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Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, September 19, 2002 (Full Transcript)

MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I want to update you on the President's day, and then I have a statement I'd like to make in reaction to the speech that was given at the United Nations by the Iraqi Foreign Minister.

The President began his day today by calling the Prime Minister of Japan. He spoke with Prime Minister Koizumi early this morning. The Prime Minister briefed the President on his visit to North Korea, and the President expressed his support for the Prime Minister's visit. The two leaders also discussed Iraq and Prime Minister Koizumi's support for U.S. efforts to establish the necessary resolutions in the United Nations Security Council.

The President also today called President Arroyo of the Philippines. They spoke early this morning. The President thanked her for her government's strong support for the United States approach on Iraq. In addition, the two discussed counterterrorism efforts around the world, including in Southeast Asia.

The President also today called President Kwasniewski of Poland. They talked about the upcoming NATO summit, as well as Iraq. And the President thanked the President of Poland for their government's support on Iraq.

The President had his usual intelligence briefings and FBI briefings. Then he met with members of Congress, particularly a bipartisan group from the House of Representatives that is going to work as a team to help the administration with the resolution that has been sent up to the Hill concerning Iraq. And this group will help the administration to secure the votes and to work closely with us, in addition to the leadership of the House of Representatives in both parties, so that the administration's proposal can be well received and moved forward to a vote….

Finally, in regard to the speech at the United Nations by the Iraqi Foreign Minister, in the speech, Iraq failed to accept the truth and engaged in additional deceptions, and showed no willingness to change attitude or behavior. Sadly, the speech presented nothing new and was more of the same.

It was a disappointing failure in every respect. The speech is an attempt to lure the world down the same dead-end road that the world has traveled before, and in that it represents a disappointing failure by Iraq.

QUESTION: Ari, what specifically was deceptive in the White House view about what the Foreign Minister said?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, number one, Iraq said in the speech that they have not rejected the resolutions of the United Nations. If that was true then why did the United Nations pass 16 of them? The reason is because Iraq has not complied.

Iraq said in the speech they are clear of all nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. As we know from the arms inspectors who have been to Iraq, that is categorically a lie. Iraq also accused President Bush of engaging in lies and falsehoods. And finally, they are already putting up conditions for the weapons inspectors that they said only two days ago they would accept unconditionally. When Iraq talks about sovereignty and independence, history has shown that those are code words for thwarting the inspectors.

QUESTION: Do you get the sense, or are you concerned that this diplomatic offensive from Saddam Hussein might convince members of the Security Council, other world leaders, to say, well, preferable to war, give him one more chance?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think the United Nations has no desire to travel down the same dead-end road again. They have spent 10 years traveling down that dead-end road. And as the President said this morning, and the speech doesn't change anything for the President, that he has confidence that the members of the Security Council will face up to their obligations. He thinks it's terribly important that they do so.

QUESTION: Is there any way to avoid war, and if so, how?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President, in his speech to the United Nations, laid out the important decisions that Iraq has to make, in terms of destroying its weapons of mass destruction, stopping its repression of minorities, returning prisoners, renouncing involvement with terrorism and ceasing its violations to the oil-for-food program. The President believes what has to happen next is for the United Nations to act in a strong and meaningful way. The President thinks it's important for Congress to act, and that the world's voice be heard by the Iraqi people and by the leaders of Iraq.

QUESTION: The President was very explicit about what he is asking for from Congress, authorization to use force to bring about regime change. Is that the same thing he's looking for from the U.N.?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think you can assume that what we are asking of the Congress is the same that we are asking from the United Nations. They are separate organizations, of course. In terms of what's being asked of the Congress, late this morning, early this afternoon, a resolution to authorize the use of force was sent up to Capitol Hill for its consideration. This is a draft, and the President looks forward to working with members of both parties on this resolution. He thinks it's very important for the Congress and the White House to work together, without regard to party. That way the nation sees the Congress and the President can work together on something as important as this. There will be meetings on Capitol Hill about this, and the President believes and expects that the Congress will vote on this before they leave.

QUESTION: Why the difference then? Why not ask the U.N. for the same thing? You can't get it -- I mean, is there a feeling that you can't possibly convince the world that regime change --

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the world is not the Congress. The world has other concerns and other issues. For example, the work that the Secretary is doing, along with other members of the Permanent Five and other members of the Security Council will keep going on. Obviously, there are still consultations and negotiations underway with the members of the Security Council. And we will see exactly what the U.N. does, and we'll see what the language is at the appropriate time.

QUESTION: Ari, are U.S.-German relations being threatened by the tone of the Iraq debate in the political campaign there? That's including the Justice Minister's equating President Bush's tactics with Hitler, and Chancellor Schroeder's ruling out German involvement in any Iraq war.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, let me say I've noted the report out of Berlin where the German Justice Minister likened President Bush's actions to those of Adolf Hitler. And the United States and Germany have had a very long and valuable relationship, and the relations between the people of the United States and the people of Germany are very important to the American people. But this statement by the Justice Minister is outrageous and is inexplicable.

QUESTION: And if I could go back to Iraq for a minute, the resolution sent to Congress doesn't specifically mention regime change in the operative portion of the resolution. But it does mention regional stability --

MR. FLEISCHER: How do you know that? It hasn't been released yet.

QUESTION: Well, it got released somewhere. But are we to interpret the --

MR. FLEISCHER: I think you could not have read the entire resolution. Let me just say -

QUESTION: I said the operative portion -- after all the "whereas"-es.

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me just say that the resolution will be provided, but, of course, first we want to make sure the members of Congress have it. The press will have it in its entirety, but first things first. We want members of Congress to be able to have this, to be able to take a look at this. And that is underway as we speak. And then you will be able to see the resolution in its entirety.

And I think it's safe to say that given the fact that in 1998, four years ago, when Congress spoke and expressed its support for regime change, the only thing that's happened since 1998 is that the situation has grown worse, because Iraq has continued to develop its weapons and the inspectors are no longer there. And so you should expect that this resolution will build on the 1998 resolution, which includes regime change.

QUESTION: Ari, I just want to clarify. Is the President asking the Congress for the authority to use military force to bring about regime change in Iraq?

MR. FLEISCHER: The resolution makes clear that regime change needs to be the objective. And this is a resolution in draft form that would authorize the use of force to achieve the objectives of the resolution. And when you look at all the "whereas" clauses, there can be no mistaking that the purpose of the authorization to use military force will be to protect the peace by changing the regime.

QUESTION: If I can follow, because also, according to the draft resolution that some of us have, it also talks about authorizing the use of force to restore international peace and security in the region. So does this authority solely cover Iraq, or could it cover other regional threats -- Lebanon, Syria, Iran? Should any country pose a threat to the international peace and security, the President would have authority?

MR. FLEISCHER: You need to see this in the context of the conversations the President is having about Iraq.

QUESTION: Solely about Iraq.

MR. FLEISCHER: Those are all the conversations that are being had.

QUESTION: Ari, as you know, the inspectors are going to try and finalize arrangements to get back into Iraq late next week. But you and others in the administration have made it clear there's a degree of skepticism over the offer in general from Saddam. Can you share with us any indication that the United States has received that Saddam will have some conditions regarding certain sites?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, when you hear what the Iraqi Foreign Minister said today, how can you not come to the conclusion that there's anything but a repeat of conditions? The word "sovereignty" have a meaning in one part of the world that are totally different when it comes to Iraq. Iraq uses the word "sovereignty" in an effort to thwart the inspectors. Iraq uses the word "sovereignty" in an effort to get around the very resolutions that they have been called on by the world to comply with. That is a code word for deception, for deceit and for thwarting the inspectors. And this is why the President thinks it's so important for the world to speak clearly and strongly, so that Iraq again cannot dishonor its obligations to the world. And again, the bottom line has to be disarmament.

QUESTION: Should Iraq have specific concerns about inspections at what they're referring to as presidential sites, what would the administration's position be on that?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, on the question of presidential sites, number one, there is no negotiating with Iraq. Iraq has to comply with the terms of the world to disarm, and that is not a matter that is subject to negotiations. On the question of so-called presidential residences, Iraq, by various reports, has some -- I've seen some accounts of 17 presidential palaces, some 30 presidential palaces. I don't know very many people who need that many places to live. I don't think he spends much time at all of those places. Something is going on there other than Saddam Hussein sleeping there. And yet, he does not want the world to even visit those sites. There's probably a reason why.

QUESTION: Ari, you have asked the Congress for this resolution expecting to have it passes as soon as possible. Do you have a calendar for getting the U.N. to approve something that you would be comfortable --

MR. FLEISCHER: No, there's no hard and fast calendar, other than to say what the President has said, which is this can be a matter of days and weeks, and not months. It's important for the United Nations to move quickly on this. And the United Nations is a deliberative body, and we will continue to work closely and cooperatively with the United Nations as they proceed sooner.

QUESTION: And a follow-up. The Foreign Minister of Iraq and Tariq Aziz use always the word "oil," saying that the U.S. is trying to get any excuse possible to get its hands or control Iraqi oil. Is that a valid point?

MR. FLEISCHER: The United States is working to protect the peace in the region and to stop Saddam Hussein from endangering the peace in the region, as he has shown in his willingness to use the weapons that he's developed for the purpose of attacking others. That's what this is about.

QUESTION: A couple of questions. First of all, in using the word "sovereignty," and in other remarks that he made, it's suggesting that Iraq is looking to put some conditions on inspectors, or to bar off some areas. Doesn't that work to the U.S. advantage as you all try to persuade the U.N. to take more aggressive stands? Are they -- will that, in fact, give you all an argument to take to some wavering allies?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I don't think it's uncommon for Iraq to see things in a way that nobody else in the world sees things. And that's the problem. And that's why Iraq has been in such defiance of the Security Council resolutions. I think it's important for the world to listen carefully to what Iraq's Foreign Minister said. The more the world listens to the Iraqi Foreign Minister, the more the world will be convinced of the dangers that Iraq poses through their attempts to deceive and to distort.

QUESTION: The Russian Foreign and Defense Ministers are in town today, and the Foreign Minister is coming here tomorrow. The stated purpose is to discuss the implementation of the Treaty of Moscow.


QUESTION: Will Iraq also be on the agenda?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I said that yesterday. The purpose is to discuss the Treaty of Moscow, and that certainly will be a topic. But it would not surprise me if the topic of Iraq came up, as well.

QUESTION: President Putin, I believe it was last week, attempted to equate the situation in the Pankisi Gorge and the Russian attempts to drive out terrorists from that area with the United States effort in Afghanistan and other places. What's your assessment of that argument?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President does not equate the two. There -- it's important to fight terrorism and to respect the sovereignty of the Republic of Georgia. Unlike what's happening with the United Nations; the United Nations has expressed itself 16 times in its resolutions that Iraq has violated. The United Nations has called on Iraq to disarm. Iraq has failed to do so. While there are other hot spots in the world, none -- none -- are like Iraq, and none present the danger to the region and to the world that Iraq presents.

QUESTION: But the war on terrorism comes from the Muslim countries, Islamic countries. And in order to have a peace or end of terrorism, I think democracy in those countries may be the answer.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, if you ask the President, the President believes that democracy is always the answer, everywhere. And democracy is not something that the United States uniquely possesses or imposes. Democracy is God-given. All you need to do is read our Declaration of Independence, and you see that inalienable rights come from the Creator. And that applies to everybody, everywhere around the world, regardless of the color of their skin, their ethnic background, or their national circumstances. It's the rights of man, and people are entitled to it everywhere.


MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely, Iraq.

QUESTION: Given what the President has heard from Iraq so far, how optimistic is he that Iraq will eventually respond in a way that can avert war?

MR. FLEISCHER: Keith, I think where the President is really focused is on what he would like to hear from the United States Congress and from the United Nations. I don't think it surprises anyone that Iraq would respond in a way that one day they say unconditional inspections, and then two days later they take it back; that they respond with more deceptions about what it is they complied with when they haven't. That's what the world has come to expect of Iraq, unfortunately, and hence the problem.

What's important now is for the United Nations to make sure that it does play a productive role to keep the peace, and is relevant, and for Congress to continue its good efforts with the administration.

QUESTION: And given the Iraq statement that the United States is working to protect the Zionist entity -- you didn't have any reaction to that.

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes. Obviously, Iraq is seeking to distract attention from the issues that the world is confronted with, which is Iraq's behavior.

QUESTION: Yes, former arms inspector Richard Butler described the Iraqi letter as "snaky." And you clearly characterized their statement so far in somewhat the same way. We have not been able to get a clear answer from the Iraqis on the question of unfettered access. I mean, it seems clear that they're fuzzing things up. But wouldn't it be useful, and isn't it possible, for someone, somewhere, to ask Iraq if their offer includes unfettered access for inspectors to go anywhere, any time?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, this is not a matter for Iraq to negotiate. Iraq has proven, by its past behavior for a decade, and by its very change of approach in two days in the speech to the United Nations today, that what they say really doesn't matter, does it? Their actions speak louder, and their actions are to thwart the inspectors at every turn they can, because they do not support the core, which is disarmament.

QUESTION: Well, the real question is whether or not it's clear that they thwart them before the inspectors go in, or after the inspectors go in. What I'm asking you is, is there some way to smoke them out, if you will, and determine for sure that they do not intend to cooperate with the inspectors, before we go through this whole rigmarole of sending them in there and going through all the motions for two, four, six months?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think what's important next, in the President's opinion, is for the United Nations to act, not for Iraq to once again be given a platform for them to engage in such deceptions.

Their speech undercut the offer to unconditionally accept inspectors. There was no mention in the speech of complete cooperation or full, free, unfettered access by anybody, any time, anywhere. The speech placed the Iraqi leadership in direct opposition to the United Nations, the United Nations Security Council, the message of the President of the United States -- all of whom have been clear that the Iraqi government is in fundamental violation of international obligations.

QUESTION: Thank you. I mean this with the utmost respect, but to help the American people and the world better understand, can you make a clear, explicit link between terrorist attacks against the United States and the regime of Saddam Hussein?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, obviously, the President is very worried about -- and he says this in every speech -- the worst thing he thinks could happen would be for the world's worst dictators, as he puts it, including Saddam Hussein -- principally Saddam Hussein -- to join up with a group like al Qaeda and to provide any weapons that then the terrorist groups would use against the United States. It is a clear worry that we have.

QUESTION: But do we know that they've done it in the past? I think Condoleezza Rice --

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we clearly do know that Iraq has supported terrorism in the Middle East, yes.

QUESTION: Thank you. The United States could have trouble with Colombia and Mexico getting a strong resolution through the Security Council. Is the President getting the support of his friend, Vicente Fox? And is he asking Fox to help with the support of Colombia?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President and Secretary Powell think it's very important to have the support of all members of the United Nations, particularly those on the United Nations Security Council. Obviously, if people on the Security Council don't support a resolution, the resolution won't pass. The President is confident that that will not be the case, and that's why the consultations are underway with all nations on the Security Council.

QUESTION: Ari, at the U.N., the President said the goal is to disarm Iraq. Here, in Washington, he said the goal is regime change. Are you setting the bar, and is the White House setting the bar, at two different points? And if that's the case, why is that?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the position that has been taken in the United Nations up to this point is disarmament. The point the President made in his speech to the U.N. is, here, U.N., is what you called for. It did not happen. Saddam Hussein has violated what you, yourselves, called for. You need to demonstrate that you are relevant. The question of regime change is not a question that the United Nations had previously dealt with. That's why the President didn't raise that at the United Nations. The United States Congress, of course, in 1998, did speak differently from the United Nations when it passed regime change.

QUESTION: Would you seek U.N. agreement or support for regime change?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think you just have to allow the Secretary to continue his consultations, and we'll see ultimately what the U.N. does.

QUESTION: Following on Bob's question, in the President's thinking, is there then any realistic way to achieve the objective of regime change without military action?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President has said repeatedly that military options, military action is his last choice. But given what Saddam Hussein has done, and given the threat that he presents, the President thinks it's very important for the world to face up to its obligations to protect the peace.

QUESTION: It's certainly not the administration's intent -- I'm just curious -- is there anything in the wording of the proposed resolution that's going up to the Hill today that could be construed as flashing some kind of a green light in other hot spots, contested parts of the world -- India, Pakistan, China, Taiwan?

MR. FLEISCHER: No. I addressed that earlier. Everything that I've heard about this is related solely to the question of Iraq. And as I indicated earlier, while there are hot spots around the world, none of them, none of them, none of them are like Iraq.

QUESTION: Has the Bush administration estimated how many American soldiers and Iraqi civilians will be killed in the event of an invasion?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think the question that the President worries about, and much of the world worries about, is how many people will be killed if Saddam Hussein is allowed to develop nuclear weapons, which he has a history of showing that once he has his hands on a weapon, he uses it.

QUESTION: But that's a fair question. -- how many American soldiers and Iraqi civilians will be killed if we invade?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not aware of anything like that, Russell. I don't know; I'm not aware.

QUESTION: A question on the timing. You sort of addressed this at the gaggle -- I think you said you were going to try to get more information on inspectors. If they are going ahead with this and they set up a meeting in Vienna, and let's say it's three weeks before they'd be on the ground, does the President want to have the resolution done before they are on the ground?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, on the terms of the time of the U.N., what I indicated just a few minutes ago was that the U.N. is a deliberative body and I would be hard-pressed to pinpoint the exact date that the U.N. would vote. The President hopes that they will move sooner --

QUESTION: You would want it before the inspectors --

MR. FLEISCHER: I've heard no discussion one way or another vis-a-vis before or after any events like that.

QUESTION: I mean, is that -- you keep saying the inspectors are basically useless unless you have this tough new resolution to back them up. So what's the point of sending them --

MR. FLEISCHER: The President is really looking at the United Nations. He thinks that's where the action is. The Security Council's vote is very important. And his focus is on getting the Security Council to honor its obligations, to express in a very clear and strong way the importance of Iraq living up to the resolutions they have agreed to, and doing so very quickly, soon.

QUESTION: Ari, at what point in the President's thinking did Iraq become a greater threat to the world than, say, the Middle East conflict, the Koreas, tensions in the Koreas, India-Pakistan? Was it September 11th? Did that change it?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think there's no question September 11th changed a lot of people's points of view about how vulnerable the United States is, and how determined people are, particularly terrorists and others like Saddam Hussein, to kill American people. And so there's no question that that was an event that, as the President said, we were going to focus first on the people who carried out this act -- the Taliban, al Qaeda -- but then to make sure that we continue to take every action possible to protect the country. And that's also married up with the realization that Saddam Hussein's means, his seeking ways of acquiring new weapons, and his determination to use them.

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