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Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer September 25, 2002 (Full transcript)
QUESTION: We can go back to that in a minute. I have another question. Yesterday in the briefing, you said that the information you have has said Al Qaeda is operating in Iraq. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was asked about linkages between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein this morning. He said very definitively that, yes, he believes there are. And then the President said, talking about al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, the danger is that they work in concert. Is the President saying that they are working in concert, that there is a relationship? Do you have evidence that supports that?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President is saying that's the danger. The President has repeatedly said that the worst thing that could happen is for people -- the world's worst dictators with the world's worst weapons of mass destruction to work in concert with terrorists such as al Qaeda, who have shown an ability to attack the United States. And that's what the President has said.
QUESTION: So why -- when Rumsfeld was saying, yes, there is a linkage between the two, what is he talking about?
MR. FLEISCHER: Clearly, al Qaeda is operating inside Iraq. And the point is, in the shadowy world of terrorism, sometimes there is no precise way to have definitive information until it is too late. And we've seen that in the past. And so the risk is that al Qaeda operating in Iraq does present a security threat, and it's cause for concern. And I think it's very understandably so.
If you're searching, Campbell, again, for the smoking gun, again I say what Secretary Rumsfeld said -- the problem with smoking guns is they only smoke after they're fired.
QUESTION: I'm not looking for a smoking gun. I'm just trying to figure out how you make that conclusion, because the British, the Russians, people on the Hill that you all have briefed about all this stuff say that there isn't a linkage, that they don't believe that al Qaeda is there working in conjunction in any way with Saddam Hussein. And there is a mountain of comments, both public and private statements that Osama bin Laden has made about Saddam, calling him a bad Muslim, suggesting that there would be no way that the two would ever connect. So I just -- if there's something, if you have some evidence that supports this, I'm just wondering why --
MR. FLEISCHER: What supports what I just said is that the President fears that the two can get together. That's what the President has said, and that's one of the reasons that he feels so strongly about the importance of fighting the war on terror.
QUESTION: So does Rumsfeld have some information that the President doesn't, that they are, in fact, working together now?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm going to take a little more detailed look at anything that you've got there. I haven't seen a verbatim quote, so I'll take a look at that.
QUESTION: It seems that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is ignoring the recently passed Security Council resolution, and he is maintaining his siege around Yasser Arafat's headquarters. Why does the President continue to support Israel, even though tacitly saying that he condemns Israel, but in short, on the bottom line, he continues to support Israel -- why does he continue to support him when Iraq is being blamed by the President for doing exactly the same thing, for violating the Security Council resolutions?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you have to be very careful when you equate Iraq with any other nation, and say Israel and Iraq are the same, when they are not. If you look at Resolutions 242 and 338, Resolution 242 and 338 explicitly call for a political settlement, a political dialogue as the underpinning of all the resolutions that subsequently followed that refer back to 242 and 338. Not the case in Iraq. In Iraq's decade of defiance of the U.N. resolutions which explicitly called on Iraq not to have a political settlement with their weapons of mass destruction, but disarm and destroy them. You cannot equate the two.
The President does feel strongly, however, about the need for Israel to listen and to heed the call and to make certain that its efforts don't hurt the cause of reform in Palestinian Authority. The President has spoken out about that, directly in opposition to Israel on that matter.
QUESTION: Ari, the President did not specifically answer the question earlier of whether he was politicizing the war, that Terry put to him. Can you tell us whether you think -- can you issue in his name a categorical denial that he's politicizing the war?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, first of all, the President's remarks were about homeland security. The President's remarks were not about the war in Iraq. The President's remarks were about homeland security. Again, I think when you take a look at what was said, it was put into a context which did not match what the President said.
QUESTION: What about the larger question of the degree to which he talks about the war in political fundraisers? Can we have your assurance that he's not going to campaign on the war this fall?
MR. FLEISCHER: You've heard the President repeatedly say that he wants to work with Democrats and Republicans to protect the country. And the President is going to continue to say that message at all events that he attends, because he thinks it's important, it's part of his job, he was elected by the country for the purpose of providing national security, homeland security now, and economic security. All of that is what the President does, and the President will talk about it.
QUESTION: Well, does he think it's fair game as a political issue?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I don't know what you mean by "a political issue." The President approaches it as a matter of substance. And the President approaches that as part of his job duty; that's what the President does. And I don't think anybody is suggesting that the President of the United States should be barred from talking about the duties of his job.
MR. FLEISCHER: Ari, yesterday on C-SPAN Congressman Filner and Congressman Wilson got into it on the war on Iraq. Congressman Filner said that the -- Saddam Hussein during the Iraq-Iran war obtained biological and chemical weapons technology from the United States. And Congressman Wilson then accused Filner of hating America and being viscerally anti-American. I'm wondering if you believe that people who oppose this war are in any sense anti-American or hate America?
MR. FLEISCHER: Russell, I appreciate the you're giving me the opportunity to referee somebody else's dispute. But as I said, the President is going to continue to work with Democrats and Republicans alike. He respects the opinions of those who agree with him and who intend to vote for him, and he respects the opinions and the judgments of those who disagree with him and may vote against him.
QUESTION: You indicated that the President has nothing to apologize for. Will he then perhaps contact Senator Daschle, who seems to be very upset, to try to explain to him the misinterpretation he sees that Senator Daschle --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think I've just explained the President's position.
QUESTION: Will he directly contact Senator Daschle --
MR. FLEISCHER: As always, if there are any calls, I'll do my best to keep you filled in. But you now know what the President believes.
QUESTION: Does he have any concern that this disagreement or misunderstanding is going to cause problems with either the homeland security resolution or the Iraq --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think that's hard to imagine, because it would be so against the interest of what everybody has come to Washington to do, which is to remember that our first responsibility as Democrats and Republicans alike is to work for the protection of the country. And that's what the President has called on the Congress to do, and that's what he is doing, himself.
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