|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 11, 2002
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:42 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. The President began his day this morning with a phone call to Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen. The Danes and the President of the EU -- the Danes are the President of the EU, and will host an important EU summit in Copenhagen December 12-13. The President stated his strong support for Turkey's aspirations to begin negotiations to join the EU. The President noted the very positive meeting he had with Turkish political leader Erdogan here in the White House yesterday, and the President expressed his hope the EU will seize an historic moment and respond to Turkey positively and with vision.
The President then proceeded to have an intelligence briefing this morning, followed by his FBI briefing. He taped an interview with Barbara Walters for 20/20, which will air on Friday night. And then the President looks forward to meeting this afternoon with the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Interior and the Chairman of his Council on Environmental Quality to announce a new initiative to reduce the threat of wildfire in the western states. That will be an announcement that will be made here by the Cabinet Secretaries intelligence his briefing room after the meeting with the President.
That is it on the President's schedule today. I have one announcement I want to make, and then I'll be happy to take your questions. The President is very pleased to be able to report today that an agreement has been reached with Chile on the agreement for free trade -- a free trade agreement with Chile. The President congratulates Ambassador Zoellick and Minister Alvear for the fine work in producing this long-sought free trade agreement.
The teams involved in this have worked long and hard, and this is important to America's economy and to the economy of Chile. This agreement with Chile will mean higher, better paying jobs for Americans, and is important to our outreach in the hemisphere with our friends and allies. The President looks forward to other initiatives in the hemisphere and continuing to make progress in -- relevant to promotion of free trade.
And with that, I'll be happy to take your questions. John Roberts.
Q Can you tell us what the status is of the ship carrying the 15 Scud missiles that were headed for Yemen? And can you kind of walk us through this whole incident?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me start on the walk-through, and then I'll give you the status. There are some developments. This has been a very successful coalition interdiction effort that took place in the Arabian Sea. We became aware of the departure of a ship from North Korea that was carrying what we believed to be weapons of concern. This was a non-flagged vessel, which gave us further concern. And the vessel was destined for Yemen. We had a concern about what was on it. We had a concern before ascertaining, indeed, that it was going to Yemen that it may have been heading for a nation that was a terrorist -- a potential terrorist nation.
As a result, the actions that were taken were the ship was stopped and boarded. And I can report to you now that the matter has been discussed with Yemeni officials. Secretary Powell has spoken with Yemeni authorities; the Vice President has done so, as well, and we have looked at this matter thoroughly. There is no provision under international law prohibiting Yemen from accepting delivery of missiles from North Korea. While there is authority to stop and search, in this instance there is no clear authority to seize the shipment of Scud missiles from North Korea to Yemen. And therefore, the merchant vessel is being released.
Q If I could just follow up on that. Were the Yemenis contacted when the ship left and you thought it was going there? And did they, in fact, say that they had not purchased any new missiles from North Korea?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I've heard a media report or at least a question pertaining to that, and I have started to track that down, and I do not think that's an accurate statement, John. The information I have does not lend me to support that thesis.
Q Didn't the United States have an agreement with Yemen that Yemen not purchase this type of equipment from North Korea?
MR. FLEISCHER: We have, as you know, efforts around the world on the proliferation front to discourage missile technologies, import, or export in most cases. And that is part of our ongoing dialogue with Yemen. It involves some issues that immediately enter the category of legality in terms of various agreements, international treaties and agreements and understandings between the United States and Yemen and around the world vis-a-vis the Missile Technology Control Regime. And so the conversations have been taking place with Yemen about it, but it's not possible to reach such a clear conclusion.
Q Well, although it may not be illegal, the Pentagon has been saying it's in violation of an agreement with the United States. Is that guidance wrong?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, there are certain legalities that accompany these understandings with different nations, all of which need to be fully explored. And that is why we began the conversations with Yemen as these issues were being explored, and this is also why the decisions have been made to release the ship.
Q Is that a yes, no, or I don't understand to the question?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it's just what I indicated.
Q Have they violated the agreement with the United States?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's a series of conversations and understandings that exist, and the legalities of those conversations are very important to understand.
Q So we don't know? Is that the answer, is we don't know whether or not it's a violation of the agreement?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think that that would be a bit of an overstatement, Ron.
Q I wouldn't know what to write right now.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, as I indicated, there is no provision under international law that prohibits this. And as we discuss this with Yemen, in terms of our deduction toward international law and to the honoring of proliferation agreements, those conversations have led to the conclusion that the ship has been released.
Q But have they given us assurances, verbal or written, that they would not buy any more missile technology from North Korea after the August embargo was slapped on the North Korean companies?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that there are indications that things that took place in Yemen previously were not always going to be practiced into the future, and it's a question of exactly how to define the starting date of that future, and that is the point of discussion with Yemen.
Q So, in other words, an agreement had not been reached yet? So they didn't violate an agreement because you guys are still just talking about it, about something that would codify --
MR. FLEISCHER: And exactly what the starting point of any agreement would be.
Q Okay. So there would be an agreement -- there will be an agreement at some point in the future, but we're not there yet, in terms of --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, let me say this about the future, as well. Yemen is a partner of the United States in the war on terrorism. There are many agreements around the world in international treaty law which have been agreed to, focused on nuclear proliferation, on biological proliferation, on chemical weapon proliferation. One thing that does come out of this that the United States thinks needs to be looked at by the world is that there are less stringent agreements on the international treaty level dealing with proliferation of missiles.
The nuclear proliferation agreements are well-known. Biological and chemical are well-known. One thing that this does underscore is the need to take a look -- and we will do so, with friends and others around the world -- in a diplomatic sense about whether or not the international regimes that deal with missile proliferation need a second look.
Q Let me ask a follow-up. Now that these weapons are going to go on to Yemen, what's the administration's level of concern about a haven for al Qaeda and a government that is -- while it's pledged its cooperation, is still rather suspect -- taking receipt of these kinds of weapons, possessing them in the first place?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Yemen is a sovereign government. And Yemen has given the United States assurances -- and this is what Mr. McClellan referenced this morning -- as conversations took place with Yemen, Yemen has given the United States assurances that it will not transfer these missiles to anyone.
Q Has the President or has the White House, anybody here seen the new -- the intelligence report put out by the Senate committee? And what do you think of it?
MR. FLEISCHER: We look forward to receiving it and studying it in its totality.
Q You haven't seen it?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not aware that it has reached that level yet. I think they have just come out with it now. Obviously, there were some press accounts of it that were given out ahead of release. And it's a question of conveyance and when that will be actually looked at. But we look forward to looking at this. This is an important document. This was important work that was done by the Congress through the intelligence committees that now will be built upon with the 9/11 Commission. They have some recommendations in there that we want to review carefully and talk to members of Congress about.
Q I understand that it takes off on practically all the top officials in this administration in terms of intelligence.
MR. FLEISCHER: Have you read it, Helen?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, then how do you know it took off it after all the top officials?
Q Because I had some good reports.
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll take a look. We'll see what it says. There was a reason that the 9/11 Commission was based on the intelligence committees' work. The intelligence committees performed their duties for the country by taking a look at all the information that was relevant. And the next step is for the administration to receive it and analyze it. We appreciate the work that they put into it.
Q Do you go along with the Defense Department having one intelligence officer over all the agencies?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's a separate issue from what the committee -- this report recommends having a Cabinet-level Secretary of Intelligence, for lack of better words. That's a recommendation that we'll review. We'll see what the reasons they have in this report and we'll take a look. But as far as the Department of Defense, the Department of Defense plays a very valuable role in the intelligence community. And they organize themselves as such.
Q So you won't have any say in that?
MR. FLEISCHER: I've heard no objections from the White House about that measure.
Q Back on the ship, does the administration believe that the government of Yemen has been completely above board and frank on this matter?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that in our conversations with Yemen, we have talked this matter through. I think that Yemen understands the United States' commitment to making certain that terrorist regimes in the area do not receive weapons. And the United States, as you know from reading our strategy on combating weapons of mass destruction, will be vigilant in fighting proliferation, in terms of counterproliferation efforts and nonproliferation efforts, including interdiction, as warranted or necessary.
Q I'll follow up on that in just a second. But in talking this matter through, the Yemenis were honest, frank, and above board with the United States?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that we have no complaints about the diplomacy between the United States and Yemen, as we discuss this matter.
Q So why was the ship unflagged in international waters?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that is one of the reasons that we had questions about the ship and we did not know where the destination of the ship was. And I think that these things are still going to be explored.
Q And why were the missiles hidden under bags of cement?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's a question that North Korea or Yemen have to answer. But, again, because the fact of the matter is, it is not an illegal product that can be stopped under international law and seized, that the fact that somebody took those steps is not, in and of itself, a violation of anything. That's why the ship is proceeding.
Q Did we ask them why they did that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, we have reviewed the matter to see what steps were necessary to take and whether or not the ship's delivery should be resumed. And we have no reason legally to stop it in that sense or in other ways.
Q Has Yemen committed not to take any more shipments from North Korea?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that's a question you should address to Yemen.
Q -- just comment on --
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, if you're asking about something that Yemen is committing to with other nations, you need to ask Yemen that.
Q No, have they committed to the United States? Have they committed to the White House after this incident that they will not take any more --
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, it's not my job to speak for other governments. I can explain to you what's happened in the case of this ship.
Q Are you contemplating more sanctions against North Korea for this?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, under the Missile Technology Control Regime, there is no provision of international law that prohibited this.
Q Well, what good is it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that's why I said there are issues that are going to be raised that deal with the overall regime of missile in export. What's clear is that the international regimes that deal with nuclear and others have provisions that do not apply in this case. And international law still has to be -- David.
Q Several questions on this, Ari. Let's focus on the North Korea part of it instead of the Yemen portion for a moment. First of all, after you turned out this policy on interdiction that makes it clear you will stop these, is the lesson that North Korea should draw from this, that while the United States is willing to cut off North Korean oil, it is free to ship out its Scud missiles, its No Dong missiles, the Taepo Dong missile if it wants, which are, of course, the main way that it's financing its other weapons of mass destruction program? The policy of the United States is as long as the recipient nation can legally receive it, we will do nothing to cut off North Korea's export of missiles?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the large majority of the international community has long opposed proliferation of these type of missiles. The United States has identified North Korea as one of the prime exporters of such missiles, and North Korea actions, in the case of this interception, demonstrate clearly the concerns we have as a country. Having said that, international law still is international law, and you have to be careful to separate an agreement North Korea made with the United States and Japan and South Korea, vis-a-vis the agreed framework, and their cooperation with the agreed framework on the issue of oil, which you did raise, separate and apart from whether or not in this instance the export of the Scud missiles was not controlled by international law.
Q During the Cuban missile crisis there was not international law that guided missile exports between the Soviet Union, at the time, and Cuba, and yet the United States turned the ships around.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, this is why I suggest to you that -- I said earlier that Yemen is a partner of the United States and that we had concerns about whether or not these missiles were going to head to any rogue regimes. And that would have been a different matter. But the fact of the matter is the import or export of this which is legal must be observed under international law. If international law would have given the United States the right to do other things vis-a-vis other nations, you can rest assured we would have exercised those rights.
The issue is whether the national security of the United States or our interests or friends in the region would have been affected had these missiles been intended for another nation.
Q So we are not going to blockade or embargo missile --
MR. FLEISCHER: Yemen? No.
Q -- missile exports from North Korea?
MR. FLEISCHER: Have we done so?
Q My question is, is that -- from this point forward, the message from this is the North Koreans are free --
MR. FLEISCHER: If you're asking is there going to be a military embargo of either Yemen or North Korea, the answer is no.
Q Ari, you and other administration officials have said that the U.S. has been tracking this ship since about when it left Korea.
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.
Q Were there attempts made between then and stopping and boarding the ship to find out what was on the ship, by contacting North Korea or Yemen? And why did we stop and board the ship when and where we did?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that given the fact, again, now we know what is on the ship and what its destination was because of the international effort that went into stopping the ship. We now have that information. The intelligence we had, the information that contributed to this development where we were ably to successfully determine what was on there gave us these concerns. I think it's fair to say that if we had concerns about something that we didn't know where exactly it was going, or exactly what was on there, the last thing you want to do is to say to somebody, by the way, would you mind telling us. That would not necessarily lead to any results where the people who, in the event our worst suspicions had been realized, I don't think they would have wanted to be very cooperative.
Q So no diplomatic contacts were --
MR. FLEISCHER: Why would that make sense to do that if we have concerns about what would be on here might have been illegal or may have been headed to a rogue regime? If it had been illegal or had been heading to a rogue regime, I doubt the people responsible would have fessed up if they got a phone call.
Q So why then and there was the ship stopped?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, from an operational point of view, I'm not in a position to tell you from the boarding of a ship, whether a hundred nautical miles or 400 nautical miles was the operational imperative. I think it reached the point where it was decided because of the concerns we had that the information needed to be ascertained to make certain that this was not any type of threat.
Q You were just saying that beyond the concern that these missiles might have been headed to a rogue regime or ultimately to terrorists, the U.S. really doesn't have much case to make, aside from that, under international law? And because Yemen has been somewhat cooperative, I gather, you're not really objecting to the fact?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, we have to be guided by the law in these matters. This is about our national security, and the law is a reflection of the protections that have been placed to defend our national security. And given the fact that it was -- we had concerns about whether or not this would have raised national security issues; those concerns were explored, evaluated as a result of the international action. We had the actual information about what was on the ship and where it was going. It did not raise to that level and so, therefore, as the law would require, since there was no provision that prohibited them from accepting these missiles, the determination was made that the ship would proceed.
Q On a related national security matter, yesterday the administration put out this National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction. Some reports have suggested that this contains a new policy or a departure from previous U.S. policy. Could you clarify what it is that is in here that is new or is a departure, or what we should take from this new strategy?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the announcement of our National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction represents a comprehensive guide for how seriously the United States takes the need to counter weapons of mass destruction proliferation. And it underscores, as has been previously underscored, but ties together in a very comprehensive fashion the fact that we will engage against the development of weapons of mass destruction through counterproliferation, through nonproliferation and, if necessary, through response.
Q Now, on the response question, some -- there was a headline in New York today that said, "Nuke 'em." There have been other reports that suggested the administration was somehow upping the ante here. Is that the case?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think it's a rather declarative statement of how seriously the United States would take it in the event that weapons of mass destruction were used. And it's a reiteration of a statement that has been made previously. But this time, it ties it all together to make clear that the United States will, indeed, respond.
Q Any departure at all from existing U.S. policy, going all the way back to the Gulf War, when we made similar statements, as far as I remember --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, this policy is consistent with that previous policy.
Q But in an era of stateless terrorism, against who?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me read from it. What is says, to be clear, is "The United States must be prepared to respond to the use of weapons of mass destruction against our citizens or military forces and those of our friends and allies. We will develop and maintain the capability to reduce to the extent possible the potentially horrific consequences of WMD attacks at home and abroad."
And the message, I think that people, whether they are states or whether they are terrorists or whether they are terrorists -- or states that are hosting terrorists, is that they should not engage in any such use because the United States will respond, as we deem appropriate.
Q With weapons of mass destruction?
MR. FLEISCHER: As is necessary and as is deemed appropriate.
Q So even if the --
MR. FLEISCHER: Jean. We're going to -- there are lots of people in this room, you have to -- keep asking the questions. Jean.
Q Two things on North Korea. You mentioned that there were some suspicions or concerns that the ship might be headed to someplace that would have ill intent. Now, what we know is that Yemen legally bought the missiles, Yemen wanted the missiles, the boat was headed for Yemen. On what basis did the administration have any reason to conclude that this boat was going anywhere but Yemen?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because until you could get on board the boat and talk to the officials involved and look at the paper involved, there's no telling where this ship could go.
Q So you all have --
MR. FLEISCHER: When you look at a ship in the ocean, merely looking at a ship in the ocean is not an indication of where the ship is going.
Q So you had no intelligence -- you had intelligence beforehand that there were missiles on the ship, that's why you were tracking it, but you had no earlier intelligence about where it was destined?
MR. FLEISCHER: We knew it was going to the Middle East.
Q Well, that's all you knew? The Middle East?
MR. FLEISCHER: We knew it was going to the Middle East, and we had concerns about exactly where it was going.
Q Did you have an indication at all that it was going to Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: We had concerns about where its ultimate destination might have been, and it applied to terrorist states or terrorist organizations or rogue states.
Q Right, but you didn't know -- you had nothing that indicated it was going to Iraq? You had concerns that it might go to --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'd say we had concerns.
Q But no evidence?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we had concerns based on information.
Q I also wondered, in light of the fact that you all unveiled this strategy yesterday on nonproliferation, I understand the legalities as you've stated them, but it seems to me that if the White House is promoting a new aggressive strategy for interdiction and to stop nonproliferation, to stop proliferation particularly from North Korea, and Yemen is our new friend, then why are we letting Yemen have the North Korean Scuds? Why didn't the administration try to -- or did the administration try to cut some other deal with Yemen to actually block these missiles from getting out?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because under international law and under the rights of sovereign nations, the United States had the right to stop and search the ship --
Q But not seize?
MR. FLEISCHER: -- or the international community -- in this case, Spain -- had the right to stop and search this ship. But there was no right to seize. Now, what this event does show the world is that the treaties and the international obligations that protect the world from proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons are far stronger than the treaties that protect the world from proliferation issues. And those now will be new issues that need to get looked into as a result of this, to see whether or not there can be efforts made to tighten up proliferation involving missiles, and to make it, perhaps, as tight as some of the other conventions that exist.
Q So did you do this to make a point?
MR. FLEISCHER: We did it because we had concerns about whether or not this could have national security implications for the United States.
Q Okay, just you did have --
MR. FLEISCHER: Last question, Jean.
Q Yes, okay. Other than legal options, you had diplomatic options. And did the administration try to employ any of those to stop these -- if you're worried about proliferation, to stop these missiles from delivery? Yemen -- did you try to cut a deal with Yemen and give them something else? If their -- if they've got defense concerns, we have a lot of stuff we can give them that --
MR. FLEISCHER: Until yesterday we didn't know what nation to talk to in terms of who was going to receive these. It may not have been Yemen. It turned out to be Yemen.
Q But did you try?
MR. FLEISCHER: Try to talk to who?
MR. FLEISCHER: We didn't --
Q Once you learned of the ship?
MR. FLEISCHER: Once we learned it was Yemen, we immediately talked to Yemen.
Q But do you -- on the missiles. Did you try to talk them out of taking the missiles? Did you try to cut some other deal?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, it's -- it is their right under the law. That is the case.
Q Two questions on two different subjects. First of all, you said that there was a basis, legal basis under international law to interdict the ship.
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.
Q Can you just clarify what that was? Is that part of the missile --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, because the ship was an unflagged vessel, there was a right to stop and search the ship.
Q And that's a --
MR. FLEISCHER: It's under maritime law.
Q Maritime law.
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.
Q The second question, on a totally unrelated subject, you said yesterday that President Bush still has confidence in Senator Lott to be the Republican leader in the Senate, the Majority Leader, despite what he -- the remarks he made at Senator Thurmond's birthday party. It now turns out that Senator Lott made comments very similar to those 20 years ago -- more than 20 years ago -- which undercuts his statement that this was spontaneous. Given what has now come out, does the President still believe that Senator Lott is --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I think you have to -- the remarks that were made in 1980, according to Senator Lott's staff, were made in an entirely different -- about an entirely different subject. I understand also -- I don't know the content of it, but I understand Senator Lott is going to be speaking out about this later today, so you may have to -- may have additional information coming from Senator Lott.
Q The President still believes --
MR. FLEISCHER: Nothing has changed from anything that I've indicated to you yesterday.
Q Senator Daschle just put out a statement saying that the President himself should make clear that the Republican Party does not believe the kinds of things that Senator Lott was saying. Is the White House prepared to actually denounce the statement that Senator Lott made?
MR. FLEISCHER: I made President Bush's statement very clear yesterday on this topic about what -- the progress our nation has made in racial issues and how we are a better nation today as a result of the civil rights movement and the civil rights changes.
Q Going back to something Jean raised earlier, you said the President -- I'm sorry, you said there were concerns but no evidence that these missiles were going to Iraq. Why were there these concerns?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because of the information we had. A ship obviously loaded with weapons did leave North Korea destined for the Middle East. And we wanted to make certain that the weapons did not hand up in the hands of either terrorists or terrorist nations.
Q Were you speculating that Iraq could be the recipient and --
MR. FLEISCHER: Or rogue nations, terrorists. We have concerns, of course.
Q Why Iraq, specifically?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Iraq is prohibited under United Nations charters from having any weapons that have a length of -- missiles that have a range of greater than 150 kilometers. So if we have information
that suggests that missiles are on their way to the region, particularly Scud missiles, which we know have a history of being used in that region, and if it would raise questions about whether or not international obligations and United Nations sanctions were being followed through, we want to determine whether or not that's the case.
Q Ari, Postal Commission. Why is now the time for a wholesale reexamination of the commission, and are we likely to see a partial or wholesale privatization of the Postal Service?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the Postal Service is facing many challenges in the world of e-mail and modern technology, which have changed the way that many people behave in terms of how they deliver messages to their neighbors or people across town. And so the Postal Service has been faced with ongoing financial issues that will require a very comprehensive look so that we can make certain that we have sustainability of Postal Service to American people. And so this commission is going to take a broad look at the efforts of the Postal Service to deliver mail to the American people, given the modern recognition of competition toward a Postal Service that comes from all kinds of sources that never used to exist.
Q Does the President want this panel to look at possibly privatizing in whole or in part the U.S. Postal Service?
MR. FLEISCHER: This commission has a very broad range, to take a look at what will work best for the American people in terms of delivery of mail and in terms of what will work best for the taxpayers and what will work best for the Postal Service.
Q The President this morning talked to the current President of the E.U., the Danish Prime Minister, about the possibility of Turkey joining the European Union. Could you talk a little about that conversation? And also, it's the view of the administration -- you said that yesterday -- that the United States doesn't want to interfere in whether Turkey should go in or not. But why was the call then made? I mean, the American view on this subject is hardly unknown.
MR. FLEISCHER: I didn't say the United States doesn't want to interfere. I said this is a decision the E.U. will make, and that the President will call up and talk to foreign nations and foreign leaders about his opinions on this matter. And I must have done this before you got here, but I already read out the phone call from the President to Prime Minister Rasmussen.
Q Legalities aside, what concerns you more, that North Korea is selling Scuds, or that Yemen is buying them?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, proliferation remains an important issue around the world -- to counter efforts of proliferation. And I think if there's one thing that's going to come out of this, is that the world community has learned that the efforts of counterproliferation that exist in the international arena dealing with missiles needs to be reexamined. This is called a lacuna. Lacuna is a gap in international law. And this is something that needs to be explored.
Q Different topic -- has the administration begun to receive at least preliminary indications of what is in this document now from Iraq over the weekend? Have you gotten some early reports as to -- as they start to sift through this?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the President notes that it's too soon to reach any judgments about it. The efforts are continuing to take a look at it, and we have reached no conclusions about it. And I don't anticipate that we will any time immediately. This is still a very large document that is going to be gone through in a thoughtful and careful and deliberative manner. The experts are still in the -- deep into that process.
Q Just procedurally, is there a way that -- how is it being disseminated to the administration? In other words, are you getting -- are you waiting until it's all been digested to present this to the President? Or are you getting -- is he getting a blow-by-blow of what's being found as it goes?
MR. FLEISCHER: As you know, just as matter of policy, whatever the President is briefed on in his national security meetings is not a topic that I discuss at any rate. So I'm just not going to be able to evaluate for you whether he's getting piecemeal information. But in any case, the fundamental approach is we want to see what the document says. We want to study it carefully and see it in its totality.
Q Getting back to the Senator Lott situation, the President has expressed his desire to sort of broaden the tent and bring more African Americans into the Republican Party. Is he concerned that this sort of thing is going to undermine those efforts? And what specifically does he intend to do to try to bring more folks in?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President, as I said yesterday, understands and knows that America is a much richer and better nation as a result of the changes that have been made to our society involving integration and the improvement of relations between races. The changes made in the civil rights community have been among the most constructive changes that our society has experienced. And the President is grateful for that effort. The President has a record of reaching out and will continue to reach out.
As you know, tomorrow the President is going to be going up to Philadelphia, where he intends to discuss his initiative on faith-based actions to help the American people. And this is an area that reaches deep into American communities, particularly into the black community, in terms of many of the churches that have played a leadership role in improving the lives of people in America and helping people who government programs have not been able to reach. That's one small example of several of the things that the President has done and will continue to focus on.
Q -- very helpful to his ultimate goal, can he?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I can only describe to you what the President is doing and why he's doing it.
Q Ari, the President has repeatedly warned of the danger that somebody would use one of these Scud-type missiles to attack the homeland. When he learned this morning that these missiles could not, in fact, be seized and the ship would have to be let go, how did he react?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I think the issue here is the danger to our homeland comes from nations that would use weapons. After all, these are not the only weapons in the world. The danger comes from nations that would use their existing weapons to harm the United States or our friends. Yemen is not one of those nations. So the issue is not as much the fact that these are Scud missiles, as much as it is would the nation receiving them use them to harm the United States or our allies. In the case of Yemen, that's not what is the case here.
I think the President was pleased and relieved to hear that these missiles were not going to the hands of somebody who could present a national security threat to the United States.
Q Could you tell us, in terms of reviewing the existing regime, anti-missile regime, did the President direct the Secretary of State to take some immediate action on this? Or how is that review going forward?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think now that this process has gone through, and there's, as I indicate, this lacuna has now been focused on, I think what you're going to say is through the National Security Council at the State Department, others, all of us who have a concern about proliferation will take a look at this and see what needs to be done.
Q Did this incident call into question the policy that says Iraq is target one, but North Korea gets a pass, even though it's got acknowledged nuclear weapons, chemical and biological stock, and is shipping missiles around the world?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, our concern about North Korea has been violation of treaties particularly dealing with nuclear weapons or other such weapons that involve threats to our national security, or because their exports violate existing treaty regimes or international obligations. And we don't have to like everything North Korea does, but that doesn't mean that we have the right to change international law out of convenience.
Q Well, that basically says you don't mind them shipping missiles around the world.
MR. FLEISCHER: The issue again, Ron, is we as the United States -- as much as we do not like what North Korea does around the world, the United States still has an obligation to follow international law, and not let the fact that we believe that North Korea is a proliferator and presents dangerous problems to the United States in other regards from telling us that we have a right to violate international law. We do not. And we still have to obey international law so that we are in a stronger position to enforce international law on nations like North Korea.
Q Is Saddam Hussein free to sell his Scud missiles to people?
MR. FLEISCHER: Saddam Hussein, if he said he had Scud missiles, it would be very interesting, wouldn't it? If Saddam Hussein wanted to suggest that he had them and they were for sale, I think the United States would be very interested in the fact that that would be an acknowledgment that he's in violation of the United Nations resolutions prohibiting him from having such missiles.
Q A variation on Ron's first or maybe second question. To what extent is this Scud incident a setback to your antiproliferation message? Despite legalities, despite all of your regrets, more Scuds have been introduced into a tinderbox region.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think, frankly, as a result of the lights being shined on this, this may represent a new way to get additional proliferation -- antiproliferation measures enhanced or new ones created for the enhancement of existing ones. This has shown that proliferation, when it comes to missiles, can be reevaluated and relooked at by the international community.
Q I understand that you've said that already. But to what extent does this go against everything that this administration has been preaching about weapons spread to anywhere?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, one of the ways that the world fights proliferation is through international treaties. And in order to adhere to treaties, all nations must adhere to the law. And we have an obligation to adhere to the international law in this case. I think the United States would be on thin ground if we, out of convenience or out of any other reason said, we will violate international law because we have other concerns. We cannot do that. The fact that we will adhere to international law, in the end, helps strengthen international agreements that fight proliferation efforts like this. And as we freely admit, this incident exposes flaws in international regimes and international laws that are worthy of having a renewed look by the world about these efforts.
Q Ari, a couple questions on this intelligence report from Senator Graham and Shelby. They held a press conference today and Senator Shelby said that George Tenet has overseen more massive intelligence failures at the CIA than any other director in history. I was wondering, does the President still have confidence in that? Because Senator Shelby obviously is basing that opinion on what he has found out.
And my other question is, Senator Graham said that he had strong suspicions that there was a foreign country, or more than one foreign country, that helped facilitate the lead up to 9/11 attacks -- in other words, helped the hijackers in this country. Do you have any indications there was a foreign country involved?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one, vis-a-vis what Senator Shelby said, I think it's important that you represented it accurately. He filed a one-man minority dissent. That was not the view of the committee that was charged by the Congress on a bipartisan basis in looking into this matter. They reached no such conclusion. So this is one man's opinion and the President respectfully and strongly differs with it.
On the second, since I have not heard any evaluations from the White House yet about the report, I would hesitate to comment on anything that is contained in it. We will take a careful look at what it says.
Q Ari, a slightly different question about Yemen. The President, when he meets with coalition partners, the people who have also made commitments to fight this war on terror, he says, I don't want to hear even what you say, show me what you're going to do, do something. Here's what we know about Yemen so far: We know that al Qaeda attacked the Cole in its port. We know that despite its commitment to beef up its Coast Guard in its waterways through our help, it wasn't able to stop al Qaeda from bombing a French tanker. We know there's enough al Qaeda running around there for our unmanned drones to kill them when they can. And now they're buying Scud missiles from North Korea. So besides you saying that they're committed to the war on terror, what proof is there for the public to see that they're actually making a commitment and not working against the United States?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think, David, you will find -- and you can address this question not only to the White House, but to international observers of any stripe -- Yemen faces a variety of challenges which they are working very well with the United States on. Yemen is doing everything it can to help us in the war on terror. Yemen, because of its location in the world and because of certain indigenous factors in Yemen, faces challenges that other sovereign nations do not face. And we are very pleased to continue to work with Yemen to help them as they help us in facing these challenges.
But I'm not sure that you can compare Yemen, say, to Great Britain or some other nation and say that the circumstances by which a Great Britain can provide aid can be matched by a Yemen. Not every nation has the same ease of providing assistance, not every nation has the internal issues that are presented in Yemen.
Q Just for the record, are they helping us by buying Scud missiles from a regime led by a leader the President said he hates and loathes, and by a regime that has been classified as evil alongside Iraq? Are they helping us by buying weapons from such a regime?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, we have no choice but to obey international law. And what Yemen has done in this case, because Yemen is an ally of the United States, in that sense it does not provide a threat to the United States. In terms of North Korea, we do have ongoing concerns about North Korea's efforts to be -- to sell arms around the world, and those concerns are well known.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 1:24 P.M. EST