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Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, December 6, 2002 (Full transcript)
QUESTION: Let me ask about Iraq, if I can, and the declaration we're going to be getting supposedly tomorrow. U.N. officials have been telling us that they're expecting something that could run to thousands of pages, likely is going to be in Arabic, and it may well take weeks to digest, to translate. Is that acceptable to the administration, taking weeks to deal with something like that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it'll take as much time as is necessary to do the job right. We have asked Iraq, through the international community, to develop a list of what weapons it possesses and to come out with a certification of what they possess. That is Iraq's right and burden to do so. We look forward to reviewing it. Just as important as what's in there, we'll also be curious to see what is not in there. And Iraq will prepare it to turn it over per their obligations to the world, and the President will direct his administration to receive it, to look through it carefully -- this will be done through the intelligence communities -- and render a judgment.
QUESTION: Is there no fear that, perhaps by loading it up with lots of detail and leaving it in Arabic that they're playing for time?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I don't think the language is going to be a particular impediment. It has to be translated; there are translators who do these types of things. I think that one of -- sometimes, one of the best ways to hide or to deceive is to come out with such a voluminous document that it makes people miss the things that aren't in there. You know, another way I put that is, just because Iraq turns over a phone book to the United Nations doesn't mean that nobody inside Iraq has an unlisted phone number.
And so there would be a variety of things that we want to find out about and whether or not Iraq has left information out of here. So we won't be fooled by the size of this document into thinking that the size alone dictates that Iraq has complied. We want to make certain that Iraq is listing everything they have obligation to list, full, accurate and complete, so the world knows that Saddam Hussein is serious about disarmament.
QUESTION: Ari, can you discuss a little bit the reasoning behind the goal of enlisting inspectors' help in getting weapons scientists out of Iraq to help us locate other weapons? And what sort of commitment the administration may be prepared to make along the lines of asylum, witness protection programs, what are we talking about here?
MR. FLEISCHER: History, in dealing with Iraq, has shown that one of the most valuable ways to get information about what is really going on with Iraq's weapons programs is to talk to the scientists and the weapons people inside Iraq who really know the facts about what's going on.
The inspectors, for all their abilities, don't have the ability to know and see everything. But there are many people inside Iraq who do know a lot more. And history has shown that some of those people who want to preserve peace, want to provide that information to the western world. And because of the brutal regime that Saddam Hussein has, many of these experts who have information they want to share, fear doing so because they know that, if they do, they risk imprisonment, torture, murder, their families will be at risk and they're vulnerable to the brutality of Saddam Hussein's regime.
So in the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441, it makes explicit mention of the obligation on Iraq for the inspectors to have the right at a time and place of their choosing, including outside of Iraq, to interview any of these people inside Iraq. That often is one of the best ways that we can obtain information about whether Iraq is telling the truth. And so this is a very important part of the U.N. resolution.
QUESTION: Can you amplify at all on what might be done to secure their asylum and their protection in this country? I mean, is it -- there may not be a final decision. As you said this morning, modalities might have to be worked out. But is it at least in the discussion phase, this notion of protecting them along the lines the way you protect informers in mob cases in this country?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, let me put it to you this way. We attach great importance to the safety and the welfare and the nonintimidation of these experts in Iraq who have information that some of them may want to share with the West and with the United Nations, with the world and the United Nations. We take it very seriously and attach great importance to it. We hope the international community will do the same and attach the same amount of importance to it.
The exact way in which it could be done will be really a matter for the United Nations and the inspectors on the ground to work through. But, of course, much of the world stands ready to help because we saw in the '90s that is the way that much of the world got information about what was really going on inside Iraq.
QUESTION: Just one more on this. You don't want to utter the words "witness protection program," but there is a commitment by this government to protect those Iraqis who are willing to give the international community information that would lead to the ultimate disarmament of Saddam?
MR. FLEISCHER: We have a real and genuine concern to help protect the safety and the welfare of those inside Iraq who have information that can help preserve the peace. Because the information they have is very important information. And history has shown that there people inside Iraq who want to share it, but are fearful of doing so because of the brutal tactics of the Iraqi regime.
And under the Security Council resolution, Iraq is obligated not only to allow the inspectors to interview those scientists or weapons developers and designers, but also their families, and to remove them from Iraq. Those are the conditions Iraq has accepted.
QUESTION: And are we dangling U.S. citizenship as a carrot?
MR. FLEISCHER: Terry.
QUESTION: Two questions on two different subjects. First of all, regarding Iraqi scientists, you made it clear this morning that you expect, the United States expects the U.N. inspectors to take full advantage of that provision in the resolution allowing for interviews outside the country.
What about a situation in which there is someone who the United States believes, or the U.N. believes, does have material knowledge of this issue but is unwilling to be interviewed by -- does the United States believe that they should be forced, that the U.N. should attempt to, you know, in effect, involuntarily take these people outside --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, that's why I indicated that the modalities of this be worked out on the ground by officials inside Iraq. But, obviously, there are many people inside Iraq and its history has shown who wanted to come forward, would like to find a way to come forward, but are fearful of coming forward. And the resolution speaks to that. The resolution makes plain that Iraq must allow individuals to leave the country, and include their families with them.
QUESTION: What about a situation in which someone is not willing to come forward -- do you believe they should be --
MR. FLEISCHER: I can't speak -- I can't speak to all scenarios. Obviously, if somebody is willing to leave the country, it's a much easier matter, a rather straight and plain forward. I can't speak to any scenarios about somebody who might not. That's why I said these modalities are often worked out by the United Nations on the ground.
QUESTION: Lee Hamilton, yes. Anyway, if that bothers you, strike that, I'll just go back and ask it at the time. The President and the Secretary of Defense say there's hard evidence that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. When will that evidence be released? Once this white paper from Saddam is gone over, or when?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, per the United Nations Security Council resolution, the obligation is on Saddam Hussein to disarm. I think there's been no secret and everybody has recognized this -- including Democrats, Republicans, previous administrations, arms experts, United Nations officials -- that Saddam Hussein has claimed that he didn't have weapons of mass destruction when it was obviously the conclusion of all that he did.
Those conclusions are based, Ivan, on a variety of information that is available to administrations, and there is always the issue about protecting the sources and methods of how we receive that information. But I don't know anybody who takes what the administration and administrations and people in both parties have said, and the United Nations experts have said that Iraq does, indeed, have weapons of mass destruction, and thinks it's inaccurate or discounts it. And the President has made it perfectly plain, and I refer you to his Cincinnati speech where he walked people through why we believe and have concluded that they have weapons of mass destruction.
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