Press Briefing Excerpts - 2/14/03 (Full Transcript)
QUESTION: Just one more on this. Did Hans Blix disappoint the President with his presentation? Did he think that Dr. Blix, perhaps, understated the lack of Iraqi noncompliance in the President's view?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think the report from Hans Blix this morning was very diplomatic with its bottom line being that the world has no confidence that Saddam Hussein has disarmed. And that's what this is about. As Secretary Powell just indicated, this is not about whether U-2s fly. This is not about whether Mirages fly. This is about whether Saddam Hussein's claim that he has disarmed is itself a mirage.
QUESTION: Ari, what does the President want the Security Council to do now? Does he want another resolution specifically authorizing force? Or is he willing to settle for something watered down that everybody can agree on?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President wants the world to study carefully what Mr. Blix said. There are important things that Mr. Blix revealed to the world this morning, that the United Nations Security Council has to consider, the members of the Security Council have to consider. And I think it's likely that they will.
QUESTION: Is he not going to -- or is Secretary Powell not going to come forward at some point with a resolution asking for specific authority to use force?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President has made it clear the United States will welcome a second resolution from the Security Council.
QUESTION: Authorizing force?
MR. FLEISCHER: The exact words I think will be discussed. But already the United Nations Security Council has said that if Iraq fails to comply with Security Council Resolution 1441, which ordered Iraq to fully and immediately disarm, there would be serious consequences.
QUESTION: Can I just ask one more? The specific reply to something the French Foreign Minister said, no one can assert today the path of war will be shorter than the path of inspections. Are you persuaded that the path of war would lead to quicker disarmament of Iraq than further inspections?
MR. FLEISCHER: Given the fact that it's taken more than 12 years for Saddam Hussein to disarm, there's no question that if force is used, it will achieve the objective of preserving the peace far faster than the current path that we're on.
QUESTION: When would you expect the U.S. to submit a resolution to the U.N. for action for authorizing the use of military force? Does Blix's statement today change the timing in the U.S. view?
MR. FLEISCHER: As for Mr. Blix's statement today, I think it's worth analyzing exactly what he said, which is what the fundamental issue comes down to again. If you accept the premise that it's not about the process matters, whether the U-2 flies or anything else, it's about whether Saddam Hussein disarms -- examine carefully Mr. Blix's own words. Mr. Blix reported to the world today that the issues of anthrax, nerve agent, VX, and long-range missiles deserve to be taken seriously by Iraq, rather than brushed aside.
Those are Mr. Blix's words about weapons that kill. Then he added in a crucial sentence: it is not the task of the inspectors to find it; it is the task of Iraq to provide it.
Mr. Blix continued -- and these are his words when he said, it is not the task of the inspectors to find it -- which is a telling statement. He continues, for the first time saying this publicly: the two declared variants of the Al Samud II missile were capable of exceeding 150 kilometers in range, the missile is therefore proscribed.
He continues: Iraq has declared that it has reconstituted the chambers necessary to build these missiles. These experts have confirmed that the reconstituted casting chambers could still be used to produce motors for missiles capable of ranges significantly greater than 150 kilometers. Accordingly, these chambers remain proscribed.
The third item that he said is proscribed are 380 -- 380 -- SA II missile engines, which also are proscribed. If they're proscribed, you can ask what comes next. Under United Nations Security Council Resolution 687, which ended the Persian Gulf War, it's clear what comes next -- I'm reading from 687.
"Iraq shall unconditionally accept the destruction, removal, or rendering harmless of all ballistic missiles with a range of greater than 150 kilometers and all related major parts and repair and production facilities."
So when you listened to Mr. Blix this morning describe the very fact that the weapons that kill are, one, proven to be in the hands of Iraq in a proscribed manner, and the weapons of mass destruction that kill even more -- the anthrax, the nerve agent, the VX -- are unaccounted for. The world still has great cause for concern about Saddam Hussein possessing weapons. That's what came out of New York today.
QUESTION: And what's the timing on submitting a resolution, days?
MR. FLEISCHER: The timing will be something the United States, in concert with our allies, will determine. I think it's too soon to say at this point. I think it typically happens after presentations of this importance are made to the Security Council as the member states take time to study them, to absorb them, to think about what it means that now we have three categories of missiles that are proscribed; that Iraq has not accounted for the VX, the nerve agents; and this new sentence -- it is not the task of the inspectors to find it.
QUESTION: Can you shed any light on the new evidence that the Secretary made reference to in his remarks, new evidence that he'll be presenting to the U.N. about Iraqi noncompliance?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Iraqi noncompliance remains an ongoing matter. And I think Mr. Blix alluded to it. I don't think it is a small statement for the head of inspectors to say, it is not the inspectors task to find the weapons -- which brings you right back to the central problem that the world has faced for 12 years. And that is that Saddam Hussein has built up a massive, massive apparatus to hide the weapons he has.
QUESTION: The inspectors, however, had identified and located these proscribed missiles. Is the United States -- is the administration now demanding the destruction of these missiles? And will that be a substantive step forward?
MR. FLEISCHER: What is important, Terry, is the world is watching the United Nations. The United Nations is charged with enforcing Resolution 1441 that's called for the full and immediate compliance by Iraq of disarmament, and it said there would be serious consequences if there is not. And Resolution 687, which ended the Gulf War on April 3, 1991, set out the path for a proscribed material.
QUESTION: So the missiles are proscribed -- should they be destroyed?
MR. FLEISCHER: All you need to do is read Resolution 687, which the United States voted for, which lays out the path of what comes next.
QUESTION: So that's a "yes"?
MR. FLEISCHER: Resolution 687 which the United States voted for states that: these missiles shall be destroyed, removed or rendered harmless.
QUESTION: So if Iraq --
MR. FLEISCHER: This remains a next important test.
QUESTION: The next important test. So if Iraq meets this test, that would be a substantive step forward in actual, factual disarmament on the ground that they destroyed 380 missiles?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me raise another issue that is related to this, because the threat to the world doesn't only come from these missiles, which Hans Blix cited this morning in his remarks. The threat to the world comes from what Hans Blix said the world has no confidence that Saddam Hussein has destroyed, which is what UNSCOM found in the late 1990s in regard to the VX, in regard to the botulin, in regard to the chemical munitions warheads.
This morning, if you can believe it, Iraq has said, in an act that sounds like a democracy, that they would pass a law banning possession of weapons of mass destruction. This comes 12 years late and 26,000 liters of anthrax short; 12 years late and 38,000 liters of botulin short; 12 years late and 30,000 unfilled chemical munitions short. It's not just about one weapon system that Iraq possesses to wreak havoc and to kill people in the neighborhood, including Americans, including our allies and including risks that could be transferred to terrorists. It's not just one system, Terry.
QUESTION: Fair enough. The argument that will be put, however, based on today's conclusion by Dr. Blix, is that this is the way inspections work, one system, one program, one threat at a time, perhaps, and here the inspectors have identified and declared a proscribed system. Six eighty- seven, as you point out, calls for its destruction. Should that happen, you know that allies will say, bingo, it's working.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's not the way inspections work. The way inspections work is as Hans Blix said, it's not the job of the inspectors to find it, it's the job of Iraq to show it and to destroy it. And it's also the job of Iraq to comply with something that was full and immediate. This is three months. It's neither full nor immediate.
QUESTION: The President spoke to President Musharraf this morning, can you count on Pakistan's support for any new resolution?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it would not be my place to predict votes of sovereign nations. But, again, the President has expressed his belief that in the end, even with statements that we have heard today from our allies, in the end the President is confident that the United Nations will be a relevant organization dedicated to fighting proliferation and not an organization that fights proliferation on paper only while tyrants develop weapons that they can use.
QUESTION: Are you reaching out to other undecided countries, like Mexico?
Are you at the point of counting votes at this point?
MR. FLEISCHER: Sure, I think as you know the President has been making many phone calls around to members of the United Nations Security Council, and that will continue.
QUESTION: There's no link between September 11th and Saddam Hussein and Iraq -- that's still the administration's position?
MR. FLEISCHER: Sure, the President has said that.
QUESTION: Did the President watch the Blix statement?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, he was meeting with Turkish officials at the time, or for a portion of when they spoke. He was briefed on it, however.
MR. FLEISCHER: By -- I think Dr. Rice talked to him about it. I think there may well have been a few other people who talked to him about it, too.
QUESTION: What we hear see today, it seems likely that in the permanent clash up at the Security Council that you have Britain and the United States on one side, and China, Russia, and France on the other. And it does seem likely that unless any second resolution is a vapid one, there will be a veto. Is the President still rolling along with the willing members of the coalition to go it alone if the Security Council does not act?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it just -- we've seen this before, where people try to guess what nations are going to do at the United Nations. Typically, it's American reporters trying to guess what foreign nations will do with a vote, which is something that is very important to them. And I would urge you to be very cautious and judicious in your predictions on how other nations will vote. The President has been engaged in consultations and will continue. And, as you've seen in the past, these typically have led to very fruitful results in terms of the world supporting the United States position, or at least not objecting to it.
QUESTION: But is he still holding back the -- the willing coalition if the Security Council does not act?
MR. FLEISCHER: There's no question at all that the President has said either the United Nations will disarm Saddam Hussein or a coalition of the willing -- which I think you've seen how substantial and sizeable it is, and is growing to even increasingly be -- will take that action.
QUESTION: Ari, the French Foreign Minister suggested today that there would be another report from the arms inspectors on March 14th. What is the U.S. view of that?
MR. FLEISCHER: As the President said several weeks ago, this is a matter of weeks, not months. And I would hesitate to make any guesses about specific days or dates. But the President has said weeks, not months.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. contemplate any further reports from the arms inspectors before the issue is joined over whether or not the inspections should go forward at all?
MR. FLEISCHER: I wouldn't want to speculate about that.