding the release of these documents? Syria is very upset. Was somebody stabbed in the back here?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think the United Nations set up a process that was very transparent and the United Nations officials talked about it. There was a statement issued by the Secretary General of the United Nations, walking through the process of how to disseminate the documents.
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