Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, February 12, 2003(Full Transcript)QUESTION: What did you think of North Korea's attempt to get Britain to be an intermediary between you and North Korea over the nuclear issue?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, this is a matter that North Korea has taken provocative steps that have caused great concern around the world, not just for the United States, not just for Japan or for Russia or China or South Korea or not for England. But this is a matter to be settled through diplomacy and through multilateral action.
I want to bring to your attention one interesting point about when, repeatedly, the administration has made the case that North Korea is continuing to further isolate itself. Compare what took place in Vienna today to what took place in Vienna when North Korea previously engaged in provocative actions in 1993. In 1993, when the IAEA voted on a similar matter, the vote at that time was 28 in favor, two voted against, and there were four abstentions against the position of North Korea. This time the vote was 31 in favor, nobody opposed, and just two abstentions. So North Korea continues to march backward in time only to the detriment of the people of North Korea.
QUESTION: Is the administration, as the White House moves towards trying to craft a second resolution at the United Nations, are you laying down any red lines, as you did with the crafting of Resolution 1441?
MR. FLEISCHER: On a possible second resolution at the United Nations? No, I don't think it's going to be a complicated matter. I think there will be the usual wordsmithing and discussions that take place in New York. And it still remains somewhat premature to get into the exact wording. I think many of the nations that would be involved want to see what Hans Blix reports on Friday, and then we'll have more to indicate after that.
QUESTION: But are you going in with any red lines, as you did with 1441, where you said it has to demand disarmament and there were a few other things that you said need to be in there.
MR. FLEISCHER: The one thing the President has said that a second resolution must do is enforce the first resolution, Resolution 1441, which called for immediate compliance by Saddam Hussein, said there would be serious consequences if there was not immediate compliance, and said that the resolution would be binding. Not optional, not negotiable, but binding.
QUESTION: Ari, a philosophical question, if I may, that our editors would like us to ask the administration today -- in a variety of venues. Something that the critics of this administration have said both domestically and abroad when it comes to Iraq is that they still do not understand the need not only to go to war, but to go to war now to disarm Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Not just, why war, but why war now.
MR. FLEISCHER: Why has Saddam failed to comply now? Why, when the United Nations, understanding full well the seriousness with which President Bush made his presentation last September, did the United Nations pass a resolution -- binding on Iraq -- that called for full and immediate compliance. The United Nations, the world, didn't say "lengthy compliance." They didn't say "negotiable compliance." They didn't say "compliance over months." They said "immediate." The words "immediate" have value and meaning if international efforts to stop proliferation are themselves to have meaning. The United Nations said without conditions or restrictions. The United Nations said it was a final opportunity -- not a penultimate opportunity, but a final opportunity. The United Nations, as I indicated, said it was binding. And they said that Iraq would face serious consequences as a result of continued violations.
So the question is in reverse. Given the fact that Saddam Hussein has shown no inclination that he intends to comply, at what point does the world say, the United Nations has meaning, the United Nations has value, the resolutions count? Or is the message of the world to allow Saddam Hussein to continue to drag his feet as he builds up his weapons of mass destruction for the possibility of using them. That's a chance we don't want to talk.
QUESTION: But you understand that people who disagree with you on this issue see alternatives to war and do not see the need, even if there is no alternative, to do it now? They do not perceive the threat in the same way you do.
MR. FLEISCHER: Mark, I think -- the President, number one, respects the opinion of people who just don't believe war is ever the answer. That's their right. And there is a strain of thought that believes that. And the President respects it. It's a time-honored part of the American tradition and traditions abroad in some places, as well.
But having said, there is also a school of thought that there are some people who use the excuse "why now" for "why ever." They're not prepared to say, we don't believe ever in the use of military force. And, unfortunately, as the world has seen, when dangers gather, that democracies have a burden on themselves to make a determination about when force is necessary to protect democracy themselves. And that point may come into reach with Iraq. The President still has not given up hope that he can settle peacefully. But I think, clearly, Saddam Hussein has an interest in dragging this out in an effort for people to avoid making decisions we may need to make to protect people.
QUESTION: Ari, the argument you keep making, and the President has made it a number of times, is that if the U.N. doesn't back you on this then the U.N. is, in a sense, irrelevant -- or irrelevant, you use the word. If you dismiss the U.N. as irrelevant in this case and, yet, at the same time you don't want to negotiate with North Korea unilaterally, you're praising what the U.N. -- the IAEA is doing with regard to North Korea. What happens to those situations with North Korea and other countries in the future if you dismiss the U.N. because they don't agree with you on this?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, number one, the President does not want to dismiss the United Nations. As I indicated, the President hopes that at the end of the day, and would like to believe at the end of the day, the United Nations will be meaningful.
And that's exactly why it's important that the United Nations take meaningful action vis-a-vis Iraq, otherwise the message the United Nations will be sending to North Korea and to the next North Korea and to the next North Korea is that international regimes to fight proliferation are useless. That is not a message the world can afford.
But we have to face the reality about whether or not these international systems to combat proliferation are working or not. Iraq is testing the United Nations. The President wants to make certain the United Nations passes the test. And that's why we are going through the United Nations.
QUESTION: Can I just follow-up on two earlier questions. I'm unclear on why do you feel it's important for NATO to act before the Security Council does? I mean, a lot of the NATO countries opposed to you have said they want to hear what Blix has to say first and see what the Security Council decides.
MR. FLEISCHER: Number one, to be clear, Article IV has been invoked by a NATO member, Turkey. Under Article IV -- and it's only a couple sentences -- when a nation feels that they may be under threat it is their right to go to NATO and seek support. So this is a matter that NATO has before it, because Turkey raised it under Article IV. We support Turkey in doing that. Turkey feels threatened as a result of the hostilities that may be imminent because Saddam Hussein will not disarm. And the purpose of an alliance is to work within the alliance to protect nations that feel threatened. And 16 out of 19 agree with Turkey, and agree with the United States. It's a rather powerful statement.
QUESTION: Just quickly on John's question, is any language at all in the second U.N. resolution being discussed, either internally or with other countries?
MR. FLEISCHER: It is. I think it's fair to say that there are conversations underway about the language. I'm not going to get into the drafting of it in public. And, again, I think it still remains somewhat early in U.N. time. But it won't be early in U.N. time for very long.
QUESTION: What is the administration's assessment of the likelihood of the risk that Saddam Hussein with his back up against the wall with war seeming almost inevitable, will open up his arsenal of germs and chemicals and disperse them to terrorists?
MR. FLEISCHER: Does this mean that ABC news is acknowledging that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction?
QUESTION: We just report the facts and the fact says the U.N. --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm raising that for a reason, because there's been suggestions that the United States has not made -- carried out -- has no proof that he has these weapons of mass destruction. And, clearly, if the questions shift --
QUESTION: At ABC News? Can you identify when and where? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: I will be happy to provide you with transcripts where the administration claims that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, that the administration does have proof that they have weapons of mass destruction.
QUESTION: What is the administration's assessment of the likelihood --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm a transcript collector from way back.
QUESTION: -- of the risk -- I'll get back to you on that. But more importantly, what is the administration's assessment of the likelihood, of the risk, that Saddam Hussein would disperse whatever weapons he has to terrorists now that his survival is at stake, now that his back is up against the wall?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it's always a worry that Saddam Hussein will do that, whether his back is against the wall, or whether his back is free and at peace. So the worry remains no matter what, not because of the actions that will be taken by an alliance, but because of the actions that will be taken by Saddam Hussein. Because Saddam Hussein, himself, would do this, even if there was no military action in play.
QUESTION: Is it possible, though, that by pushing this issue to the brink of war, the President has made Americans less safe from these weapons?
MR. FLEISCHER: We categorically reject that as a possibility in that allowing that is a formula for the United States forever be blackmailed by anybody and everybody around the world who would pursue weapons of mass destruction. That line of thought, that line of logic -- and I'm not suggesting that you're engaging it -- but that line of logic, if it was applied, would mean that the United States is forever saying we will be blackmailed. The United States will never accept that line of reasoning.
QUESTION: So is the President, then, confident that whatever arsenal exists in Iraq can be completely and effectively neutralized by his course of action, rather than dispersed by the violence and chaos of war?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you could rest assured that in the event that the President makes a determination that the use of force would be required, we have made crystal-clear that this is about disarmament as well as regime change, and that part of disarmament will be to make certain that neither Saddam Hussein, nor any of the people who would follow Saddam Hussein would ever be able to use weapons of mass destruction.
QUESTION: Ari, you suggested before that the United States is not interested in allowing a lengthy process of compliance with the existing U.N. resolution. Does that mean that the United States would preclude a second resolution that calls for some additional weeks or months of intensified inspections?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, given the fact that several weeks ago the President said, this is a matter of weeks, not months, I think the timetable remains locked in at what the President said. But I think if you want to take a look at this in terms of the United Nations, United Nations resolutions and Iraqi compliance, what you have is, unfortunately, in 2003, history repeating itself to the period of 1996.
And I have a document -- I'll be happy to release this to you -- about the fact that Iraq has not complied, they cover up their compliance in seeming efforts to comply, such as their statements about unconditional U-2 flights, which we now know from the letter that was sent by the Iraqis, so-called conditional became -- so-called unconditional became conditional as soon as the ink was dry on their letter. It was never unconditional to begin with; it always had conditions attached.
Back to 1996. If you recall, in March of 1996, UNSCOM began a program of intrusive inspections after a 1995 defection of a family member of Saddam Hussein. The defection revealed the tremendous amount of information that Saddam Hussein had previously denied he ever had -- ala the declaration of 2002 where Saddam Hussein denied he had weapons. That was followed by a series of new inspections, provoking another statement by the President of the Security Council condemning Iraq's actions, which led on June 19, 1996, the request of the Security Council, UNSCOM's head travel to Baghdad and gave Baghdad what they called the last chance to avoid enforcement actions.
The United States consulted with allies to gain consensus that Iraq's actions were a material breach of its obligations. Military preparations begun back in 1996. On June 22, 1996, Iraq tried to cut a deal, and they did. They negotiated three agreements, a joint statement committing Iraq to provide immediate, unconditional access; a program of work that could lead to a report that Iraq had disarmed; an agreement on modalities for inspecting sensitive sites. The council then relieved itself of its enforcement actions.
As we all know, that turned out to be worthless and the inspectors were shortly thereafter, in 1998, thrown out of the country.
A similar pattern is repeating itself in 2003. Under pressure, Iraq comes up with phony examples of compliance, trying to get leaders around the world to bite on whether or not they have indeed made a concession or started anew to comply. They hope that the world will fall for it and accept it as new evidence of progress or a concession or a negotiated development. All the while, it's a repeat of the pattern where Iraq continues its weapons build-up, it continues to not comply with the inspectors, hoping that this time they can get away with it.
And that's why 1441 was so significant because it said final chance.
QUESTION: So if the price of bringing France and Germany, say, along and the Security Council is several more weeks of stepped-up inspections, you wouldn't buy it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, the President laid out a timetable several weeks ago when he said, weeks, not months. And I'm not going to go beyond any timetable the President has laid out. But the clock is ticking.
QUESTION: Can I follow on Iraq, please? After Friday's U.N. resolution of the U.S. and U.N. meetings that are going on and resolution on enforcing the new resolution, do you think President Bush is ready to give Saddam Hussein 48 hours ultimatum to leave Iraq, if nothing happens at the U.N.?
MR. FLEISCHER: Just as I indicated to Dick, the timetable that the President set several weeks ago is weeks, not months, and I'm not prepared to go beyond that timetable.
QUESTION: One on Iraq and one on North Korea. The German government today said that it finds the tape of bin Laden disturbing and sobering, but it says there's absolutely no proof in that tape of any connection between bin Laden and the government of Iraq, just statements of support for the Iraqi people if there's a war. Is that proof that you have a tough sell still?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it just shows that Germany, which is unalterably opposed to the use of force, will still be in denial about Osama bin Laden's links to Iraq. Given the fact, especially as Secretary Powell demonstrated that we know that there are operatives of al Qaeda operating inside Baghdad, and now we have an exhortation from Osama bin Laden on this tape to people inside Iraq -- as he calls them, the Mujahideen brotherhood, or brothers -- this is more proof that not only are there ties at the operational level, but now if you are operating inside Iraq and you hear Osama bin Laden exhorting you onward, your message is, as Osama bin Laden said in the tape, himself, Mujahideen brothers, he said, so it is the duty of all Muslims, particularly in Iraq, to roll up their sleeves and prepare for Jihad. And he said, it will not hurt under these circumstances if the interests of Muslims will meet with the socialists in fighting the crusaders. The socialist he refers to is Saddam Hussein.
So it's incomprehensible in its denial for anybody to interpret the phrase, it will not hurt under these circumstances if the interests of the Muslims will meet with the socialists in fighting the crusaders. The interests of the Muslims meet with Saddam Hussein, that is linkage.
QUESTION: Ari, seeing what could be the end result with the situation with Iraq, many people are getting involved trying to deal with the issue on diplomatic levels versus war. Today, the Vatican -- yesterday, I understand, that Reverend Jesse Jackson has sent a letter to Saddam Hussein citing that 12 years ago they had successfully released some hostages. What's the White House's view about private citizens getting involved in this very sensitive situation?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, the President understands that many individuals are going to have thoughts that they hold and they share. It's the right of individual Americans to express their views. I'm not going to have any comments specifically on the Reverend Jackson's letter. But, again, the President respects people's rights to speak out.
QUESTION: Reverend Jackson, in that letter, he did say he told Saddam Hussein there could be major catastrophes if we go to war and what the White House is planning on doing. But do you see any kind of breach of intelligence or anything by a private citizen who has a relationship of sorts with Saddam Hussein, to be able to cause a problem?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, this is not an intelligence matter. It's also a matter that the White House doesn't comment on.
QUESTION: I'd like to go back to what you said a few minutes ago. The President is delighted how much support there is in Europe for the Turkey position in NATO. But a small number of European nations have continued to isolate themselves from the rest of Europe. My question is -- if I get it right -- Britain, France, and Germany are probably the three most powerful nations in Europe economically and politically. So I'm not talking of numbers, I know 16 nations back Turkey. But you will admit that the two nations, especially Germany and France, do have a major weight in European decision-making.
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the facts of how NATO operates are clear. NATO operates by consensus among the 19 countries, and 16 of the 19 countries see it one way, three do not. And I have not done the math, but I suspect if you added up the populations and GDPs of the rest of the European nations that have spoken out, you might have a differing interpretation.
But still, the point remains, there is an issue of how to best deal with Saddam Hussein and the threat that he presents. And because two nations or three nations see it one way does not mean that the 16 nations or the 18 nations that see it a different way will cease their efforts to work together toward a solution within the alliance on how to approach this issue. And the President will continue to work with the alliance and to lead.
QUESTION: On Iraq, you said earlier that no one has any hope that Germany will change its position. That implies that you do still have hopes that France and Russia would change their position on Iraq. What's that hope based on?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think Germany has unequivocally said that they will not and never will support the use of force in Iraq. Other nations have not gone as far in their statements. And we will continue to have conversations with all these nations. And with Germany, too. At the end of the day, we will remain nations that are allied.
QUESTION: Do you see daylight between the French and German positions on Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think, again, these are matters of diplomacy that are being talked through, and the President said that he'd be willing to go to the United Nations for a second resolution and we'll see what that outcome is.
QUESTION: Is that a, yes, you do see daylight?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you have to let the events develop.
QUESTION: Ari, back to France. Do you see any areas of common ground between the U.S. and the French position? Do you think Chirac has kept open certain options that Germany has already foreclosed? And, specifically, do you see any promise in the proposal that the French are circulating at the United Nations in the last 24 hours?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one, we remain in mid-diplomacy here. And I'm not going to venture in too deep on the play-by-play of diplomatic discussions. Suffice it to say, when the President said that we will go to the United Nations for a second resolution so long as it enforces Resolution 1441, he said it because he does believe in the importance of the United Nations as an institution and that this is also the United Nations last chance to show that international proliferation regimes have meaning, have effect and are not just documents to be ignored. And so, therefore, it is important to continue to talk to our allies at the United Nations, and that's what you're seeing develop as we speak.
Vis-a-vis the proposal to double the number of inspectors or to fly the U-2, again I draw your attention to the fact that already this should be unconditional on Iraq. There should not have been any question of negotiating the U-2 with Iraq; Iraq should have allowed the U-2 to fly under resolution 1441.
Negotiations did ensue with Iraq. Iraq then came out and said, just over the weekend, they would allow the U-2 to fly unconditionally. Before the ink was even dry on the Iraqi letter, we found out there were conditions attached to flying the U-2 once again.
As for the number of inspectors, if Iraq was serious about disarming, you would need half the number of inspectors, you wouldn't need double. If Saddam Hussein has no intention of disarming, doubling the inspectors just means there are double number of people for Saddam Hussein to deceive.
QUESTION: So is that what you said yesterday, a non-starter?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
QUESTION: And Ari, is there any -- has Chirac held out any options that Shroeder has foreclosed?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you'd have to talk to President Chirac to see whatever his position is.