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Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Scott McClellan, November 14, 2002 (Full transcript)
MR. MCCLELLAN: Good afternoon. I have a couple of world leader phone calls I'd like to start off with. The President made these calls earlier this morning. The President and President Aznar had a good conversation earlier this morning. President Aznar congratulated the United States on the unanimous United Nations Security Council vote on the Iraq resolution. Both leaders expressed full solidarity in demanding the Iraqi regime disarm. The two leaders underscored that the upcoming NATO summit in Prague will be a major step forward for the Alliance in its new tasks for the 21st century.
QUESTION: Scott, the editorial in the leading Iraqi newspaper today is reaching out to French -- France, China and Russia. Do you expect that Saddam is going to try to split the U.N. Security Council and play for time?
MR. MCCLELLAN: I have never tried to predict what he might do. But one thing I know he better not do is that -- and that is play games. He better not go back to his history of cheat and retreat and deceive and deny and playing rope-a-dope in the desert with inspectors. Saddam Hussein needs to cooperate and he needs to comply. And he needs to move to disarm. We are very serious about this. I think that's very clear. And the international community is speaking with one voice. The United States is speaking with one voice. And this is about disarmament and he better not start playing games.
QUESTION: Second question, Mr. ElBaradei, the head of the IEA, is in town. He was speaking earlier this morning and said that the standard that he would use for determining material breach would not be, say, a single error in the Iraqi declaration, but rather a pattern of obstruction or of errors. Does that sound roughly to you like what the White House has in mind?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Our view is zero tolerance when it comes to complying and cooperating with this resolution. And that continues to be our view. And it spells clearly out in the resolution what the regime in Iraq needs to do to disarm. And if they start playing games, the resolution calls for discussions to be had with the Security Council. If there are violations, they'll be reported back to the Security Council. But that does not preclude if the Security Council or the United Nations does not take action, the United States, working with like-minded nations, acting to disarm Saddam Hussein.
But, again, the President seeks a peaceful resolution. War is a last resort. But the choice is Saddam Hussein's. And we don't want any game playing, and we've made that abundantly clear. And it is his choice; he needs to follow through.
QUESTION: Scott, I just wanted to ask you, follow up on the Catholic bishops and a couple of actions they took. One was, they raised questions about whether we should -- there was justification for preemptive action against Iraq without further evidence, I wonder if the White House has any comment on their statement.
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, I think the United States and the international community were all speaking with one voice when it comes to the importance of disarming Saddam Hussein. This threat is real, and it must be addressed. The risk of inaction is too great. So we are going to continue work with the United Nations and work with our friends and allies to disarm Saddam Hussein. It's about protecting not only America, but the region and the world from the risks that he poses.
QUESTION: Scott, during the discussions on the U.N. resolution and Iraq last week, Mexico opened the possibility of lifting the sanctions against Iraq. Would that be acceptable by the United States, but just as a -- some sort of a -- for Iraq to comply with international community. Would that be acceptable by the United States?
MR. MCCLELLAN: What we're focused on is disarmament, and the disarmament of the Iraqi regime of weapons of mass destruction. That's what we're working with the international community to achieve. So that's where our focus is.
QUESTION: Just to follow up, Scott -- France and Mexico continue to oppose any unilateral action against Iraq on behalf of the United States and Britain. Are you guys continuing to talk with your allies and with the Security Council members?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Look, this is all a choice that Saddam Hussein has to make. We seek a peaceful resolution, but the choice is his. But if he does not disarm peacefully and voluntarily, then we are prepared to work with our friends and allies, like-minded nations who understand the importance of disarming Saddam Hussein and reducing this risk that he poses.
QUESTION: -- be an immediate attack?
MR. MCCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
QUESTION: What will be the trigger for an immediate attack?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, I've gone back through this, and I think the statements I made earlier today address that, that they're addressed in the resolution, as well. In terms of if there are violations, it goes back to the Security Council. That's what the resolution spells out -- for the Security Council to determine serious consequences that follow. But it does not preclude the United States and our friends from acting if we need to. And we will if we need to. But this is a choice of Saddam Hussein -- this is the choice of Saddam Hussein to make.
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