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Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer October 29, 2002 (Full transcript)

QUESTION: Ari, the President's U.N. resolution spells out clear deadlines for Saddam Hussein, and a clear timetable for inspections that could lead to war. The President at every campaign stop across America talks in a hypothetical fashion about what should happen if that U.N. resolution would fail, that he'll lead a coalition to disarm Saddam. What are the deadlines and timetables for the backup plan?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has not indicated there are hard deadlines as such. I think that it's clear from listening to the President speak that the end is coming near. The United Nations is still hard at work on this matter. They have made some progress, and it's still unclear what the ultimate outcome will be in New York.

QUESTION: Perhaps I wasn't clear. My

QUESTION: was, what are the deadlines and timetables for his backup plan? That is, acting with either congressional authorization or existing U.N. authorization.

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the President has not established any hard deadlines. And again, let's see what the United Nations does before I'm prepared to discuss anything that could be an alternative.

QUESTION: Would they be similar to the U.N. deadlines which is seven days to comply, 30 days for a full list of weapons of mass destruction, 45 days for inspectors, and 60 days for --

MR. FLEISCHER: The President is still working through the United Nations. Let's see if the United Nations is able to get the job done or not.

QUESTION: And just one on Iraq, quickly. The President, in the stump speech that John referenced, also says if the United Nations won't act, if Saddam Hussein does not disarm, the U.S. will lead a coalition to disarm him. Who -- what nation, aside from the United Kingdom, has publicly committed to join such a coalition?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I was asked this

QUESTION: about two or three weeks ago when the President first started talking about this. And, one, make no mistake, that if the United Nations fails, international action will still follow. The only issue at that time will be the fact that the United Nations wrote itself out of any international action. I think, Terry, what is appropriate now, in the President's judgment, is for the U.N. to proceed. Let us see if the U.N. is able to do the job or not. If they are not, then I think you will have no

QUESTION:s about who will proceed with the coalition the United States and others will form. I think at that time it will be appropriate for those nations to be named. But at this point, the President is still content to work through the United Nations. We'll see where ultimately that goes.

QUESTION: What international -- what other international action are you referring to? Would it be military force? You said there would still be international action if the U.N. fails.

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has said repeatedly on his speeches that if the United Nations fails to take action, the United States will assemble a coalition that will force Saddam Hussein to disarm.

QUESTION: But don't Americans have a right to know if they're going to send their sons and daughters into battle, who else in the world is going to make a similar commitment? Why do we have to wait until the U.N. either strikes out or succeeds?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President, as he indicated, wants to work through the United Nations. And people will know, but I --

QUESTION: But the President is the one raising this issue, saying if they fail, then we and a coalition of nations are going to go get him. So, okay, why can't we know who else that is?

MR. FLEISCHER: Let's see first if the United Nations is capable of getting it done.

QUESTION: But the President puts a wall between those two.

QUESTION: Ari, are you waiting for the midterm elections to be over before you bring this U.N. resolution to a vote?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the timing is ultimately going to be decided by the diplomats who are involved in it. And this will either take place this week or next week, depending on what the status of the talks is.

QUESTION: So domestic politics are not at all a concern?

MR. FLEISCHER: No. I thought -- reporters have raised that

QUESTION: with me before, and frankly, this is a matter, I think, that if somebody wants to say, why are you voting on it the week before the election, if the vote is the week before the election -- they're going to ask that

QUESTION:. If they want to say, why are you voting on it the week after the election, if it's voted on the week after the election, they're going to ask that

QUESTION:. I fail to see how anybody can make the case that voting on it before or after benefits one party or another. The vote will be decided by the diplomats in accordance with the progress of the talks. It just so happens there is an election at the same time.

QUESTION: You don't think forcing a vote on a U.N. resolution before an election might scare off some voters, make voters nervous?

MR. FLEISCHER: Elizabeth, it's not the United States that's dragging its feet. The United States went up to the United Nations on September 12th. If this could have been resolved weeks ago, I think the President would have been very satisfied.

QUESTION: On the U.N., Hans Blix and Mohammed El-Baradei briefed the Security Council yesterday. What was the significance of their testimony? What is your view of what they told the Security Council about the regime for inspections?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the briefing that was done by two of the leaders of the inspection regime was very notable. It was notable for what it said about the importance, in their judgments, about having -- these are my words -- but a tough and effective resolution so they can go about and do their jobs. They did both express a concern about going back into the country in the absence of a clear, strong resolution. In addition, when they were asked about whether or not the resolution needed to have the words "material breech" in it, they did indicate -- and I want to find the verbatim on this to be precise -- but a reporter asked Dr. Blix, will it help you if "material breech" will be defined in the resolution? And his answer was, "I think it helps us if Iraq is conscience that non-cooperation will entail reactions by the Council." They both were diplomatic in stating that it is up to the United Nations Security Council to settle the exact words and make any determinations from that point forward. But that's a very notable statement about the inspectors themselves believing they think it helps if Iraq is conscience that non-cooperation will entail reactions by the Council. I think the last thing the inspectors want to do is go in there and be led around again in more cat-and-mouse games. They want to do their job, they want to disarm Saddam Hussein.

QUESTION: -- Russians had objected to the inspections regime in the U.S. and British resolution, saying that they were unrealistic and unimplementable. Does the U.S. now believe that any of the Russian concerns have faded away, or at least been softened by the Blix and El-Baradei --

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, what keeps striking me about this whole process at the United Nations is the swirl of words, some of which are repeated privately, some of which are not; some of which are said publicly for no other intention or purpose than to be said publicly. And that's the nature of diplomacy. That doesn't apply to only one nation, that simply is how these things sometimes go. So the real action will remain action behind closed doors and the Security Council, and we'll see where that leads. No one has a clear picture of it yet, but ultimately it will go.

QUESTION: One last detail on the timing. What -- it's not the elections, it's not other things, what is it? What does determine the timing of the vote?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think it would be determined by a conclusion by the diplomats that all other options have been exhausted, that there is no more room for discussions, that all discussions have led to the most fruitful point that is allowable, and that it's time for people to put up their hands and vote.

QUESTION: Is the United States committed to a U.N. vote and having a vote, even if it becomes clear that the President's position is not going to prevail?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we'll see, ultimately, again, what happens as this thing heads down to zero hour. It's not there yet. It's approaching, but it's not there yet. And we'll see. I have not really heard if people have come to the final conclusions that if there is not enough support whether it should or should not go to a vote. I don't think people are looking at it that way yet, Ron. I think people are still trying to look at how we can put this together if we can.

QUESTION: So right now you're not committed to having an up or down vote --

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I'm just saying I haven't heard any conversations about that level of tactical planning. The focus right now is still working with France and Russia and everybody else to get to the point where there is sufficient support for it to pass.

QUESTION: Ari, getting back to the

QUESTION: on a U.N. vote, in his speech in September, the President -- and you've quoted this many times -- said it would be a matter of days and weeks, not months. And that takes us roughly to November 12th. Do you think that's an adequate time frame to work in? Can we expect to see a resolution --

MR. FLEISCHER: That's why I was indicating earlier that the President would have been satisfied if the United Nations was able to address this issue and come to a conclusion earlier than they have. We are approaching the point where it's months, and the President said that he did not want it to go months. And so I think that --

QUESTION: Was that then just a figure of speech for him, or does he view that as a literal marker that the U.N. should abide by?

MR. FLEISCHER: I have not heard the President give a hard date. But I think everybody sees that the United Nations is approaching decision time. And that, I think, is something that you hear from not only the United States, but from France and from other nations that serve on the United Nations Security Council. It's been a good debate; it's been a long debate; the time will soon come for the debate to end.

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