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Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, December 17, 2002 (Full transcript)
MR. FLEISCHER: And, finally, this is a statement by the Press Secretary regarding the Iraqi opposition conference that took place in London:
"We applaud the results of the conference that concluded today. This was a broad based gathering of free Iraqis opposed to the tyrannical regime in Baghdad. Free Iraqis came together in this conference to accomplish two objectives: to agree on a statement setting forth their vision of the future of Iraq; and, to form a follow-up advisory committee. They accomplished both of these objectives.
The conference represents a strong statement of the aspirations of Iraqis inside Iraq and throughout the world for a better future. We support these aspirations and we look forward to working together with all Iraqis to help achieve them.
And, with that, I'm happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: Okay, one quick question on Iraq. You talked about this being a success, the meeting of the opposition. As I understand it, though, some of the groups actually walked out, saying they were not represented and were not wanted. What can you tell us about that?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think if you take a look at what was done in the conference, that you will see that this conference represented a strong statement of Iraqi aspirations for a better future. We support those aspirations and we look forward to working with Iraqis both inside and outside Iraq to achieve those objectives.
QUESTION: Are you -- can you give us any idea when the President might be --
MR. FLEISCHER: I will keep you informed about any future statements that the President or anybody else in the administration may make. As you know, we always do keep you advised about that. We look forward to hearing descriptions about the Iraqi declaration from others we've been working with on this. And many people I think have something to say, and the United States looks forward to having its say about this, as well.
QUESTION: When? Maybe Friday?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll let you know as soon as we have something to announce.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ari. A few questions on Iraq. Why won't the President release the executive order about foreign assassinations if he feels so strongly about it? Also, is there a particular Iraqi opposition group or leader the White House thinks is best fit to serve? And, thirdly, will the President make a speech this week about Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: On the third one, I addressed that earlier. I said if there is anything to be reported on timing, I will advise you. On the first, the President has said repeatedly that we're making progress in the war on terror.
And the President is confident that his administration has the tools necessary to carry out the mission of bringing to justice those who would inflict harm on the United States, those who are still actively plotting and planning to kill Americans, to engage in bombings around the world. And the President believes that he has the tools necessary to do the job.
QUESTION: What about opposition groups? Any particular opposition group that he thinks is the strongest?
MR. FLEISCHER: I summarized it in the statement. There is a committee that will continue to make progress, in terms of working as a unified Iraqi opposition.
QUESTION: You have to judge that. The LA Times today published a poll that found that 72 percent of Americans, including 60 percent of Republicans, said the President has not provided enough evidence to justify starting a war with Iraq. Is the President losing the public relations battle here in the United States?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one, I think that I'll just state what is well known. The President will not make any decision about war and peace and the possibility of putting some of our nation's best men and women in harm's way on the basis of a poll. He will do it on the basis of his judgment as Commander-in-Chief and what it will take to save and protect American lives in the event that he reaches the conclusion Saddam Hussein will indeed engage in war against the United States or provide terrorists with weapons to engage in war against the United States, just like on September 11th with the attack. And if he reaches that judgment, he will do so because the information he has and the judgment he makes suggest that, not because of a poll.
I think it's also fair to say that when you take a look at a variety of ways to measure public opinion, you will see different things out there in the public. The Pew Research Institution has done work on this topic and has come to very different conclusions. So the President will not make judgments based on polls, he'll make judgments based on what he believes is right.
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