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Denial and Deception

Excerpts from the Press Gaggle by Ari Fleischer, January 22, 2003 (Full transcript)

MR. FLEISCHER: Other items I just want to point out to you -- one day after issuing the Apparatus of Lies, describing Saddam Hussein's willingness to lie to the Iraqi people and to the world, Saddam Hussein this morning lied to the Iraqi people and the world. Iraq claimed to have shot down a Predator this morning. There is no truth to the Iraqi claim. They couldn't even wait 24 hours to show the world that they, once again, lie.

With that, I'm happy to take questions.

QUESTION: Ari, do you have any response to the poll results in the Post this morning, talking about weakening support for action in Iraq?

MR. FLEISCHER: Number one, the President believes that a strong majority of Americans agree with him that it's important Saddam Hussein disarm; and that if Saddam Hussein does not disarm on his own, he will lead a coalition to disarm Saddam Hussein with the support of a large majority of the country. And that's because the American people see the threat the same way the President does. And I think that's overwhelmingly reflected in all the survey data that is out there.

QUESTION: -- show that a large majority of Americans want to give the inspectors much more time, maybe many months. And that doesn't seem to be the President's position -- that there aren't many more months left to wait.

MR. FLEISCHER:The President has said repeatedly that it's important for Saddam Hussein to disarm. And in the event he makes a decision that we must go to war to make Saddam Hussein disarm, he will talk to the American people at greater length.

But there should be no understanding the position of the American people on this. Pollsters can ask every type of follow-up question they want, but the basic fundamentals are unchanged, and that is the strong majority of the American people are willing to support military action if it comes down to that. And if the President makes that case to the American people, I think you will see even more of the country supporting.

Break in Press Briefing

QUESTION: Is the President going to outline any new evidence about Iraq's weaponry in his State of the Union speech next week?

MR. FLEISCHER: Let's go on record. In the President's State of the Union speech, the President will focus on the economy; he'll focus on compassion and caring; he will focus on security -- security being both homeland security and national security. He will, of course, discuss Iraq, and I'm not going to get into any more specifics on that this early.

Break in Press Briefing

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on a report out of Russia today that the United States has already declared -- or given the orders to go ahead and begin a war, I think it's in mid-February?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I have no comments on anything of that nature. The President has not made any final conclusions. And even if he had, if there was a discussion of the dates, I certainly would not discuss them.

But I do want to point out, there are people -- going back to some of the polling questions -- who are critical of the President because he hasn't moved yet. And there are a number of conservatives who think that the President should have moved already against Iraq. And so, when they talk about do you approve or disapprove of the President's handling of Iraq, don't forget to take into account that there are conservatives who think he should have dealt with the issue already.

QUESTION: You know, that didn't really sound like much of a denial on the idea of an order being given for war.

MR. FLEISCHER: I've said that the President has not reached any final conclusions and that I don't talk about timetables. I'm never going to answer a question about a timetable --

QUESTION: I wasn't asking --

MR. FLEISCHER: -- on military action.

QUESTION: Well, okay. I mean, I wasn't asking you to give a timetable. I was asking you for -- was the report accurate -- well, anyway, it doesn't matter. You're saying --

MR. FLEISCHER: The only way to answer it is to indicate a timetable about when -- if or when the President is going to put America's troops into harm's way. And for the protection of the troops, that's a question that I don't think people would ever expect me to answer directly.