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Excerpts from the Press Briefings by Ari Fleischer October 16, 2002 (Full Transcript)
QUESTION: In the U.N. debate that's begun, a number of representatives of the Arab states have raised an argument. They say that there -- while the President is emphasizing the enforcement of U.N. resolutions concerning Iraq, there are a lot of outstanding U.N. resolutions concerning the West Bank and Palestinians, and their argument is that those resolutions are being ignored by the United States. What's the response?
MR. FLEISCHER: Two points. One, there is a qualitative difference between the resolutions that were passed dealing with Iraq and the resolutions that were passed dealing with a more comprehensive focus on how to bring peace to the Middle East between the Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab nations. Specifically on the existing resolutions dealing with peace in the Mideast, Resolutions 242 and 338 at their core urge the parties to enter into a political agreement, call for a political settlement. Always a difficult issue, meaning dialogue, meaning political discussion. Very different tenor from the resolutions of the 1990s dealing with Iraq, which explicitly call for Iraq to take an action, not to have political dialogue, but to disarm. Resolutions dealing with Iraq that create sanctions that are imposed on Iraq as a result of their not complying with disarmament. It's a qualitatively different step. And there will be a series of arguments made by various nations now, as part of the United Nations General Assembly, or an open meeting of the Security Council. Don't confuse it with the actions of the Security Council on a resolution. As far as the procedures of the United Nations are concerned, it's a different debate with a different meaning than a debatable resolution of the Security Council.
QUESTION: Ari, the President said he was, quote, fully -- he wanted -- his goal was to fully and finally remove a real threat. Was he talking about weapons of mass destruction or Saddam Hussein? Or both?
MR. FLEISCHER: He's talking about both. The policy of the United States is both. We talk in the United Nations about the enforcement of the resolutions which focus on disarmament; end of hostility towards the neighbors; end of repression of minorities, which the President also spoke about. And of course, the policy of the United States is regime change. And today, given the signature by the President on the bipartisan authorization to use force it is the position of the United States now in 2002 that force is authorized in the event that Saddam Hussein does not comply.
QUESTION: Is the President going to ask Prime Minister Sharon not to speak at all about any possible retaliation against Iraq? And what's the administration's position of Israel saying that it would retaliate this time around if Iraq did launch any attack on Israel?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one, I think the very premise of your questions underscores how dangerous Iraq is. The very fact that people ask a question, a serious one about Iraq attacking its neighbors once again shows how threatening the Iraqi regime is. But we are worried and concerned about the risk of Iraq attacking its neighbors. We share the concern of all the countries in the region about the aggressive, invading Iraqi regime. I want to remind you that over the last 20 years, Iraq has invaded its Muslim neighbors -- it's invaded Iran, it's invaded Kuwait; it's launched missiles at Saudi Arabia, at Iran. It's also launched missiles at Israel, of course. We're going to closely consult with our friends and allies in the region about this threat and ways to reduce the risk from this threat. And again, the President has not made any determination about whether he would or would not engage in military action. But no matter what decisions are made, we will consult closely with all our friends in the region, including Israel.
QUESTION: First, on Iraq, yesterday from this podium you said that the meeting today between President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon would be mostly devoted to seeking peace in the Middle East. But isn't Iraq going to occupy almost the same time?
MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely. I can't predict the times -- after the meeting is over, we'll try to let you know if there was a time breakdown to it. But I anticipate both topics are going to come up. But I want to remind you that the President -- the question of consultation I think will come up, there's no doubt about it, vis-a-vis Iraq. But also don't forget the importance of pursuing peace in the Middle East .
QUESTION: Ari, when the President said that those countries were living in denial now may live in fear later on, he had spoken just a few phrases before about Europe. Did he have France in mind? And did he have Russia in mind?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, the President didn't name those countries, but it's a valid statement. And this is why the President has said that, talking about the United Nations, the importance of putting calcium in the United Nations' spine. The point is, until President Bush went to New York on September 12th, the United Nations and many nations of the world were happy to look the other way at Saddam Hussein's flagrant violations of the U.N. resolutions. What, after all, were they doing about it until President Bush went to New York? There is a tendency in the world to allow the current path to continue even with the risks that that can take for war and peace, rather than confront the evil that is menacing and growing. And that is why the President went to New York, to remind the world about the importance of standing strong and standing up to those nations, because sometimes nations can allow the current path to continue and, therefore, live in fear as a result. You know, one of the examples, David, that the President is constantly talking about when he has visitors coming to see him that are in the Oval Office or in foreign countries or when members of Congress come to town, is -- if you remember the President came back from the ranch on September 3rd and immediately had a meeting with members of Congress. He came back, I think, September 2nd. On September 3rd, he had a meeting with members of Congress where, for the first time, the President spoke on Iraq and Congress came back and he said that if he was going to take action, he would ask for the Congress to vote, which they just did. That same afternoon, the President met with the President of Estonia in the Oval Office, and the President started to talk to the President of Estonia about his views of the situation in Iraq. And the President of Estonia interrupted the President and he said, you don't need to talk to me about Iraq. And the President was a little bit surprised. People kind of like to hear what his thinking is on Iraq. And he said, you don't have to explain to us the great democracies in mid- to late 1930s did nothing as a storm gathered and, as a result, we lived in tyranny and oppression for 50 years. And we understand what it's like to yearn to be free and how it's important to take action in the face of a growing storm so that people can be free. And that's a lesson that the President has kept with him. And that's why the President speaks in the language he does, because he sees a gathering and growing menace to the world and he is trying to bring the world to action against it.
QUESTION: One of those great democracies was, in fact, France, and saw the results of that. What I'm trying to correlate is --
MR. FLEISCHER: It's not a country-specific message, David.
QUESTION: Ari, if there is a war in Iraq, can the American public and the world expect any incontrovertible proof that this menace is growing?
MR. FLEISCHER: Incontrovertible -- I think there is only one way to have to incontrovertible proof and that's when it's too late. If you're asking about a menace growing, the risk -- and this is why Presidents make very difficult decisions about war and peace -- the risk is how long do you wait for Saddam Hussein to grow stronger, to develop those weapons and acquire nuclear weapons before it's too late? Do you only act after he has used them? Or if we had known that 9/11, for example, was coming, would we have acted to stop it? Of course, we would have. Now with Saddam Hussein the President has to ask similar tough questions. Can we know with certainty what Saddam Hussein is going to do? Only Saddam Hussein knows with certainty what he's going to do with all the weapons that he's growing and acquiring. And the risk of inaction is it means we have to trust Saddam Hussein to use wise judgment and discretion, something he has never shown an ability to do. Instead he's done just the opposite; he's used his weapons to invade his neighbors. And that's how the President approaches this.
QUESTION: I'm interested in following an earlier question. Officials here acknowledge that Israel faces a unique threat from Iraq. And dealing with that threat is, I understand, one of the purposes of today's talks between the President and the Prime Minister. Given that, how could the United States not support a doctrine of preemption on the part of Israel, vis-a-vis Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one is, you heard from when I began my answer to that question, the threat is not so unique. Muslim nations have been attacked by Saddam Hussein. They've been the victims of Saddam Hussein's missile attacks. They have to ask themselves questions about if they, too, were attacked, what would they do. And that's why I said that the United States will consult with all our friends in the region, including Israel. So it's a threat that the region faces, because of Saddam Hussein's history. And we will consult.
QUESTION: I'm not sure that addresses the question. Are you suggesting, then, that it is the region that might embrace a doctrine of preemption?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I'm just changing your premise. When you said that Israel faces a unique threat -- the threat that Israel -- 1991 example of Israel being attacked with Scud missiles was also a fate that been imposed on Saudi Arabia in 1991 and on Iran earlier in the Iran-Iraqi war. And so the region faces a threat from the militaristic nature of Saddam Hussein. We're consulting with everybody in the region about that, including Israel.
QUESTION: But it's a demonstrated threat. And given that, I'm wondering whether it's that only the U.S. can have a doctrine of preemption, or could this not be a -- how could you argue against the Israelis embracing a doctrine of preemption?
MR. FLEISCHER: I didn't say we were arguing one way or another. I said that we'll consult with Israel.
QUESTION: The Israeli sources are saying that they will get from the White House or the administration a 72-hour notice before an attack on Iraq. Is that true? And is it necessary? And are you giving other notices to other countries in the region?
MR. FLEISCHER: I cannot confirm that. I did indicate that United States will consult with our friends, including Israel, including other neighbors, and I will just have to leave it at that.
QUESTION: Ari, the President has been saying that the threat from Iraq is imminent, that we have to act now to disarm the country of its weapons of mass destruction, and that it has to allow the U.N. inspectors in, unfettered, no conditions, so forth.
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: The chief U.N. inspector, however, is saying that, even under those conditions, it would be as much as a year before he could actually make a definitive report to the U.N. that Iraq is complying with the resolutions and allowing the inspections to take place. Isn't there a kind of a dichotomy? Can we wait a year, if it's so imminent we have to act now?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that's why the President has gone to the United Nations to make certain that the conditions by which the inspectors would go back would be very different from the current terms that inspectors have been traveling around Iraq in as they've been thwarted in their attempt to find out what weapons Saddam Hussein has. But it's also important to hold Saddam Hussein accountable to make certain he no longer violates the will of the United Nations.
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