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Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer on October 21, 2002 (Full Transcript)

QUESTION: There's some feeling that the administration may be backing away from the goal of regime change in Iraq. Is that valid?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, ma'am. Regime change remains Congress' policy, assigned by the President, remains law of the land, it remains the American position and a position that the President and everybody in his Cabinet strongly supports.

QUESTION: So Powell's remarks are not -- were misinterpreted?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, ma'am. Yes, if you take a look at what the Secretary said, it's identical to what the President said when the President was in Cincinnati. If you recall, when the President went to Cincinnati, he said, "By taking these steps, and only by taking these steps, the Iraqi regime has an opportunity to avoid conflict. Taking these steps would also change the nature of the Iraqi regime itself."

And that's what Secretary Powell said on the show yesterday. He said, "When I said that if Saddam disarmed entirely, and satisfied the international community, that, in effect, would be a change in attitude, a change in the way the regime is looking at its situation in the world." And the Secretary continued, "And it was consistent with what the President has said previously and subsequently."

So unless somebody thought when the President went to Cincinnati he, himself, was saying we no longer support regime change, I think it's a mischaracterization of what the Secretary said.

QUESTION: Well, the President went on to say, but it's unlikely Saddam will. Did Powell say that yesterday?

MR. FLEISCHER: He went on and said, the Secretary went on and said, "We think the Iraqi people would be a lot better off with a different leader, a different regime."

QUESTION: So it's a change in the nature of the regime that the administration is after, not necessarily a change in the leadership.

MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, what we're interested in is disarmament. What we're interested in is an end to Saddam Hussein and Iraq using hostility as a way to treat its neighbors, repression of minorities within Iraq. We have an objective in mind, and the objective is to secure the peace through disarmament and through the honoring of the U.N. resolutions. It is the view of the Congress that regime change is an effective way to secure those goals.

And we're also talking with the United Nations, as you know, and making progress on the terms of the resolution that would send a clear message to Iraq that their decade of defiance has come to an end, they now need to comply with the United Nations resolutions.

And so the objective remains the same and our position remains the same. I really think this was much ado about nothing, that the Secretary said what the President said.

QUESTION: But the President has also repeatedly characterized the Iraqi dictator and laid out facts which demonstrate a level of criminality, cruelty and brutality which cries out for regime change of the leadership. But now it sounds as if the administration is saying, if the U.N. resolutions are complied with, the nature of the regime will have changed regardless of who's at the top.

MR. FLEISCHER: That's exactly what the President said on September 12th, when he went to the United Nations and gave that speech. That's what the President said on September 12th. And that's why I think -- I fail to understand how when the President makes the same statements, people don't think the President is changing from regime change. And if the Secretary says the exact same thing the President does, people subject the Secretary of State to a different standard than the President. I think it's nonsense. I think it's much ado about nothing.

QUESTION: So he is -- you describe the objective, is Saddam, then, irrelevant to that objective?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's up to him. The regime needs to change. And we want to make certain that it changes in a way that promotes peace. And the way to promote peace is by Iraq to live up to the resolutions it commit itself to at the United Nations.

But I think to get to the bottom of the matter is if anybody really thinks that Iraq is going to do all these things with the same despot in charge, with Saddam Hussein in charge, where on earth could anybody be getting that idea, based on Saddam Hussein's history and his current practices. I think it's a rather unrealistic notion.

QUESTION: Ari, does the United States government see any merit whatsoever in the fact that Saddam Hussein has decreed practically a general amnesty?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as Secretary Powell said yesterday that can also be read as a political ploy. Nobody knows how many prisoners there are in Iraq. Nobody knows if Saddam Hussein has released a tenth of them, a quarter of them, half of them. So it's very hard to make sense of what Saddam Hussein has done.

The other issue that would be important here, too, is the President, when he went to the United Nations in September, talked about the need for Saddam Hussein to account for the 600 people that remain unaccounted for since the Persian Gulf War. We have no indication that his actions yesterday have touched on the fate of any of those 600.

QUESTION: Ari, yesterday Secretary of State Powell indicated that there may very well be a second resolution that will ultimately be voted on. However, it's his position, or the United States' position that once the initial resolution is accepted, if it is in the U.N., that the U.S. will have all the authorization it needs to take action should it come to those steps. Can you explain exactly what kind of language there would be in such a resolution in which the United States could very well still act on its own, however, there may be nations -- other member nations who say, no, we have to have another vote?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the resolution that's being discussed is a very strong resolution. It makes clear that the inspection regime of the '90s will be replaced with a new and much tougher, more effective inspection regime in this century. And it also makes clear that there will be serious consequences if Saddam Hussein fails to honor his obligations. And it's a very important action for the United Nations Security Council to adopt this resolution. We hope that they will.

It is always the right of any nation that is a member of the United Nations Security Council to come forward at any time, and all times, with any resolution that they see fit. But it will -- clear, based on this resolution that the United States will have all the authority that it needs, along with our allies.

QUESTION: Do you expect at this point that there will be a second resolutions? Are you anticipating --

MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, it's always the right of a sovereign nation of the 15 nations of the United Nations Security Council to step forward with a resolution at any time of their choosing, on any issue, at all times. I'm not in a position to predict in this case, vis a vis Iraq, whether that will or will not take place.

QUESTION: After all these years, the Iraqis not only releasedall their political prisoners, but also shipped back several truckloads of documents that had been stolen from Kuwait. After all this time, to do two of those things in the course of two or three days, what do you make of this?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as Secretary Powell said, the release of the prisoners appears to be a political ploy. But it's hard to know what to make of all of this. Saddam Hussein does not often act in a way that is clear or that is rational or even that is open and conclusive. That's why I indicated earlier that nobody knows how many prisoners have really been released. Nobody knows how many he had.

And, so, it's very hard to make any real meaningful interpretations of what he has done. He remains a threat and a menace.

QUESTION: Does anyone here view it as an attempt to curry favor both with the Kuwaitis, and perhaps with Iran, since there were many Shiite Iraqis who were political prisoners?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think it remains as I described it, and as Secretary Powell described it yesterday.

QUESTION: One other thing on the U.N. resolution, if I may. the position is clear on tough rules for new inspections, single resolution and so forth. What is the current U.S. position on whether or not there should be armed escorts for inspectors, and whether or not members of the P-5 should be able to have the right to insist on their own representatives?

MR. FLEISCHER: Okay, let me do this. Much of that will be found in the exact language of the resolution that's being discussed at the United Nations. And so as soon as that is ready to be released publicly, I think you'll find your answers to that. And I will try to keep you advised at what the timing of that may be.

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