Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, February 19, 2003 (Full Transcript)QUESTION: Ari, will the administration consider it a victory if it gets a simple majority vote, without -- sans a veto and so forth on a second resolution?
MR. FLEISCHER: In the United Nations Security Council?
QUESTION: On a second resolution.
MR. FLEISCHER: The standard by which resolutions pass the Security Council at the United Nations is nine votes in favor, with no abstentions. That, of course, is the standard by which a resolution passes.
QUESTION: The Turkish Parliament has now put off a vote on whether to allow the U.S. to use the bases there. How much more time is left to negotiate this package?
MR. FLEISCHER: One, we have not received any official notification from Turkey about whether they will or will not vote it this week. So this remains an issue that is at this minute an open matter, that is not resolved. And we'll see, ultimately, what the Turkish decision is. I'm aware of a television interview in which -- it was explained that nothing is scheduled. It did not say that nothing would happen. So this remains an open issue. We will see, ultimately, what the outcome is. It's open.
QUESTION: The President, as he repeated yesterday, says that the U.S. feels it does not need a second U.N. resolution to take military action. But you suggested this morning that he does intend to go through with offering a second resolution. Is that correct?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
QUESTION: Could you repeat that? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: You said this morning that the President -- (laughter.)
The position that the President has taken is that he believes that it remains very important for the United Nations Security Council to be an effective organization. And the President has said to our allies that we intend to work through the United Nations, and we will.
The President intends to work with our friends and allies to offer a resolution, either this week or next, at the United Nations Security Council. And the President has made repeatedly clear that the preferable outcome is for the United Nations to act. If the United Nations Security Council fails to act, the President, along with a coalition of the willing, will enforce Resolution 1441 by disarming Saddam Hussein.
QUESTION: But why does he keep saying that he doesn't need one?
MR. FLEISCHER: For exactly the reasons I just outlined.
QUESTION: Can you comment on the op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal by the head of the Iraqi National Congress saying that U.S. policies and plans for a post-Saddam Iraq are, in his words, unworkable and unwise?
MR. FLEISCHER: The United States has made it abundantly clear, and I reiterated today, that in a post-Saddam Iraq, it is important that people from both the inside and the outside have a role in the future government of Iraq. Not any one group over another group; no preference for one person over another person, but for an Iraq to evolve and emerge that is led by people from both within and without.
QUESTION: But he's saying here that the plans would keep Saddam's -- this is reading from his op-ed -- keep Saddam's existing structures of government, administration, and security in place, albeit under American officers, and saying that this is leaving out the Iraqi people from determining their own future.
MR. FLEISCHER: Then I think that's a misunderstanding of what the plans would be because the future of Iraq will, of course, be decided by the Iraqi people. In the event there is military action, you can expect, of course, for every effort to be made to maintain the various infrastructures that are part of Iraq. Iraq is a developed society. Iraq has electricity in all its towns and villages. Iraq has taken its tremendous oil wealth, and except for the fact that much of it has been used for military purposes, they actually have built some levels of infrastructure that get food, that get medicine, that get supplies to people inside Iraq. And it is, of course, the intention of the United States government to make certain the people of Iraq are not the victims in a war that would have been started by their leaders. And so, we will continue to work with Iraqis both inside Iraq and outside Iraq to provide for the best administration of Iraq as possible.
QUESTION: Are you down-playing the role that the Iraqi National Congress would play?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I indicated, there is no preference for any one group over another, or any one individual over another. And that can sometimes lead to some criticism from some corners who, of course, would like to be the preference.
QUESTION: Has the administration or U.S. officials had conversations with other governments and countries sort of surrounding Iraq -- I'm talking specifically about Syria and Iran -- about what their involvement would be, even in terms of just sealing off borders or what you may need? Have there been any talks?
MR. FLEISCHER: You may want to check with the State Department on that.
There's nothing that I have that comes to mind on specific attention on that matter. I can tell you that we made an announcement several weeks ago about humanitarian aid in the event of refugee situations and we always work through international organizations to make certain that if there is a refugee situation, that we are able to handle it as best as possible, again through international means.
QUESTION: But as far as you know, no one from the U.S. government has talked to Syria specifically, or Iran specifically, about --
MR. FLEISCHER: You may want to check with State on that.
QUESTION: Ari, on the U.N. resolution, a second U.N. resolution, one of the forces that's at work, it seems, is increasing rancor and nastiness within the Western alliance. You've got newspapers here showing France and Germany as weasels at the Security Council, people calling France "surrender monkeys." Then you've got a lot of anti-Americanism on the streets over in France.
MR. FLEISCHER: Are you asking me if I can be responsible for the American press?
QUESTION: No, but I am asking if you can be -- can speak for the responsibility of top officials of the Bush administration -- Secretary Rumsfeld, who has dismissively referred to France and Germany as old Europe; and today, Secretary Powell, who warned France not be afraid of its responsibilities. Is that the rhetoric of a great power, and is that really the most effective way of building alliances?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that there's no question that when you look at the decades-long alliance between the United States and Europe there are moments in that alliance that are the reflections of democratic disagreements between nations that virtually always see things the same way, but occasionally they don't. And during that time I think that it's part and parcel of democracies to speak frankly. And that has happened in numerous cases; it's happened between France and other nations. And as the President has said, in the end, this is an alliance of shared values, and in the end, no matter what happens vis-a-vis Iraq, we will remain a close alliance.
QUESTION: But is it possible that the attitude which emanates not from the press, but from the administration, of "you're with us or you're against us," kind of dismissive superiority to some of the oldest American allies, is contributing to the problems in forging a common front against Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think you have some stark differences and you're seeing the differences discussed openly, and what's wrong with that? That's one of the strengths of our alliance, one of the strengths of our democracies, that we can differ. And, again, when you take a look at this, the differences are really with Germany and France and Belgium -- and that has now been settled vis-a-vis NATO. And those are differences that are reflective of a minority of countries. There is agreement between the United States and most of the nations of Europe. The European governments stand very strong with the United States. There are differences with France. And I don't think what you're hearing about somebody saying afraid of responsibilities is a very powerful or strong message that people could object to. I think these are the types of differences that, if they emerge, are the differences that come time to time between great democracies and do not put any particular deep strain on the alliance. That's how I think the French would approach it the same way.
QUESTION: Ari, on the second resolution, has the administration gotten any indication that France would not veto the second resolution?
MR. FLEISCHER: It would not be my place to speak for France and what they would do or wouldn't do. And certainly, that's their right to see the text of it and, at that point, to make whatever judgments they want to make. But the President again believes that in the end, the United Nations will want to play a constructive role and will be an organization that is relevant. He hopes that will be the case still.
QUESTION: And does the administration have a timetable in terms of when the U.N. Security Council members would have to act on a second resolution? Would that be within weeks?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I indicated, they're still -- the consultations are ongoing. And therefore, it could be -- the resolution could be tabled this week, it could be tabled next week. And then the President would not expect a very lengthy debate at all.
QUESTION: Apparently Turkey is asking for an additional $6 billion, bringing the total aid package to $32 billion. One, what does the White House feel about that? And secondly, can they enforce the resolutions, i.e. go to war, without Turkey?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one, I'm not going to indicate what the specific level would be. This is a matter of some diplomacy and conversation. But it is fair to say that Turkey has heard authoritatively what the position of the United States government is. And now Turkey has a decision to make, and we look forward to hearing that decision. Turkey, of course, is desirable, from astrategic point of view, for any military staging, but the military of the United States is sufficiently flexible that whatever decision is made, the United States will still be successful in carrying out any military operations, whatever decision is made.
QUESTION: Last night, Ambassador Negroponte, at the U.N., came out quite late and said that no decision had even been made about whether or not to press for a second resolution. You seemed to be saying this morning a definitive decision has been made to go forward, come what may. Was a decision made yesterday, last night, that, in fact, you would go forward with a decision?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think as you have known has been made very clear, and I think if you take a look at the full context of all the various remarks, you'll see that the President has always said, and meant it, that we intend to go through the United Nations and to offer a resolution to the United Nations at the appropriate moment, the appropriate time. And nothing has changed that.
QUESTION: So there was no shift in opinion, no firm decision yesterday about what to do or what not to do?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's been a consistent statement that we've been making.
QUESTION: On the content question, is there any change in view about the need for any benchmarks in the language in a second resolution? Or is it simply they're still in material breach and they knew they'd face serious consequences?
MR. FLEISCHER: It remains much as I've been describing to you now for about a week that it would be a rather straightforward, simple resolution that enforces Resolution 1441, and that 1441 stated Iraq had its final chance and that if it did not comply with the final chance and disarmed, there would be serious consequences. They've had their final chance.
QUESTION: And we intend to go forward even if the French or some other permanent member is threatening veto?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. The President has said that we will
proceed, and either this week or next week we'll offer a resolution.
QUESTION: But I don't think the President has actually said that. He says, we could take one, but we don't need one. But you are saying definitively that the U.S. is determined to go forward, will introduce one even if there is a risk of veto?
MR. FLEISCHER: There's always a risk of veto of anything at the United Nations. There was a risk of veto of 1441. The President believes the United Nations in the end would like to be an instrument for peace around the world, and that the United Nations Security Council, particularly after what took place in Kosovo, would like to be an organization that is taken seriously in world leaders' calculations about what steps to take to secure peace.
QUESTION: Is there any regret on the part of the President and top advisors for having chosen the strategy that's been adopted, pushing through the U.N. --
MR. FLEISCHER: No --
QUESTION: -- given all the trouble that's been stirred up?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President understood -- why would there be regret?
The President understood when he set in motion the path that we are on now, to go to the Security Council last fall. This was a decision President Bush, himself, made when he decided to go up to the United Nations and give a speech on September 12th about Iraq, and place this matter front and center for the United Nations Security Council to deal with. The President has an abiding belief in the importance of international organizations being the world's tool to enforce proliferation treaties. If it is not, if this regime breaks down, then the world is going to have to ask itself some serious questions about how can you enforce anti-proliferation matters around the world. If the United Nations Security Council does not choose to do anything other than have prolonged inspections, after it's been demonstratively proven that Iraq is in possession of prohibited weapons, then you have to ask yourself, what is the purpose of having the United Nations Security Council pass resolution after resolution prohibiting the possession of such weapons. We know that Iraq is in possession of prohibited weapons. The question is, will they disarm.
QUESTION: If the U.N. fails to endorse what the President wants, doesn't that hurt the President's credibility --
MR. FLEISCHER: If the U.N. fails to endorse action to disarm Saddam Hussein, there's a bigger question, and that is, what good does the United Nations Security Council do if it passes a resolution saying you cannot have prohibited weapons and it looks the other way when you have them. And as we know, Iraq has not accounted for its VX, it has not accounted for its sarin, it has not accounted for its anthrax or its botulin. And as we heard last week, Iraq has also moved two missiles which are in violation of Security Council resolutions. They continue to have these missiles that are in violation of Security Council resolutions. They continue to have the motors for these missiles and they continue to have the castings which made the missiles -- all in violation. What will the U.N. do about it?
QUESTION: Two questions, one a follow-up. At one point does the President decide the U.N. Security Council has lost its relevance, and that the U.S. dues may be reduced? And is there anything new on the situation in North Korea? Any new presidential decision on redeploying American troops, moving them to a safer area?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, there's nothing to report any issue involving the troops. This is a strategic focus, a longer-term look that DOD is undertaking about America's basings around the world, and there's nothing new to indicate on that. Secretary Powell will be heading to the region over the weekend, and we can expect ongoing consultations by the Secretary in this regard.
Did you have a third question in there? Oh, U.N. dues. And on the U.N. dues, no, there is no discussion that I have heard regarding the change in the dues. This is a serious matter of principle, and a serious matter of responsibility for the United Nations to face up to. We'll see what the United Nations decides.
QUESTION: But if the U.N. Security Council rejects the resolutions, then does the Bush administration consider they are irrelevant at that point?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think at that point the President will consider how best to keep the peace, and then you can anticipate at that point -- much like Kosovo, where the United Nations led a coalition to disarm -- in this case, Saddam Hussein.
QUESTION: Ari, the Emir of Qatar still holds out hope that the situation with Iraq can be resolved peacefully. During the President's conversation today, did that come up? And is the President doing anything to try and ease the Emir's concerns that a decision has already --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President, himself, said that. President Bush in his conversation said that he still hoped that this could be resolved peacefully.
QUESTION: In a related by separate -- in Berlin today, Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak brought up with Chancellor Schroeder the idea that, yes, inspections should be allowed to continue on; however, there has to be an end point at some point for Saddam to comply. Were there discussions between the United Nations and the Egyptian leader before he went over for these meetings? And also, is there a concerted effort to try and get Arab allies on board to urge some of the other countries that still have not made a commitment?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, of course, there's conversations, numerous conversations, with Arab allies about this. They have a real interest in this matter and their positions are very important and their positions are very constructive. They, too, see Saddam Hussein for the threat that he is. But, no, there was not an immediate conversation with the President and President Mubarak before President Mubarak's visit to Germany. I think the President spoke to President Mubarak a couple weeks ago, if I recall. But his remarks were constructive. Indeed, there must one day come a time when the world recognizes that inspections forever is not the solution. If the inspections last forever, it means Saddam Hussein is getting away with having weapons of mass destruction that he's able to hide from the inspectors. As Hans Blix himself said in New York last week, the inspectors are not detectives; their mission is not to find the weapons.
QUESTION: Ari, I'm still trying to understand the strategy at the United Nations. You were just telling Jim a minute ago that you're determined to have a vote, even if you know you may lose it. Do you want to get these other countries on the record, is that the ultimate goal here?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has said that he intends to offer a resolution. We will table a resolution this week or next. I can't predict what the outcome will be beyond that. But it is, as the President said, important for the United Nations to speak, to have its chance to protect the peace and to back up the resolutions that they, themselves, passed, if those resolutions have any value or meaning. And so I think it's very straightforward. The President believes in the United Nations. The President is the one who went to the United Nations. Now, it's up to the United Nations. We will see what the United Nations decides.
QUESTION: When you talked about Colin Powell going to the region a short time ago, you're talking about Asia --
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.
QUESTION: Ari, unless I'm mistaken, it's been reported that the U.N. inspectors have done an under-the-table deal with Iraq where they will not only notify them in advance of the U-2 flights, but also the area the planes will fly over. Is the administration aware of this? And what's the administration reaction?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, under 1441, there are to be no condition attached whatsoever to the right of the inspectors to fly U-2s and to conduct their inspections as they see fit. The inspectors do have flexibility on how they decide to apply that. But I will say that if the purpose is to fly spy planes with the purpose of observing, it does make it a little question mark -- if such advance notice is provided, what's the purpose of the advance notice? Why to give the heads-up? Why does Iraq seek that? I think it also renders meaningless Iraq's statement that they welcome the unconditional flying of the U-2, when clearly they have sought conditions.
QUESTION: Is the administration aware of this?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's fair to say that we're aware of the restrictions that Iraq has imposed.
QUESTION: Ari, following Helen's question, the military says it needs a decision on Turkey in the next couple of days. Will there be one?
MR. FLEISCHER: We will find out. This is up to Turkey now to make a decision. And it's an important decision that Turkey is taking seriously as a sovereign country, and we will find out, ultimately, what the decision that Turkey takes.
QUESTION: Ari, you say now that Iraq has missiles that exceed the 150-kilometer range. If that is the case, does the United States want the inspectors to destroy these sites? Do they need additional proof that this is the case?
MR. FLEISCHER: Number one, it's not the United States that says that; it's Hans Blix who has reported that. The inspectors conducted tests using independent teams, as well as their own resources, and they have determined that not only are the LSUB II missiles in excess of Iraq's allowable range for any type of missiles, but the castings in which they are made are prohibited, as well as the rocket motors themselves as prohibited. And now the question remains, what will be done about it. Under Resolution 687, there is only one thing to be done with it. If, again, the United Nations resolutions have value, those weapons must be destroyed or rendered harmless.
And we shall see, ultimately, what the Security Council does and what Iraq does. This remains an open matter, and a troubling one at that.
QUESTION: On the fact that the resolution, you said, is being prepared by the United States government -- I imagine Great Britain is also participating in these preparation. Is the language already set? Is it a negotiable item? And who will present the resolution to the U.N. -- United Nations, Great Britain, or both countries?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, this is part of the consultative process that is ongoing. We continue to talk about the exact language to use, the exact timing that it would be introduced, as well as who it will be who actually tables the motion, as they say in New York.
And in this sense, this is much like the questions that you were asking in November that led up to the successful passing of Resolution 1441. At that time, if you will recall, there was a process underway where we actually did the wordsmithing, we talked about what phrases should be used, what phrases should not be used, and you're seeing a repeat of that. We'll see, ultimately, what happens at the United Nations this time.
QUESTION: Ari, two things. You said last week that, "Every step will be taken to protect civilian and innocent life in Iraq." But Pentagon officials have said that under a battle plan called 'shock and awe,' "there will not be a safe place in Baghdad when we attack." Baghdad is a city the size of Paris, with five million residents. If there will not be a safe place in Baghdad when we attack, then how do you plan to protect every civilian?
MR. FLEISCHER: First of all, I think that any construing of any statements that are made by anybody at the Pentagon to suggest that the Pentagon does not and will not take every step to protect innocent lives is an unfair representation of what the Pentagon would say. It's well-known how the United States conducts itself in military affairs. We are very proud of the fact that any time force is reluctantly used, the force is applied to military targets and innocents are protected.
QUESTION: Second question. You have admitted that Saddam may attack our invading troops with chemical and biological weapons. On Sunday, 60 Minutes reported that many military leaders believe that our troops have neither the proper equipment, nor the proper training to survive a chemical and biological attack. The report quoted an Army audit that found that 62 percent of the gas masks examined "had critical defects that could cause leakage." Now, since 100,000 U.S. veterans in the Gulf War may still be suffering from Gulf War Syndrome -- many of them believe that this is from inhaling toxic fumes. Tens of thousands of them were exposed to sarin gas when we bombed a Iraqi munitions dump -- how can the President send troops into harm's way knowing that they are not adequately protected from a chemical and biological attack?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has full faith and confidence in the Department of Defense and in their planning for the worst. And I think premised in your question is the fact that perhaps you now are coming around to the realization that Iraq does indeed have weapons of mass destruction and a willingness to use them. It's not anybody in the United States government who has admitted -- in your word -- that Iraq might use these weapons; it's that Iraq has such weapons, they've used them in the past. And hence the danger not only to the troops who are in the region, but to people abroad, people in the United States, and friends and allies and civilians in the region who remain vulnerable to Saddam using such weapons on innocents.
QUESTION: Ari, does this new resolution represent a last chance for the Security Council?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, when you consider the fact that Resolution 1441 said, "last chance," then what the President is saying to the Security Council is, this is your last chance to mean what you've previously said. After all, if you can pass resolutions that say Iraq must comply fully and immediately, Iraq must comply with all provisions, they may not have any missiles in excess of 150 kilometers, and then they acknowledge that Iraq has missiles in excess of 150 kilometers, and they do nothing about it, what's the purpose of passing all those previous resolutions? Why then would people look to the United Nations as an instrument of peace, if instead, all it is is an instrument of putting out declarations that nobody intends to take seriously anyway? So the President believes that if the declarations are to have meaning and have value, they must be taken seriously. So this is the President's chance to have the United Nations taken seriously.
QUESTION: One more with the U.N. The President initially said, very carefully, that he would welcome a new resolution. Other administration officials said that he would support a new resolution, and it sounded as if this was in theory. And now, you're saying that the United States is going to press aggressively and take the leading role. I mean, what changed? Why the more aggressive effort by the United States?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think, just quote the words. I've never used the words, "aggressively" or "take a leading role." I said that the President has said that it's important to have a meaningful United Nations Security Council, and that the President believes that it is important to go to the Security Council. We will offer a resolution this week or next, and I've made no predictions about what the outcome of that would be. I've said the President believes that ultimately the United Nations will want to be relevant and want to have an effective role. That remains his hope. That's what I've said. Those are the words that I've used.
QUESTION: But leading role would not be accurate, from what you told us today, about the --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, as I indicated, we'll determine exactly, along with our friends and allies, of who the sponsor of the resolution will be. The United States is working with the United Kingdom right now in the drafting of such a resolution. So in that sense, if you want to call that a leading role, I think that might be an accurate description. But I just want to use my words.
QUESTION: Ari, you mentioned earlier that the administration could live with a 9-0 vote out of the United Nations. I'm just wondering what value you would see in a resolution that's passed by nine votes, but vetoed by other countries.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, clearly, if something is vetoed, then it doesn't pass. And what I said was, the measure for passage is nine votes and no veto.
QUESTION: Do you anticipate success in your effort to win it?
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll find out. We'll find out, and as the President says,
he very much hopes so. That's what he would like for the United Nations to do. And if the United Nations does not see fit to enforce its resolutions, then the President does not believe the world would be safer with an armed Saddam Hussein who receives a signal from the Security Council that it's okay to have arms, that the Security Council intends to do nothing about it.