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Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, January 21, 2003 (Full transcript)

QUESTION: Ari, the President said he's certain Saddam Hussein is not disarming. It sounds like he's made up his mind inspections aren't working and that military action is now necessary.

MR. FLEISCHER: Number one, it is not about whether inspections are or are not working. It is about whether Saddam Hussein is or is not disarming. That's the issue. The inspectors are not there to disarm Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein has an obligation under the United Nations Security Council resolution to show the inspectors that he is disarming.

QUESTION: Well, he says he's certain that he's not disarming, so that is --

MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.

QUESTION: That's the conclusion. What's the consequence?

MR. FLEISCHER: And that's why the process continues. It's a process where the President has indicated time is running out.

QUESTION: The French Foreign Minister says that the inspectors are doing something else, containing Saddam; that essentially, he says, the weapons programs are frozen, they're blocked, and that as long as you've got weapons inspectors on the ground harassing the regime, preventing them from developing these weapons, military action isn't necessary.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the French have made a very noteworthy observation when they allude to the fact that Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction programs have been frozen. I think "frozen" is the French word; they can contain him. The French have, therefore, concluded that Saddam Hussein has lied to the world and that he indeed possesses weapons of mass destruction that, in the French judgment, has been frozen or contained. But in that statement, the French have reached a conclusion that Saddam Hussein is once again lying to the world. It's not only the United States who says that Saddam Hussein and Iraq have weapons of mass destruction; the French say that he has weapons of mass destruction.

The question then becomes what to be done about it. And this is why the President feels so strongly that the world cannot sit by idly, that the world faces a choice; as he expressed to the United Nations, that the world can either be the United Nations or the League of Nations. And he will not stand by, if it becomes the League of Nations. The President will lead a coalition to disarm Saddam Hussein if Saddam Hussein will not disarm himself.

QUESTION: Well, what to make of the argument that containment is preferable to war, that you can get the job done -- this is the French argument -- by using these inspectors to prevent the development of weapons of mass destruction, and that's preferable to the chaos and horror of war.

MR. FLEISCHER: The suggestion that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction and that is something the world can either accept or allow is not something the President would ever support. The President thinks it's vital to world peace to make certain that Saddam Hussein does not have weapons of mass destruction, and so, too, does the United Nations. The United Nations passed the various resolutions they have, now 17, to make certain that he does not have weapons of mass destruction. And so the President will continue his efforts in consultation with France and with other nations around the world to make certain that the will of the world is carried out and that Saddam Hussein does not have weapons of mass destruction.

As the President said earlier today, this is a bad movie that he has no intention of watching again.

QUESTION: Nice rhetoric, but I still don't understand why is it better to go to war than to contain Saddam's weapons of mass destruction? If you can do what the French say, and keep him on his heels and keep him from using those weapons, why go to war to disarm him?

MR. FLEISCHER:: As the President has said many times, the problem with Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction is that he has used them. He has used them before to attack his neighbors, to attack his own people, and history shows that if Saddam Hussein has a weapon, he will use it. So the very notion that somehow Saddam Hussein in possession of weapons of mass destruction is an allowable event is not something the President agrees with.

The President thinks the mere fact that Saddam Hussein indeed has possession of weapons of mass destruction is a fact that cannot -- cannot -- be tolerated, in order to protect the peace.

QUESTION: -- think U.N. weapons inspectors on the ground can keep Saddam from using those weapons?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, the purpose of the inspectors going into Iraq is not to contain. The purpose of having weapons inspectors in Iraq is, per the United Nations resolution, to make certain that Saddam Hussein has disarmed. That is the United Nations position.

QUESTION: How critical now is the January 27th report, Ari, as a possible trigger for war?

MR. FLEISCHER: It remains just as we've indicated for a couple weeks now. We've said all along it's an important date. The President has not called it a trigger for war. It's an important reporting date.

QUESTION: Are you frustrated that France and other members of the Security Council don't want to go as far as you want to go?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think, again, the world has seen this before -- it was called the '90s. Throughout the '90s many nations basically allowed Saddam Hussein to continue in his pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. And it was President Bush who went to the United Nations and convinced the world that that path had to be altered. And I think the President was very successful in doing that.

And so as the world occasionally will go through phases where the resolve of the world will be tested, President Bush will work to make certain, and do it in concert with our allies, to make certain that Iraq does, indeed, disarm from possession of weapons of mass destruction.

QUESTION: When the President says, we'll lead a coalition of the willing and disarm him -- when we look at the words "and disarm him" solely, does that mean that U.S. forces will go in and find the weapons? Or will you use the goal to depose Saddam and therefore take away his ability to use those weapons?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it's both. In the event that there's military action, you can be certain that the purpose of it will be to protect the world from Saddam Hussein's use of weapons of mass destruction.

QUESTION: What does that mean?

MR. FLEISCHER: It means that any result of military action would be aimed at stopping Saddam Hussein or any of the Iraqi officials from using or launching any of their weapons of mass destruction.

QUESTION: And it would be led by?

MR. FLEISCHER: The use of overwhelming and powerful military force.

QUESTION: To achieve what goal, depose Saddam?

MR. FLEISCHER: Clearly, regime change remains an American objective, per the legislation that was passed in the Congress.

QUESTION: So are you saying then, that effectively when the President says we'll lead a coalition to disarm Saddam, what you say is, we'll go into the country and we will forcefully remove him from power?

MR. FLEISCHER: The point of any military exercise would be to make certain that neither Saddam Hussein or anybody else inside Iraq is in a position to use or launch weapons of mass destruction. And of course, regime change is a part of America's policy. And if there is a military operation, the President has made clear its purpose will be to make certain that no one can use weapons of mass destruction.

QUESTION: Ari, the President says that Saddam's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction is a threat to the United States and to its allies. Are there any plans or any intentions from Iraq to use those weapons of mass destruction to either strike the United States or its allies? Is there any proof of that?

MR. FLEISCHER: Any proof of it? I think the best guide is history. The best guide is what Saddam Hussein has done in the past, where he has attacked his neighbors. And I remind you also, under Saddam Hussein's obligations to the world, he is prohibited from having, for example, ballistic missiles with a range in excess of 150 kilometers. And so he is prohibited from even having the means to engage in these attacks.

The fear is, however, as Secretary Armitage pointed out very vividly today, Saddam Hussein in the late '90s was found by the United Nations to be in possession of long-range missiles, to be in possession of anthrax, mustard gas, VX gas, sarin, botulin. The question is, what has Saddam Hussein done with the very weapon systems prohibited to him that the United Nations said he has. Where are they? What has he done with them? He certainly has not provided the world with any proof that he has destroyed them, leading to the conclusion that, of course, he still has them.

QUESTION: But, Ari, you're saying that there's no U.S. intelligence to show that he has any intention of using these weapons against the United States?

MR. FLEISCHER: I didn't say that.

QUESTION: Is there?

MR. FLEISCHER:I don't discuss intelligence information as a matter of routine.

QUESTION: So are there any indications or plans that Saddam Hussein, beyond having a nuclear -- weapons of mass destruction, would have any intention of using them against the United States?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I think his intention is best judged by his past. He has them and he's used them before. The fear is that he will use them again.

QUESTION: Can you clarify your interpretation of the French statements that you obviously believe suggest the French are saying that he does, indeed, now have weapons of mass destruction?

MR. FLEISCHER:I think the statement that was attributed is -- alluded to the fact that the French believe that they have -- Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction has been frozen and can be contained.

QUESTION: You mean frozen in place and not dismantled?

MR. FLEISCHER:: I think it's a fair summary of the French statement.

QUESTION: Now, you've made a very strong case to us, to the world, the administration is arguing to everyone that Saddam is not disarming. When does the U.S. intend to make that case at the United Nations?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that as you've seen Secretary Armitage today spoke out about Iraq's attempts to deceive and to deny the very fact that they were shown by the United Nations to be in possession of weapons that remain unaccounted for, in violation of Saddam Hussein's obligations in filling out his declaration to the United Nations earlier -- late last year. Now Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz will also have remarks on Thursday, and the President will give a State of the Union next week. And I'm not prepared to go beyond that, but clearly there is a lot of information to be shared and will continue to be so.

QUESTION: Clearly, we should interpret that you're suggesting as the beginning of the campaign to lay out the case that we believe exists about his refusal to disarm, and that seems to be clear. But my question is, when do we take this from public argument and speeches here in Washington to the Security Council, itself?

MR. FLEISCHER: In the event there are any further announcements to be made, we will make them for you.

QUESTION: Ari, back on Iraq, twice today you've said that U.N. -- that the United Nations, the President has seen they sometimes need to have some spine, perhaps, induced into them. Are America's allies being spineless in this confrontation?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I'm quoting something that you heard the President, himself, say several months ago about this very -- very topic. And I think that when you look back at the '90s, for example, and the fact that the inspectors were thrown out of Iraq and they were not put back in until President Bush was able to go up to New York and make a very forceful presentation to the United Nations General Assembly about the importance of disarming Saddam Hussein and returning the inspectors there, that began the final phase of what we are in now. I think it's a reflection of reality, Mark. I think the fact that the President went to New York created the environment for the inspectors to go back.

I think it's fairly obvious, if the President had not taken that step, the inspectors would not be there and that would not be in the interest of the world.

QUESTION: You keep saying the President is keen to consult with the allies. But when they say, no, we don't think that approach is right, we need more time for the inspectors, he doesn't want to hear it.

MR. FLEISCHER: I think just let the process evolve. There is a process underway and the President is content to let this evolve. The President values the opinion and the judgment of our allies and our friends and he will continue to do so. And I think it's fair to say the positions that various nations take can evolve over time themselves, and that various people and governments have various opinions and this is not yet a matter that has been brought to its final conclusion. And so I think it's also important as you judge other nations to be open to the fact that continued consultations will take place and not all positions are final. Perhaps they will be. But I think that's not the case.

QUESTION: Ari, the administration has made clear in recent days that the American people should not expect to see in the 27th inspectors report a smoking gun or an Adlai Stevenson-type photograph. I'm wondering what the President thinks the American people should be looking for in that report, what will they see, and how much stock should they put in it?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that's a question you've got to ask to the authors of the report. It's not a United States government document, and so I'm not in a position to tell you what would be in that report. I really don't know how to answer it beyond that.

You know, one of the interesting things, you refer to the Adlai Stevenson photograph. Of course, there was a recent symposium held in Cuba about the Cuban missile crisis. And one of the questions was raised was, how could this be that these missiles was put there in a way that was so visible, why could the world see them? And the answer, interestingly enough, came back from the people who were part of the missile crisis back then who returned to Cuba years later to talk about this. It was that the general in charge of the missile program was not a very good general, and therefore he failed to hide the weapons he had, and therefore they became visible.

And the very fact that Adlai Stevenson was able in one fell swoop to make such a revelation of course led to a change in behavior of our enemies around the world, where they realized that if they did have bad generals who had their weapons out in the open, it was now a knowable fact. And so the very fact that it was revealed once led to a change in behavior of our would-be enemies around the world, because they did not want to repeat the mistakes that were made.

And that brings me to Iraq. Iraq is excellent at hiding what it has. It has large areas of desert. It has large underground areas. It has mobile laboratories. The fact that people can even think that what Adlai Stevenson was able to do in an era far, far long ago can be repeated today is a wrongful impression of how Saddam Hussein and Iraq operate. And I think that historic context and the fact that it happened once means it's very, very less likely to happen again is important to point out.

QUESTION: The second question. You and the President have repeatedly said that Saddam Hussein gassed his own people. The biggest such attack was in Halabja in March, 1988, where some 6,800 Kurds were killed. Last week in an article in the International Herald Tribune, Joost Hilterman writes that: while it was Iraq that carried out the attack, the United States at the time, fully aware that it was Iraq, accused Iran. This was apparently part of the tilt toward Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war. And the tilt included billions of dollars in loan guarantees. Sensing that he had carte blanche, Saddam escalated his resort to guesswork there and graduating to ever more lethal agents.

So you and the President have said that Saddam has repeatedly gassed his own people -- why do you leave out the part that the United States, in effect, gave Saddam the green light?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Russell, I speak for President George W. Bush in the year 2003. I think if you have a question about statements that were made or purportedly made by an administration in 1988, you need to address those to somewhere other than this White House. I can't speak for that. I don't know if that's accurate, inaccurate. But I think you have all the means to ask those questions yourself.

QUESTION: Ari, there seems to have been a major sea change in this administration, vis-a-vis Iraq and its policy. Up until perhaps Sunday, certainly with Dick Armitage's speech today and the speech that Paul Wolfowitz is going to give on Thursday, it's no longer -- according to the administration, voiced by these two men -- that Saddam must disarm and there must be a regime change, even though that's an act of Congress. The policy now seems to be that Saddam Hussein is in violation of the U.N. resolution, which means, in effect, the administration does not have to produce a smoking gun in order to go to war. Would you comment on that, please?

MR. FLEISCHER: We have never said that there is a standard of a smoking gun. We have always said the standard is, has Saddam Hussein disarmed. That is what the inspection process is all about, and that remains the case today.

It's worth noting that when the United Nations passed this resolution, 15-0, Iraq was under an international obligation to file a declaration listing, in a full, final and complete manner, all the weapons that they possessed. It's remarkable what was left off of that document. In addition, of course, to the now 16 chemical warheads that have been discovered inside Iraq that were left off that declaration, what happened to the 26,000 liters of anthrax? What happened to the botulin? What happened to the 1.5 tons of VX? What happened to the sarin?

The United Nations said they had them in late 1990s. Iraq left them off their declaration, which raises the question, unless Iraq proves that they destroyed them, where are they? And that's the fear that we have. They of course still have them, they have them in facilities that can be hidden, that can be mobile, and hence, the threat to the world.

QUESTION: And a follow-up, if I may. As we know in many countries, the latest France and Germany and Russia and perhaps China are saying, in effect, show us the beef, show us some proof that Saddam Hussein does in fact have these weapons of mass destruction. And both you and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld say the President will make his case to the American people and the world before any attack on Iraq. Is that still the way the President intends to do it? Will he reveal this intelligence?

MR. FLEISCHER: Unquestionably, the President has said that in the event that he reaches the conclusion that the world must disarm Saddam Hussein, a coalition of the willing will have to go in to do the job -- the President will of course, at considerable length, talk to the American people about the reasons why he has come to that conclusion.

Our great democracy does not go to war lightly. If the President makes that judgment, he will of course discuss the reasons repeatedly with the American people.

QUESTION: Does that include making specific examples of things that they have not -- weapons they have not disarmed?

MR. FLEISCHER: I can't make predictions about a speech that is not yet given and may never be given, the President hopes. So I don't know how to deal with a hypothetical about a speech that does not exist.

QUESTION: Ari, this "Apparatus of Lies" is supposed to highlight the other deceptions by Saddam Hussein, not just weapons inspections. But how does highlighting something like Saddam Hussein is a non-religious man -- how does that help make the case Iraq poses an immediate threat to this country?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, this document was not billed as that Saddam Hussein poses an immediate threat. That's the case that is made in a variety of ways. What this document goes through at great length is the fact that Saddam Hussein has lied, is lying, and will lie. And one of the areas that he does that is through exploitation of Islam.

I think one of the points that is made here is that Saddam Hussein deny's pilgrims in Iraq the right to make the Hadj to Saudi Arabia, yet he professes to be a man of faith. It is one of the most central tenets of Islam to allow people to travel to Saudi Arabia for the Hadj.

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