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Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer October 3, 2002 (Full transcript)

QUESTION: But he didn't say that he was involved in any war?

MR FLEISCHER: I've never heard him say that, Helen. He has talked about those who lost their lives in the war, and what it's like for the President to meet with the survivors, the families of people who have been killed in combat, and how difficult it is, how emotional it is, and that he doesn't look forward to ever having to do it again. But he also then --

QUESTION: Well, why is he preaching a war with Iraq if he doesn't want to do it again?

MR FLEISCHER: Then he states how resolute he is to protect American lives.

QUESTION: Does he have any idea of how many people would die in this war that he --

MR FLEISCHER: Helen, I don't know that anybody can tell you. Perhaps everything can be averted if --

QUESTION: We don't even know how many died in Afghanistan. There's no casualty figures.

MR FLEISCHER: I think what the President is worried about is how many Americans will die if Saddam Hussein is successful in acquiring the nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction that he seeks, because he has a history of using the ones he gets.

QUESTION: Back on Iraq, you said the President is committed to working in the United Nations and quiet diplomacy will continue. Is there another line of diplomacy that's going on? Bulgaria today announced that it would allow United States forces to use its airspace and its resources in any eventual action against Iraq. Romania has done the same. Is the administration lining up a potential non-U.N. coalition?

MR FLEISCHER: I want to remind you, the issue, as the President said in New York, is disarmament. That is the purpose of protecting the American people. And the American position, as expressed by the Congress, is regime change. And the President wants to make certain that the United States, the people of the United States, military, or people in the region, and our neighbors in the region, are protected from the threats that Saddam Hussein poses.

The President went to New York and asked the United Nations to become relevant again, to make certain that they passed the resolutions that make it clear to Saddam Hussein that he is out of compliance with the U.N. resolutions, that he needs to come into compliance with the resolutions, and that there will be consequences if he fails to come into compliance. And the President has also said that if the United Nations does not act -- he believes they will -- but if the United Nations does not act, the President knows that the United States will be joined by many nations around the world who share our concerns about the threat that Saddam Hussein poses.

QUESTION: So it's fair to see these other nations making these statements as part of an administration effort to line up another coalition?

MR FLEISCHER: Let me put it to you this way, Terry. I think the days of anybody the United States would do anything unilateral are over. I think it's very clear to everybody what the United States is doing, it's doing with the support of many nations around the world. The only question that remains is what role will the United Nations Security Council play? Will they be a part of this -- the President hopes so -- or will they become irrelevant -- the President hopes not.

QUESTION: Do you have a sense, though, of how many countries are lined up behind the President now -- when the President talks about a "vast coalition", how many countries he has behind him?

MR FLEISCHER: I just will refer to the way the President has said it, and the President has said he'll be joined by many.

QUESTION: And I just have two other follows, sorry. At the U.N., give us any sense of how close you all are to getting an agreement?

MR FLEISCHER: Let me try to give you a report about the U.N. Of course, there is a meeting underway, the United Nations Security Council, as we speak, and Hans Blix is reporting to the United Nations Security Council. Hans Blix will also be in Washington tomorrow at the State Department, and we welcome his visit to the State Department. The conversations with him are important. At the Security Council, I think it's fair to say that there are a lot of loose ends that are being discussed. Secretary Annan said earlier today, "the Council is discussing whether or not the regime should not be" -- the inspection regime -- should not be tightened or strengthened -- "should or should not be tightened or strengthened, to ensure that we don't repeat the weaknesses of the past." Those are Kofi Annan's words this morning.

There is widespread recognition in the Security Council that the existing regime failed to do the job -- it failed to disarm Saddam Hussein, and it has left a threat in place. They are meeting now with Hans Blix to discuss what to do about these weaknesses in the past, as Kofi Annan called them. And we welcome this discussion, it's an important one. Tomorrow, the discussion will continue when Hans Blix comes to the State Department. And the United States thinks it's vital that if the inspectors are to return, they have the means and the ability and the will of the world to do their job.

QUESTION: Final -- and I have to ask -- the Iraqi Vice President has said a way to resolve this would be a duel between President Bush and Saddam Hussein.

MR FLEISCHER: Yes, there can be no serious response to an irresponsible statement like that. I just want to point out that in the past, when Iraq had disputes, it invaded its neighbors. There were no duels; there were invasions. There was use of weapons of mass destruction and the military. That's how Iraq settles its disputes.

QUESTION: Ari, earlier with John, you said that you asked him -- how do you know that the President hasn't shifted. And I understand that no White House Press Secretary ever likes to talk about a shift in policy, but isn't the increasing use of "disarmament" as opposed to "regime change", isn't that -- isn't that, in and of itself, a shift on the part of the President? And secondly --

MR FLEISCHER: Disarmament was the first statement the President made to the United Nations in New York. So I fail to see how something can be a shift when it's a repeat of a core message that the President has delivered to the world.

QUESTION: And secondly, on the domestic agenda, you said he was going to focus on the domestic agenda. But I didn't hear anything about the Senate's plan for increasing unemployment insurance, even though today jobless claims were up the most they've been since May. And would that be a part of a possible deal to get terrorism insurance?

MR FLEISCHER: I'm not aware that anybody has suggested any type of terrorism insurance. The legislation that's pending now is very close to agreement. There are still talks that are underway involving the parties on this issue. And the President is hopeful that the agreement will come together, because 300,000 jobs depend on it. On the question of other steps that can be taken to help protect the economy, we're going to continue to work with Congress on legislation that is pending on the Hill. And there's not much time left in the Congress to act. And we'll see what ultimately the Congress is capable of doing.

QUESTION: Yes, Ari, two-part question. First one has to do -- you've been using the word "regime change" continually. Now the word "effective disarmament" is also popping up. Secretary Powell I think gave an interview to USA Today to which -- correct me if I'm wrong -- one of the implications was that if Saddam Hussein disarms himself in a way which the United States considers totally disarmament, he might remain in power. Is that a possibility?

MR FLEISCHER: That's not what the Secretary said. I think that's rather a stretch to think that's what the Secretary said. The Secretary basically repeated what the President said when he went up to New York at the United Nations. If you remember, the President, in his speech to the United Nations had, I think it was six paragraphs that began with the word "if," all describing that if the Iraqis wish peace, they will -- and the President went through the list of the things they need to do -- destroy weapons in support for terror, release and account for the POWs, and their illicit program that gets around their obligations in the Oil-For-Food Program. The President said if that happens, it would signify a new openness and accountability from Iraq. But nothing that Secretary Powell said would give anybody the indication that Saddam Hussein has shown any willingness to conduct himself in a way that would do all of those things. If he did, he really wouldn't be the dictator that he has been. And I don't think anybody thinks that Saddam Hussein is changing.

QUESTION: Thank you. In the U.N. or any other coalition you would form, are you asking for financial and military support, as well as just verbal support? And also, if there is regime change, would you expect that oil contracts with other countries are canceled by Iraq at that point in time?

MR FLEISCHER: I can't speculate about any outcomes with that type of specificity. And I would say that the President has made it clear that it is important for the United Nations to act, through the Security Council. If they don't, the President has made perfectly plain that the United States and Britain and others will be part of a wide-ranging coalition that will help protect the world, and will do so in many ways. I can't go into a delineation of all of them. And we'll see what the events develop.

QUESTION: In the administration's view, are there any circumstances under which Saddam Hussein could remain in power?

MR FLEISCHER: I think that anybody who thinks that the conditions that the President laid out in New York, which are the conditions that the world must honor in order to protect the peace, are actions that Saddam Hussein has shown any willingness to engage in over the last ten years. So unless somebody thinks that all of a sudden Saddam Hussein would change his ways, would become a reformer, would become a person who believes in freedom, who would cease his militaristic approach, I think they're going down a path that no one in the world agrees with.

QUESTION: You're saying it's not likely that he would do what is necessary to remain in power, but--

MR FLEISCHER: I don't know -- I don't know of a single person who has come to any type of judgment that Saddam Hussein would do that. And that is why the world faces such a threat from this man.

QUESTION: But the administration's policy, if I understand it, has been that regime change is necessary because that is the only way, or the surest way, to make him disarm. But that there are other ways, as you pointed out in the President's "if" statements in his U.N. speech, that there are other ways that disarmament could be accomplished.

MR FLEISCHER: Well, you have two issues going on at the same time. You have the issues before the United Nations Security Council, which involve the world coming together and saying that the resolutions that passed that focus on disarmament, focus on abandonment of hostility as a way to handle relations with neighbors, cessation of repression of people within Iraq -- all those issues -- weapons of mass destruction development -- need to be addressed per those U.N. Security Council resolutions. Separately and apart, but equally important, you have the United States Congress' statement from 1998, which is likely to be echoed shortly in a big bipartisan vote in the House and Senate in the next week or so, saying that it should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime. That, verbatim, are the words of the Congress, signed by President Clinton in 1998.

QUESTION: So quite apart from efforts to disarm and whether or not they succeed, regime change is still in place -- regardless of what happens on the disarmament front?

MR FLEISCHER: Regime change is the law of the land for the United States, as spoken by the Congress, signed by President Clinton and supported, of course, by President Bush.

QUESTION: Ari, yesterday in the Rose Garden, Senator Warner harkened back to the '91 Gulf War resolution and he said, Mr. President, we delivered for your father and we'll deliver for you. I guess I had never thought of it in that way. Does the President think of this as a blood feud?

MR FLEISCHER: No, and I don't think that's at all what Senator Warner was saying, no. I think Senator Warner is pointing out that for 11 years, Saddam Hussein has been a constant menace to people who love freedom. And that's why the United States Congress in 1991 authorized the use of force, because Saddam Hussein invaded a sovereign country of Kuwait. That's what I think Senator Warner's reference was to. And the point is that, since that war ended, Saddam Hussein has engaged in even more of a militaristic approach by seeking to build up his weapons of mass destruction in absolute and total violation of the United Nations resolutions he swore to agree by, and the armistice that he signed as a result -- as an agreement to end the war.

QUESTION: Ari, in an op/ed piece in the Washington Post today, Sandy Berger suggests dropping the threat of military action from the resolution the United States is presenting to the U.N. Security Council. Berger believes this would help its passage. Would the President accept such a compromise?

MR FLEISCHER: The President has made it clear that the resolution before the United Nations must include three things, and again those three things are to state that Iraq is not in compliance with its existing obligations to the world; what Iraq must do to come into compliance; and what the consequences will be to Iraq for failure to comply. The problem, in the President's judgment, is that if you remove that third provision, Iraq will have no incentive, none, none whatsoever, to change its behavior and disarm. They will continue in the same cat and mouse games they played throughout the '90s.

QUESTION: Ari, I just -- want to come back to one thing very quickly. The three pillars of the U.N. resolution that you just outlined, is the President willing to accept anything less than that?

MR FLEISCHER: The President has made it clear in his speech to the U.N. that this is a test not only of whether Saddam Hussein will disarm, so the world will know that safety can be protected. It's also a test of whether the United Nations will be relevant, whether the United Nations will be the League of Nations or the United Nations. It is, after all, the United Nations that Saddam Hussein is thwarting by his deliberate disregard for their resolutions. And as Kofi Annan said this morning, we don't want to repeat the weaknesses of the past.

QUESTION: But is he willing to accept anything less than the three pillars that you outlined?

MR FLEISCHER: Those are the three pillars that the President has outlined, and that is what the President expects, and that is what the President will fight for. And that's what the President expects.

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