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Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, December 16, 2002 (Full transcript)

QUESTION: On Iraq, how would you characterize where they are at the moment? And would you clarify what responsibility we believe the Iraqis have, not just to disclose what they have, but to prove what happened to the stuff they used to have?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the administration is continuing to take a look at the declaration that Iraq has provided. And I think other nations will also be weighing in on their views of what Iraq has provided. Hans Blix will be talking about what Iraq has provided. And this is all appropriately so, under the terms of the resolution 1441, which sent the inspectors back into Iraq.

The declaration Iraq prepared was for the use of the members of the United Nations Security Council, and they will all be making their thoughts known shortly. The United States is continuing to review it. And as I indicated this morning, at the appropriate time, if we have something to say you'll be advised of when that would be.

The President views this as a very important matter for Iraq to show the world that it was serious this time -- Helen, can I help you?

QUESTION: Oops. (Laughter.)

MR. FLEISCHER: The President thinks it's very important at this time for Iraq to show the world that it is serious about peace, and that at this time they take their determination from the United Nations Security Council clearly, and that they do, indeed, produce a document that is full, complete and accurate.

QUESTION: But isn't there a greater responsibility than just saying, here's what we've got or what we don't have. Don't they also have to prove to the inspectors what happened to the things that they once had that were declared and to make sure that everyone knows how it is that they eliminated the WMD -- if, in fact, they did -- the WMD capability that they had?

MR. FLEISCHER: This is one of the issues that the declaration will shed light upon. It will be part of the review of the declaration to see what is not in it, and to match it up against previous declarations, particularly the United Nations -- the UNSCOM report in 1999, which right before they were thrown out or right after they were thrown out they did the final reporting on what they knew at the time that they were thrown out of Iraq. And it will be important and it will shed some light on whether Iraq is telling the truth or not, to see what Iraq has said in this declaration and compare it to their past promises for what they have indeed destroyed.

QUESTION: -- Hans Blix may be in New York this week to brief on the status of the inspections. Do you anticipate that he will also brief the U.S. separately, or he'll come and talk to the President about how things are going?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, he has repeatedly talked to many of the nations on the Security Council, especially the P-5. If there is something, we'll obviously report it to you. But I'm not aware of any meeting at this point.

QUESTION: And after he briefs the Council this week -- I guess he said mid-week -- is there some anticipation that moving through the next stage in the process of some sort of diplomatic consultations after that, or what happens after that?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I don't want to make any guesses or predictions yet. We're still, as the United States, in the process of still looking at the document. And so I think we want to come to our assessments about what is in it and what is not in it before we can anticipate what the next step would possibly be.

QUESTION: Iraq. What's taking so long, Ari? I mean, I don't understand. We, presumably, have at least given some initial reaction to the U.N. authorities as to what we've seen. What's taking so long for, A, an official White House reaction, and B, for the President to speak on the subject?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one, the President did not put any type of artificial deadline on the amount of time it would take to do this thoughtfully and deliberatively. The President's approach and the President's instructions were to do this in a way that would be deliberative, that would be full, that would be thoughtful.

This is very important. This declaration that Iraq has filed can be the difference between war and peace. And the President thinks that it is vital to take a look at it in its entirety and to do so thoughtfully and deliberatively. And once the review is complete, then to share the United States' thoughts with the other nations in the world, to share it with the Security Council, to listen respectfully to the opinions of our friends and our allies and others on the Security Council about this matter, and then to proceed in due course from there. And that's the approach that the President has taken.

So I'm not aware that there was any indication that there had to be a date any earlier than today, or today or tomorrow. That's not how the President has approached it.

QUESTION: When is the President's own -- I mean, you said to us last week that you expected the President would speak publicly to us, to the American people on this subject. Where does that fall in the order that you just outlined?

MR. FLEISCHER: You mean in terms of the timing of when the President --

QUESTION: Before you go to Security Council, after?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to guess on the timing of it. And I think this is something where the President will make a judgment about and then he, or the appropriate person, whoever, will have something to say at the appropriate time.

QUESTION: Ari, is the United States receiving any cooperation from the government of Iran regarding Saddam Hussein? And also, what are your thoughts on the Iraqi dissidents meeting in London? They haven't exactly been unified in their --

MR. FLEISCHER: On the Iraqi dissidents meeting in London, as you know, the legislation passed by the Congress several years ago for regime change did call for the United States to work very closely with the Iraqi groups that are dedicated to a different type of leadership in Iraq. The conference took place this weekend, and the United States has sent a very clear message to people in this conference, as well as to people around the world, and that is that we support a democratically oriented Iraq, an Iraq that is whole, that's borders and integrity remains intact -- the integrity of the borders remain intact. And we look forward to working with Iraqis both inside and outside the government to make this reality.

QUESTION: What is a democratically oriented country?

MR. FLEISCHER: Democratically inclined, is what I said, and that means we understand that the way to make progress in the world is by representing the will of the people, and not through dictatorships, not people who are autocratic and dictatorial. So when I say that, democratically inclined, it means a leadership that is respectful of the will of the people.

QUESTION: But not necessarily democratically elected?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, obviously, that is always the ideal around the world. Ultimately, the President believes that every nation in the world should be democratically elected. That is the best measure of serving the will of the people. But there's also a reality to the world, and we recognize that. But our goals and our vision, of course, remain the same about the President's ideals.

QUESTION: Also about Iran -- is Iran helping at all?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'd have to ask specifically on that topic. That's a very broad question, so let me ask specifically on that topic for you.

QUESTION: Is the White House still confident that Iraqi scientists will be interviewed outside of the country? And is Hans Blix cooperating in that effort?

MR. FLEISCHER: We continue to have fruitful conversations with -- we continue to have fruitful conversations with the United Nations about the full implementation of Resolution 1441. That is an important part of Resolution 1441, as passed unanimously by all members of the Security Council. The reason the United States feels so strongly about this is because this often is the best way to find out what Iraq is really up to.

There are people inside Iraq who are dedicated to peace, who would like to talk, have knowledge that they would like to share, and it's in the interests of the world to hear their facts.

QUESTION: Are you confident that that's going to happen?

MR. FLEISCHER: We expect that the resolution will be implemented in full.

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