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Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Scott McClellan, November 13, 2002 (Full Transcript)

MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon. Let me start by running back through the President's day. The President started this morning having breakfast with the bipartisan leadership: Speaker Hastert, Leader Lott, Leader Daschle and Leader Gephardt, where they -- the President gave them an update on the war on terrorism and Iraq. And they also discussed the importance of getting the homeland security department legislation passed and to the President's desk before they leave. And they also discussed the importance of terrorism insurance and getting our hard-hats back to work…. The President later this afternoon will meet with the United Nations Secretary General Annan, where they will discuss the U.N. resolution and the situation in Iraq, the Middle East, and development and security in Afghanistan as well.

QUESTION: In it's 9-page letter to the U.N. Security Council accepting the conditions of Resolution 1441, Iraq makes the assertion that it has no weapons of mass destruction, that it is "clean." What's the White House's opinion on that declaration?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, John, I haven't seen what's in the letter yet. I've heard the reports and I would remind you that this was never a question of accepting or rejecting the resolution. The U.N. resolution is binding on Iraq and the Iraqi regime. Saddam Hussein had no choice but to accept the resolution.

I would also remind you that we have heard this before from Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi regime. Now we need to see it by Saddam Hussein's actions. We need to -- the onus continues to be on Saddam Hussein. This is his choice.

And I would go back through what the regime in Iraq needs to do: Iraq must provide a full accounting of all weapons of mass destruction -- the programs, materials and delivery systems -- within 30 days, that's what the resolution spells out; Iraq also must allow free, unimpeded, unconditional immediate access for weapons inspectors anywhere, any time, to anyone; and Iraq must also allow witnesses to weapons of mass destruction programs to be interviewed outside of the country and to bring their families with them; and Iraq must also stop firing on the U.S. and British aircraft patrolling the no-fly zones.

QUESTION: But this assertion that Iraq possess no weapons of mass destruction, does that seem plausible to you?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, John, again, I haven't seen the specifics of the letter, but the resolution clearly spells out for the regime in Iraq that any false information or omissions are considered a violation of the resolution and would be considered a further material breach. That's all spelled out in the resolution.

But, again, I would reiterate that -- the latest reports that the regime in Iraq has agreed to cooperate and comply, that we have heard this before and now it's time to see it by their actions.

QUESTION: If they don't stop firing on coalition planes in the no-fly zone, is that a material breach?

MR. McCLELLAN: I just indicated to you that part of the resolution calls for the regime in Iraq to stop firing on aircraft patrolling the no-fly zones. You're trying to get into "ifs" and hypotheticals and, as I said yesterday, I'm not going to get into every if and hypothetical. It makes clear in the resolution that if there are violations, that the countries, or the inspectors, are to report that to the Security Council where there will be further discussion about what consequences may follow. But just because there are discussions at the Security Council, I would remind you that that does not prohibit the President from using his authority to act with like-minded nations if need be.

QUESTION: Scott, you noted that Iraq has 30 days, or until December 8th, to provide a complete accounting of its weapons of mass destruction. It has; they don't have any.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, this letter apparently, I understand, has been delivered to the United Nations. We have not seen -- or maybe we are reviewing this letter as I speak, but I have not seen the contents of the letter. We'll look at the letter and we'll go from there.

QUESTION: Is the United States prepared to provide evidence to counter Iraq's assertion that it has weapons of mass destruction?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, they have a 30-day deadline to list and disclose all that information. I haven't seen the contents of the letter, so I don't want to jump into what I haven't seen at this point. But it's been made clear, if there is false information or omissions, then that would be considered a violation.

QUESTION: And saying that they had no weapons of mass destruction would be false information, according to the United States?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, I haven't seen the contents of the letter. So let's -- they have a 30-day time line to report all that information.

QUESTION: I want to go back to a material -- different question, if I can. You specifically mentioned the firing on U.S. and British planes in the no-fly zones. That is not something the inspectors have anything to do with, so one would not expect them to report back any violations. That would have to come from the U.S. and Great Britain.

MR. McCLELLAN: Others are able to report, through the resolution, to report violations.

QUESTION: So you would consider any further firing on U.S. and British planes a new material breach?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, those matters, if they're violations, they go back to the U.N. Security Council for discussion.

QUESTION: Well, but we don't go back to the Security Council for definition, we just go back --

MR. McCLELLAN: We're getting into "ifs" here -- but we made it clear that they need to follow that and not continue to do that.

QUESTION: Right, because it would be a new material breach if they were to fire?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I don't have the resolution right in front of me that spells out specifically, but I'll refer you back to the resolution for that specific issue. But that is part of what Iraq needs to comply with, is not to fire on aircraft patrolling the no-fly zones.

QUESTION: And one other matter in the same regard -- that is, that they -- you talked about the declaration where they must fully declare any weapons of mass destruction they have. They've indicated they will say they are clean, as they said this morning. Do we consider a declaration -- since we believe they have weapons, do we consider a declaration, if they have none, to be a material breach, or must that be proven?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, what is considered to be a material breach is if there is false information or omissions about what they are required to disclose and to report.

QUESTION: And what is the proof of false information?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that will be determined in discussions with the U.N. Security Council. That's what the resolution calls for.

QUESTION: A quick question on Iraq, if I could. Is it the administration's intention -- if this letter says, as we believe it does, that there's no -- that there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, to provide in any public forum, to the United Nations or anybody else, some sampling of the administration's specific suspicions or evidence that, in fact, there is -- there are weapons of mass destruction?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I haven't seen the contents of the letter, but stay tuned. We will work with the U.N. and provide what support we can to the inspectors. We will provide what intelligence we can, as well.

QUESTION: The first deadline that Saddam Hussein was supposed to meet was the Friday deadline for acceptance of the U.N. resolution. Has he now met it?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I haven't seen the letter. I've seen the reports. I understand that the U.N. does have a copy of that letter. I don't know if we are in possession of a copy of that letter as well.

But I would go back to what I said, we have heard this before from Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi regime. We need to see it in their actions. We need to see it in their actions to disarm. This is about disarmament, and it's going to require actions, not just words.

QUESTION: You haven't even seen enough of the letter to say whether it's --

MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't seen the letter before I came out here. All the reports were happening just before I came out here.

QUESTION: Scott, I know you have, and appreciate the fact that you haven't read the letter, but separate and apart from that, based on the President's own public statements over the last couple of months, is it the President's position that Iraq does in fact have chemical and biological weapons, and is pursuing nuclear weapons?

MR. McCLELLAN: That's a good question. We have made that clear, that Iraq does possess chemical and biological weapons. And what we are doing is to -- what we are working to do right now with the international community, speaking with one voice, is to disarm Saddam Hussein of those weapons of mass destruction. We know that he possesses chemical and biological weapons. And we know that he seeks to acquire nuclear weapons.

QUESTION: And that said, what sort of a foundation for cooperation is laid by a statement that these weapons don't exist?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, you're asking me to comment about a letter that I have not seen. The resolution, I go back to that, says they have a 30-day time period to disclose all information. So that's what I would refer you back to.

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