For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
February 22, 2003
Background Briefing by a Senior Administration Official on Visit of President Aznar
February 22, 2003
BY A SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL
ON VISIT OF PRESIDENT AZNAR
Prairie Chapel Ranch
1:03 P.M. CST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I want to turn this over to a
senior administration official who was in on the meetings, who can give
you a little information and answer a few questions that you have. So,
with that, Senior Administration Official.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Good afternoon, everybody. The
Presidents, Presidents Bush and Aznar met for about an hour this
morning. That was following a discussion they had over dinner last
night. Following their meeting, there was, as you've heard from the
press conference, a four-way telephone conversation between Bush,
Aznar, Blair and Prime Minister Berlusconi of Italy. The topic of both
the phone call -- the four-way phone call and the meeting this morning
It was -- by the time the meeting started, it was very clear from
the discussions the night before that President Bush and Aznar shared a
fundamental conviction that Saddam Hussein must be disarmed. The
conversation this morning had to do with tactics, timing of the next
resolution, and a look at the way ahead.
Both Presidents seek maximum international support. Both
Presidents are committed to building as broad a coalition as possible.
Both Presidents are committed to working through the U.N. And both
Presidents are committed to see that Saddam Hussein is disarmed.
Both Presidents were far more eloquent expressing their views just
now in the press conference than I can be. This was a good meeting.
It was a meeting of friends, of allies, of close collaborators who
share fundamental assumptions about the task at hand, and they're
discussing the way ahead in a very collaborative way.
I don't think I could add much more to that, so I'll turn directly
to questions, if that's all right.
Q Did the two leaders strategize about how to deal with France,
how to avert a French veto?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They did talk about ways to get
the broadest possible support in the Security Council. Not in terms of
France, per se, but how -- they agreed it's important that the next
resolution attract as much support as possible; that it be something
around which countries can rally and unite, rather than something that
is divisive. But, no, it wasn't a Chirac strategy session, if I
understand the question right.
Q -- Did the Prime Minister Aznar bring a message back from
Mexico? Did he report his meeting with President Fox to President
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They did talk about that. Of
course, they talked about -- they reviewed the bidding of a lot of
Security Council members. Sure, they talked about that in the course
of the conversation, yes.
Q Mexico --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Oh, I don't -- I don't think it's
right for me to characterize their characterization of yet of a third
country leader. But, yes, they did discuss it.
Q Why was Italy involved in the conference call this morning,
since the focus seems to be on the Security Council, and they're not a
member? What kind of role could they play at this time?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, Italy is a strong ally of
the United States, one of the leading European nations, which has
shared the common vision about the challenge that Saddam Hussein
represents to international peace and security. Prime Minister
Berlusconi showed -- has shown great courage in bringing together a
number of European nations that share that view. He has been
courageous. He has spoken with -- he has been -- he has shown
leadership. And I think it's quite appropriate that Presidents Bush
and Aznar would reach out to one of their chief allies and supporters
Q So you're hoping he would work within Europe to influence
France and Germany?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, he has -- hoping he would --
Berlusconi certainly has been working in Europe. Whether it's in the
councils of the EU, or in NATO, or the letter of the eight European
leaders, Berlusconi has been active, he has been courageous.
Q -- an eye toward influencing the Security Council vote, is
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He may be very helpful there, as
Q In his public remarks just now, President Aznar said he wants
to keep the pressure on Saddam Hussein, but he wants to do so within
the framework of the Security Council. And I'm wondering if that
should be construed as signaling something less than full Spanish
support for a U.S. -led war against Iraq, should the Security Council
reject this next resolution.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Oh, I don't interpret that at
all. Clearly, we're all both governments, both leaders are focused
now on working through the Security Council. After all, it was
President Bush who nearly six months ago took the issue to the Security
Council in the first place. President Bush has tried to work through
the Security Council; he is continuing to work through the Security
Council. So I find this entirely consistent with the American
position. So I don't see that there's any difference at all.
Q One follow-up, if I may. The President said he's confident
that when the Security Council looks at the facts and evaluates the
resolution that will be placed before the Council, that the U.S. will
prevail in this vote. Can you confirm that it is the strategy -- since
we already know of at least one veto, from Germany -- of the
administration just to seek a majority and declare a victory on that
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, Germany, of course, doesn't
have a veto. It can choose to vote against, but it is not a permanent
member and Germany doesn't have a veto.
The case is a very, very strong one. Resolution 1441, if you read
it again and it's worth reading again, by the way is quite
clear. It doesn't say, Saddam Hussein should mostly comply or sort of
comply or comply a little bit. It is a -- it is strongly worded and
the facts are really not in dispute. There is no one, with the
exception of Saddam Hussein himself, who claims that he is in full
compliance. So it is a very there is a very strong case to be made, a
very persuasive case to be made, and we're confident that that case can
be made and opinion won over.
Q You're going to seek a majority, then?
Q I'll follow on that a little bit. I mean, is the calculus
really, given the longstanding veto threats that are out there, is the
calculus to build a strong a majority as you can get, and then, in
essence, defy France to exercise its veto rights?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We believe the case is extremely
strong. And I recall that last autumn, when we were beginning the
process of what became Resolution 1441, many predicted that it would
fail, that there would not be a consensus, and very, very few predicted
that you would have a 15 to zero vote. So let's -- I don't want to
look too far ahead. I want to say simply that the case is
overwhelmingly strong just on its merits. The logic of the case is
there. There isn't a resolution out there; there will be soon. And
then we will be making the case.
Q -- dynamics a little bit different now? Last November,
Saddam was put on notice, and really, lots of folks who voted for it
hoped they wouldn't have to do so again, and now they do. So aren't
the dynamics different?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The dynamics are different to the
degree that we have, four months after 1441 was unanimously voted, we
have a continuation of the track record of failure to comply fully. I
mean, that's different also.
Q If Iraq this week begins to dismantle the longer-range
missiles, what do you say to the allies in the Security Council who
say, see, it's working?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, the President said that
we're not interested in, and Security Council Resolution 1441 doesn't
say, dismantle a little bit, comply a little bit in increments when you
are forced to do so. It says, fully and completely. For 12 years, we
have seen the pattern of minimal concessions at times of maximum
pressure, followed by no concessions when the pressure is off. I think
the pattern is fairly clear, and I don't think anyone will be terribly
impressed by a continuation of very showy -- very showy symbolic and
Q Will the new resolution harden up the "serious consequences"
language, or will it have the same language?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't want to get into the
language of the resolution, first of all, because it hasn't been
decided and -- hasn't been presented, and second of all, because it
hasn't been decided yet. We're working on it and consulting. I would
not -- I think it would be unwise, it would be really dumb, in fact, of
me to predict specific language right now. And I hate being dumb.
Q -- discussion to harden the language?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There's discussion, there's a lot
of discussion of language going back and forth. President Aznar had
some suggestions. We take these very seriously. President Aznar is a
-- these were serious consultations that President Bush and Aznar had.
President Aznar had some ideas that were sound. We're considering
these. We're working with other friends and allies and moving ahead.
Q After this day, two days of meetings, do you have any
indication that any of the other wavering or undeclared members of the
Security Council are moving toward your camp?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We're going to be working closely
with all the Security Council members. We have been. This work will
intensify, no doubt, as a resolution is put on the table. The
President himself is going to be engaged. The strength the case is
very, very strong. And the American focus has been on the case on 1441
and on the track record of compliance or noncompliance, and I am
convinced that that case that that case and that logic will
Q Just to follow, -- just want to put forward a resolution and
have a debate -- regardless of what the outcome is, you want a vote on
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The President has said we want to
move forward, and I think that that's -- that's where we will be. But
again, it's bad to predict about things that haven't happened. But,
yes, that's the assumption.
Q The expectation is you would have a vote --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes.
Q The three Presidents -- the three European leaders that the
President spoke to today, did they agree to go out and lobby other
Security Council members? Did they basically divvy up lobbying
assignments -- is the first question. And the second question is, did
they discuss in their discussion of tactics, did they talk about what
could be done in order to deal with their public relations problems at
home? All of them have publics that are very strongly against any use
of military force.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I wouldn't use the phrase
"divvying up assignments." All of the countries will be all of the
governments will be working hard. Of course, Italy isn't on the
Security Council right now, so its position will be somewhat
different. But all of the governments have been and no doubt will be
working on these issues. President Aznar, Prime Minister Blair to be
Public opinion -- European public opinion is against war but, of
course, who isn't? War is not a good thing. Where public opinion
comes out on the end is going to depend on partly the way the issue is
framed and partly upon leadership. And I am convinced that the case is
strong and if and as we make the case, we will be able to -- we will be
able to start to turn public opinion.
But in any event, leadership is required in this sort of a thing.
And we could talk at another time about the history of anti-war
movements, starting from the 1930s, and how they look in retrospect;
some good, some not so good. But in any event, leadership is
required. And we're convinced that the dangers are real and that this
is the right course to take.
Q About the resolution itself, we know it's going to be
Britain-United States, but will Spain be part of it? Are you going to
just go ahead with the two countries, U.S. and Britain, or attempt to
bring as many into it as possible?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't want to get -- I don't
want to have to predict the final outcome, but we're working very
closely with the Spanish. And I think that President Aznar spoke to
that somewhat in the press conference, so I'll let his words stand for
themselves. We're working -- let's just say we're working very closely
with the Spanish about our approach.
Q What about Bulgaria, the only other country that's indicated
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We're also working with Bulgaria.
We're in pretty close touch with the government and with their Foreign
Minister, Solomon Passy.
Q Are you putting together any kind of aid package, economic or
loans, to the wavering members on the Security Council, such as
Cameroon, who may look at what -- the $15 billion you just committed to
Turkey, and say, well, give us something, and we'll help you, too?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, we're working very closely
with these countries, but we think the case is strong on the merits.
You know, we're looking to our friends to work with us to confront a
common danger. And it's -- so that the question doesn't arise in those
Q -- have to use a carrot or a stick at all to get these people
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I mean, the carrot -- the
best carrot is that the world is better off without one of its worst
dictators having at his disposal the world's worst weapons. That --
the prospect of a world without a Saddam Hussein armed with nuclear
weapons, to me, is a pretty strong carrot, in and of itself. And it's
-- the world and the region will be far better off. But we'll be
working very closely with these countries.
Q Did Aznar promise to support military action if there is not
a U.N. resolution? And are you and the President predicting that, in
fact, a U.N. resolution will pass?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The President said he is
confident, and we are proceeding on the basis that our case is
overwhelmingly strong. We all prefer to do this with a MAC, with the
strongest possible international support, and support in the U.N.
Security Council. The President has made clear that that is by far the
preferred route. It certainly is President Aznar's preferred route.
And we believe that the case is there, and we will make it
Q When you say that the resolution is being drafted in such a
way as to attract the most support, why shouldn't we construe that to
mean that it's being watered down to eliminate any language that might
alienate a member of the Council?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, you could construe it -- let
me see, how could you construe it? The Americans are trying to put
together a resolution as obnoxious as possible, so no one will sign
on. You can phrase it any way you want, but we're trying to put
together something which is -- which countries can rally behind when
they see the strength of the case. That's important.
I don't think -- "watered down" is not language I would use. I
think that the resolution needs to be clear; it needs to be based on
the facts of 1441 -- what 1441 says, and what Saddam Hussein has done
and failed to do. So it needs to have, and I think will have, a clear
and irrefutable logic to it.
END 1:22 P.M. CST