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Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Scott McClellan, November 12, 2002 (Full transcript)

QUESTION: A couple questions on Iraq. If Saddam Hussein follows his parliament and rejects the U.N. resolution, is the President committed to returning to the U.N. Security Council, testing international opinion on the response, or will he just line up American forces in a coalition and go straight to war?

MR. McCLELLAN: Terry, I recognize there are going to be a lot of ifs and a lot of hypotheticals that are going to be asked here, and I don't want to speculate about every "if" or every hypothetical. I think the President's views are very clear; the international community's views are very clear. This is about disarmament, and this is Saddam Hussein's final opportunity to disarm peacefully. If he does not, we will do so by force.

As the President indicated, the United States, with our friends, will do so forcefully and swiftly. The choice right now is Saddam Hussein's. But again, as stated in the resolution, this is a final opportunity for Saddam Hussein to disarm. It is his choice to determine whether he wants to do so peacefully or if he wants to be disarmed by force. But one thing is abundantly clear, as the President has mentioned, he will be disarmed. And it just now comes down to a choice of whether he wants to do it peacefully or if it's going to be done by force.

QUESTION: And the President just said -- we're through with negotiations, we're through with talking to him. What role does the President envision the United Nations Security Council has?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, in the resolution it spells that out. But I would make very clear, too, what you just said. No more games, no more cheat and retreat, no more deny and deceive, no more rope-a-dope in the desert with inspectors. No negotiation. It is now time for Saddam Hussein to comply or face serious consequences.

But in the resolution, it clearly spells out that if there -- and the inspectors are there just to simply report the facts. It's a Joe Friday approach, report the facts to the Security Council. Then the Security Council will assess what consequences need to happen. But that does not handcuff the United States in any way if the U.N. decides not to act. The U.S., with our friends, as the President has made clear, has the authority and will use it to disarm Saddam Hussein and his regime if need be.

QUESTION: Fair enough. So he wasn't -- just to nail this down, he wasn't saying, we're through with negotiations at the U.N. Security Council, we're through with that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, we'll go back for consulting and for consultations and discussion with the Security Council when there is another material breach reported.

QUESTION: There's a report this morning that Iraq is trying to buy antidotes to nerve gas and other agents. What does the administration have to say about that?

MR. McCLELLAN: As I said earlier, I don't want to get into discussing any specific reports based on intelligence information. But as a general point, I would remind everybody that during the Gulf War, there was an attempt by the Iraqi regime to acquire these kind of materials. Certainly that is something that we would look into very closely. And -- but I would also reiterate what I said earlier, that we do not need any more proof that Saddam Hussein possesses and is willing to use chemical and biological weapons. He has already used them on his own people. And I can assure you that the Department of Defense is going to do everything they can to protect our troops if they are called in to disarm Saddam Hussein.

QUESTION: On Iraq, what is the President's feeling about the Iraqi demand that the inspection team include some Arab inspectors?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that everything is clearly spelled out in the resolution, and the inspectors will be making the decisions on those teams, Dr. Blix and Dr. ElBaradei, so I would leave it at that.

QUESTION: But the exclusion of Arabs --

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think Iraq has a say in this. Iraq has, as I said, one final opportunity to come into compliance and to disarm.

QUESTION: You agree that -- is there a possibility that the exclusion of Arab inspectors might complicate the situation politically in terms of support in the Arab world?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's kind of speculating. I'm going to leave it up to -- we've had discussions with the inspectors, Dr. Blix and Dr. ElBaradei. So I'm going to leave it with them, and they can answer those questions more fully.

QUESTION: Scott, the President today used the phrase, zero tolerance, to describe the standard he would use on Saddam. A senior official who was briefing us from your podium last week used the phrase, a pattern of defiance, in other words, suggesting there would have to be more than one. Which is it?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think in that -- I was in that briefing. I think that the briefers made it clear that our view is one of zero tolerance. This is a final opportunity for Saddam Hussein to comply and disarm, and we've made that very clear. He has defied, over 11 years, 16 resolutions. This is a 17th, and this is his one final opportunity. But we've made it very clear that we approach this with a zero-tolerance view.

QUESTION: Can you define what zero tolerance means?

MR. McCLELLAN: If he is in violation of the resolution, then that, as it states in the resolution, is to be reported to the U.N. Security Council. That is a material breach.

QUESTION: And that's any omission, that's any falsification, that's any single --

MR. McCLELLAN: Under the resolution, omissions and false statements are considered a further material breach.

QUESTION: So we aren't looking for a pattern of deceit or of obstruction. A single incident --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I don't want to get in -- again, this kind of goes back to all the "ifs" and all the hypotheticals. That's -- I don't want to get into the speculation about that, but our view is one of, as David asked, zero tolerance.

QUESTION: Scott, the French Foreign Minister this morning had remarks that were strongly in support of the position that if Saddam does not comply, that France does, in fact, back the use of military force. Do you anticipate that the French are eventually going to come to the position where they're willing to actually join the coalition? Have they signaled that?

MR. McCLELLAN: I can't speak for the French. I haven't seen those exact remarks, so I hesitate to comment directly on them. But I think that their vote with the rest of the international community was a clear indication of what Saddam Hussein needs to do.

QUESTION: Can you just be clear on one point? If Saddam does not accept the terms for Resolution 1441 by midnight on Friday, what happens then?

MR. McCLELLAN: John, I think it's very clear to Saddam Hussein, very clear to the world what he needs to do. Clearly, that would go against the resolution. This is -- and the President indicated earlier -- this is a final opportunity for Saddam Hussein to disarm. But again, we're getting into all sorts of "ifs" and all sorts of hypotheticals, and it's clear that there are -- no more room for games, there's no more room for cat and mouse, there's no more room for cheat and retreat, no more deny and deceive. I mean, this is the time for Saddam Hussein to disarm.

QUESTION: You say it's a hypothetical, but the President has clearly addressed the situation many times, on the campaign trail and in speeches, saying if Iraq doesn't disarm -- which is a hypothetical -- we'll lead a coalition to disarm him. So --

QUESTION: Hypothetical coalition.

QUESTION: Hypothetical coalitions, right, as my esteemed colleague points out. But clearly it states in the resolution that any obstruction or failure to comply with weapons inspectors will constitute further material breach. So what exactly happens at midnight on Friday? Is that it, do we go to war, or do we give him another chance?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, I think the President indicated this, as well, earlier -- let's see what he says. But make no mistake about it, this is a final opportunity for Saddam Hussein to disarm. The resolution is very clear --

QUESTION: -- that's the deadline.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are several deadlines within the resolution. There is this first seven-day deadline, then there's a 30-day deadline when he has to report what chemical and biological weapons he may possess.

QUESTION: But if he misses the first deadline, what's the use of the second deadline?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, like I said, this is a final opportunity and he should not be playing any games and not play cat and mouse -- not play cat and mouse with the international community.

QUESTION: Under the zero tolerance policy, when you were asked by John what happens Friday if Hussein does not -- says he's not going to comply, you said, clearly that would go against the resolution. Can we infer by that, that you're saying that would be a material breach?

MR. McCLELLAN: I would look back at the resolution, look at the exact language there. The resolution calls on him to acknowledge that he will comply by this seven-day time period -- by the seven-day time period. And the bottom line here is this is about disarmament. And we've made it very clear he has a final opportunity to comply. And if he does not comply, we've made it very clear what we are prepared to do.

QUESTION: What are you prepared to do if he "goes against the resolution" Friday and says he's not going to comply?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let me make it clear, too, what the President said last week -- that the President seeks a peaceful resolution. But if Saddam Hussein refuses to disarm peacefully, then we intend to disarm him. So I think it's very clear to Saddam Hussein what he needs to do. And he should not be playing games here. And the resolution clearly spells out what he needs to do.

QUESTION: So we'll just tell Saddam Hussein what happens --

MR. McCLELLAN: And if there is a step that we need to go back to the U.N. Security Council to consult and discuss, we will. But that does not take away the authority of the President to act to protect the American people if he determines needs to.

QUESTION: What I'm trying to get at, though, is Friday a trigger point that would send it back to the U.N.?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think I've addressed it, Ron.

QUESTION: Scott, I don't think you were specifically asked, what is the reaction to the Iraqi parliament's rejection of this resolution? And does it have any relevance in the situation right now?

MR. McCLELLAN: As I indicated earlier, I think it is pure political theatre. It is not up to Saddam Hussein to accept or reject this resolution, as we've been discussing. The resolution was unanimously passed by the United Nations Security Council. The international community is now speaking with one voice. And the Iraq regime is a dictatorship and it is the choice of Saddam Hussein to determine whether he wants to disarm peacefully, or if he wants to be disarmed by force. And that's where we are. This is a final opportunity for him. But we'll see what he says.

QUESTION: You don't necessarily consider this a signal one way or the other from the parliament?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, I go back to what I just said, that the Iraqi regime is a dictatorship. This is Saddam Hussein's decision.

QUESTION: In the weeks leading up to the U.N. resolution, the President made a lot of phone calls to heads of state of other Security Council members. Is he maintaining those -- that sort of high level of contact now, in this period where we're waiting to see if Iraq actually does comply with the resolution?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he's always reaching out to world leaders and he believes in that strong personal diplomacy. He is always doing that. If there are specific calls to update you on, we do that as they occur. I don't have anything to update you on right now.

QUESTION: Scott, senior administration officials for the last several weeks -- the last week, anyway -- have been saying that any wiggling by Saddam Hussein on the resolution is -- would be considered a material breach, in and of itself. Therefore, if he does not meet the Friday deadline, are we going to immediately demand a reconvening of the Security Council to discuss the serious consequences?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think I've pretty much addressed this question fully. But --

QUESTION: We're not getting a straight answer out of you.

MR. McCLELLAN: The resolution -- and look back at the resolution; it spells out that Iraq continues to be in material breach and it spells out what constitutes further material breach. And a violation is a further material breach.

QUESTION: Will we demand a reconvening of the Security Council?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, this is getting into "ifs" and everything, all hypotheticals. It's very clear what he needs to do. This is about disarmament and this is a final opportunity for Saddam Hussein to disarm. If he chooses not to do so peacefully, then the United States is prepared to act, with our friends, to do so by force. And we will do so forcefully and swiftly and decisively, as the President has outlined. But the President continues to seek a peaceful resolution. War is a last resort.

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