Excerpts from the Press Gaggle by Ari Fleischer, February 21, 2003 (Full Transcript)
QUESTION: Ari, Is the White House Optimistic About Developments in Turkey? The Foreign Minister said that there's a potential agreement that's near. Is that the case from your point of view?
MR. FLEISCHER: The United States has noted the statements made by Turkish officials. This is a serious matter and our good friend and ally Turkey is taking it seriously. And we are continuing to talk to Turkish officials, and we look forward to having more to say or more to indicate at the appropriate time. We continue to talk with our good friends.
QUESTION: Ari, people on the Hill, particularly in Hastert's office, are saying that they're prepared to quickly move on any kind of aid package that comes out of this. They see that as a sign of movement, a sign of optimism on the part of the White House. Is that an accurate reflection of where things stand?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, when Turkish officials visited the United States and met with President Bush, they also did spend time up on Capitol Hill. And this is America's commitment, not just the Executive Branch's commitment, to Turkey. And the legislature must and is must be and is involved, and this is a sign of how much America values our relationship with Turkey, how seriously we take that relationship with Turkey. And we will continue to talk with Turkey and see where this ultimately ends up.
QUESTION: Are they correct in interpreting this as a sign of movement and a sign for optimism that a deal can be reached?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I said, we have noted their statement. The talks are continuing. Turkey is, indeed, a very good friend. And Turkey has taken this matter with all the seriousness that it deserves. It's important to note that Turkey is, of course, a democracy. And Turkey is facing this matter as every good democracy should, which is, a full discussion with the views of Turkish people in mind, with the security situation of Turkey in mind, and the economy of Turkey in mind. We always value the importance of working shoulder to shoulder with democracies like Turkey.
QUESTION: When you said the President reaffirmed his support for the U.N. Security Council, is that support conditional in the future on their agreeing with the United States on the course of action in Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: This is a continuation of the policies that the President put in place when, on September 12th, the President brought the Security Council back into the situation with Iraq. The Security Council took almost four years off, in terms of doing anything meaningful about Iraq. And as a result of the President going to New York and asking the Security Council to reenergize the world behind taking meaningful action to disarm Saddam Hussein, the Security Council has played a role now.
The President said to Kofi Annan this morning that the role the Security Council plays is important and continues to be important. We will ultimately find out what role the Security Council will indeed place -- will play. The United States and allies will introduce next week a resolution in the Security Council concerning Iraq. And the Security Council continues to be tested to determine what role they will play, exactly, but their role is important.
QUESTION: So you could potentially see a role for them even if they don't endorse a resolution along the lines the United States is seeking?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President has said what is important is that the word of the United Nations be honored. And the word of the United Nations is that Saddam Hussein be disarmed. One way or another, hopefully, with the United Nations Security Council, Saddam Hussein will be disarmed.
QUESTION: Ari, has the language been finished on a resolution?
MR. FLEISCHER: The language continues to be discussed with allies. I think you can anticipate that that will be a topic of discussion with the President of Spain. And so it's too soon to say what the language will be.
QUESTION: Did you mean to say just now that the United States and Britain would introduce this resolution even if they knew in advance that the votes were not there for passage?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have said clearly that the United States and our allies will -- the resolution, working with the United States and their allies, the resolution will be introduced next week. And that's a sign again in the President's view that the United Nations Security Council must enforce its own resolutions. If the United Nations Security Council passes resolutions that says Iraq must disarm, Iraq cannot have chemical weapons, Iraq cannot have biological weapons, and Iraq cannot have missiles that exceed 150 kilometers, and the world sees that Iraq indeed has weapons that exceed 150 kilometers, the world will expect the United Nations to take meaningful action.
This remains, at its heart and soul, a test of the Security Council. The President wants the Security Council to pass the test.
QUESTION: Ari, is the President in any way confident that the Security Council would pass this resolution? Does he feel that France is likely not to veto? And has he personally called the leaders of these countries on the Security Council, including the temporary members, try to get their votes?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, this process is much like the process that took place last fall. And that is to say that member states of the Security Council offer draft language; the language gets debated and ultimately gets put to a vote. And the President will exercise the diplomatic will exercise the diplomatic responsibility of the United States to talk to other nations, as he has been doing, about getting their support for the resolution.
QUESTION: Would that include calling the leaders on the Security Council, including --
MR. FLEISCHER: Of course.
QUESTION: Including the temporary countries?
MR. FLEISCHER: Of course. There are 15 votes; every vote is important.
QUESTION: Is he expected to speak to all the members?
MR. FLEISCHER: Is he expected to --
QUESTION: Is he expected to speak to the leaders of all those countries?
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll keep you posted on the phone calls the President makes. And, of course, you can expect the Vice President, the National Security Advisor, the Secretary of State also to make phone calls, just as was done last November, and have meetings.
QUESTION: This will be an all-out effort -- is that right?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, this is a very important moment for the United Nations. Given the fact that Saddam Hussein is under an obligation to disarm and he has not disarmed, in fact it is now known by the United Nations that he has missiles in excess of 150 kilometers, the United Nations is being tested every day. The question is, will the United Nations respond?
The President will call leaders of the 15 nations that are part of the Security Council to urge them to meet the test and to fulfill the mandates of the United Nations, so that Iraq indeed disarms.
QUESTION: Two very quick scheduling questions, and then a substantive question. Secretary Powell had said that he expected to hear from the Turkish government by the end of yesterday. Was that your understanding as well?
MR. FLEISCHER: Oh, we continue to hear from the Turkish government. The Turkish government has been in regular contact with us. This is being handled principally out of the embassy in Turkey and reporting to the Secretary of State, and so we continue to get reports and updates from the Turkish government. Indeed, yesterday we received them, as well.
QUESTION: The wires are reporting that the resolution will be offered on Monday. You've been saying next week. What is your understanding of that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Next week includes Monday. But I'm not going to give a precise date. It could be any day next week.
QUESTION: Okay. And my one substantive question is, the President has made it clear that if the United Nations does not enforce its resolutions with regard to Iraqi disarmament, the United States will lead a coalition of the willing to do so. As a matter of legality, should that come to pass -- and it's a hypothetical the President has entertained, so you can feel free to do so, as well -- would he be -- would his enforcement of that resolution as a legal matter be something the United States is undertaking to enforce the United Nations resolution as a United Nations matter, or would we be enforcing U.S. policy, vis a vis regime change?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it would be both. The United States would be acting to fulfill the mandate of the United Nations Security Council that Saddam Hussein must disarm, and we would be doing so with a rather substantial coalition that agrees.
And -- let me put this in reverse. Imagine a world in which the United Nations says that Iraq must disarm, but then a United Nations that won't do anything about it. Imagine a world in which the heart of international law and order is not kept or obeyed. Imagine a world in which the United Nations Security Council says our mission is to simply buy more time and take no action. That's a world that will lead to increased proliferation, because proliferators will see the United Nations Security Council as an organization that passes resolutions without the intent of enforcing them.
QUESTION: Wouldn't your imagined scenario also conjure the following for Congress of what you just said, which is that individual countries and member nations of the United Nations could start unilaterally enforcing U.N. mandates, where the U.N. may even on a vote on the record say, we don't want it enforced or enforced this way? Isn't that also a possibility?
MR. FLEISCHER: There's a bottom line to this. The bottom line, as described by the United Nations, is that Saddam Hussein must disarm. And it is the task of the President, in accordance with the constitutional responsibilities that he holds, to make a determination about at what point the risk from Saddam Hussein has reached such a level that a coalition of the willing will actually act to disarm Saddam Hussein because the United Nations Security Council did not.
If the suggestion is that no action can be taken absent the United Nations Security Council, that logic would suggest that Slobodon Milosevic should be restored to power.
QUESTION: My last follow-up, and I apologize to my colleagues. But I'm just wondering if the United Nations wouldn't be on a sounder legal footing if it simply declared that it was acting in enforcement of its own policies, of its own Congress, rather than undertaking a United Nations enforcement mission where the United Nations has not sanctioned it.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the United Nations has said that Iraq must disarm, and any military action taken by this coalition would be aimed at disarming Saddam Hussein. So whether it follows the Security Council procedures, or not, it follows the Security Council imperative, which is for Saddam Hussein to disarm.
QUESTION: Is the President pushing so hard on the second resolution in part to provide cover for leaders like Aznar, who is facing intense resistance at home, and if the United States went to war without a U.N. resolution, Aznar's party could lose control and we'd lose an ally in Europe? Is that one of the rationales? Because he says the resolution is not necessary, but yet, it seems to be --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not sure I understand the question. You're asking me to predict --
QUESTION: Part of the push for the second resolution is to protect people like Aznar, who is already unpopular at home and would be even more unpopular if we went to war without a U.N. backing.
MR. FLEISCHER: What's the question?
QUESTION: Is one of the reasons he is pushing so hard to protect people like Aznar, leaders like Aznar?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President thinks that's it's important for the United Nations Security Council to play a meaningful role in the world. And the President thinks it's important not only for the leaders of Europe, for nations around the world, to know that the Security Council is an effective enforcement body. And that's why the President went to New York last September. And the President would like to see this done through the United Nations Security Council.
But I don't think there's a nation in the world that wants Saddam Hussein to be armed and to use those weapons. So it does become a question of at what point will the Security Council make the decision to act or not act. And this is why I think it is an important analogy to say that if the Security Council fails to act, does that mean the world must wait? Because if the United Nations Security Council was the only way that international order could be kept, Slobodon Milosevic would still be in power, bringing genocide to the Muslims and to others in Serbia. I remind you, the Security Council failed to act during the genocide that was being carried out by Slobodon Milosevic, and the world still acted, NATO still acted and peace was kept.
QUESTION: How much does he worry that by Aznar allying himself with Bush, that -- is the President worried that that's hurting Aznar's standing in Spain and may cause the collapse of his party?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President thinks that by doing the right thing and by preserving peace, that is the best way to represent the public in all nations. That leaders who stand strong and do what is right to preserve peace will be leaders who act in the interest of their publics.
QUESTION: You don't have to do any convincing with Aznar; he's on board in terms of Iraq. You mentioned just now they're going to talk about the resolution. What other specific issues are they going to talk about? It's a lot of hours of meetings.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the heart of it is going to be looking forward, planning for the debate at the United Nations, talking about the language of the resolution. And I anticipate that will be the core of it. There could be -- there will be trade issues that could come up, as well, in our conversations. There could be issues involving NATO enlargement, NATO expansion. Those are also topics that come up in these type of conversations.
QUESTION: How about military -- for Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: It is conceivable. And obviously, the President will have a news conference tomorrow, and so you'll get a good report.
QUESTION: Ari, would it be fair to say that the President believes this second resolution is the United Nations' last chance to prove its relevance? I mean, judging from what you've said, that's what you're saying.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, given the fact that this is, in reality, the 18th resolution, the President does not think there needs to be a 19th. So this is a very important moment for the United Nations Security Council to decide whether or not it will act.
QUESTION: Did you say earlier that he would -- the President would call all 15 leaders between now and --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I was asked, will he call all 15, and I said that the President will be calling and the Vice President, the National Security Advisor, the Secretary of State will be making calls and working the diplomacy of this. So that's not a prediction the President himself will call all 15. But, of course, there will be a lot of diplomacy going on.
QUESTION: What do you expect over the next --
QUESTION: Ari, the President spoke yesterday outside of Atlanta about the risk of doing nothing to disarm Saddam Hussein. He often speaks about this. But he often does not speak about the risk of war. Do you think the President has prepared the nation enough for the prospects of war?
MR. FLEISCHER: One, I think the nation understands how real and how serious this is. The American people, waking up every day and seeing discussions in their newspapers, watching on TV, seeing the deployments of their brothers and sisters and friends and co-workers to the Gulf, they understand that this is serious.
I think they understand that Saddam Hussein poses a real threat and risk to the United States. And they have been very supportive of the President's efforts.
In the event the President does decide that force will be used, the President will engage in additional conversation with the American people. But in the President's mind, there is no question and no doubt that if he makes a decision that force is necessary to disarm Saddam Hussein, he has no doubt the country will rally to the cry. I'm sorry, he has no doubt that the country will rally to the call.
QUESTION: Ari, just to fine-tune two of your answers. Are you saying that the phone calls by the President and the Vice President and the National Security Advisor, et cetera, that those calls will reach all 15 countries of the Security Council?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think one way or another, there's no question that all 15 member states of the Security Council, of course, will all be talked to.
QUESTION: Can you be a little more specific about the course of the conversations you anticipate this week? Are there issues that are unique to Spain, for instance, regarding the language of the resolution that need to be worked through, and issues unique to the Spanish-U.S. relationship regarding the debate in the U.N.? Is there something that
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I wouldn't say the language issues are unique to Spain. What you have here are allies working together to find the best way to reach agreement at the Security Council. And that's why I said this is much like what took place last November where we went through the same process of a resolution being drafted, the words being carefully examined, the words being shared with other nations, all in an attempt to do exactly what the United Nations Security Council is set up to do, which is to form common bond, to forge agreements. And so this is a very collaborative process among allies, and that's why the meetings will include discussions of language.
QUESTION: An unrelated follow-up. In a postwar Iraq, does the U.S. favor continuing the autonomous Kurdish group that's formed in northern Iraq now?
MR. FLEISCHER: The United States has been unequivocal that we support the territorial integrity of Iraq, and we support no efforts to divide Iraq up. It is our stated policy that Iraq's territorial integrity shall be respected and maintained.
QUESTION: The Washington Post story today about plans for postwar Iraq -- is that story accurate?
MR. FLEISCHER: The question was about the Washington Post story today about postwar Iraq. And as we have said repeatedly that the United States, working with our allies, knows that the future of Iraq will be decided by the Iraqi people, that Iraq will be governed by Iraqis. And those would be Iraqis from both inside and outside Iraq.
There will, of course, be a period, in the event that force is used, where the military will be in Iraq to promote stability and peace in Iraq. During this period, there will be civilian Iraqis who are responsible for the governance of Iraq, and that will evolve throughout a transition period. And that is the path toward the future of Iraq.
QUESTION: Has President Bush talked directly to President Fox about the Iraqi resolution? Are there any plans for him to do so?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'd have to take a look at the phone log to see when the last time they talked was. But they have talked from time to time. And, as you know, I think we are pretty good at reporting to you the calls that the President makes, so we'll keep you informed. And there are always conversations at other levels, as well.
QUESTION: Is Aznar any kind of intermediary here, emissary?
MR. FLEISCHER: I wouldn't use the word "intermediary." But as always, in a case like this, what you do see is a series of circular diplomacy, where the President will talk to one leader, who will in turn talk to another leader, who will in turn to talk to a third leader. If you recall, Prime Minister Blair and President Aznar met before Prime Minister Blair came to the United States. President Berlusconi, upon his departure from the United States, after he met with President Bush, went to meet with President Putin in Moscow. And so there is a continual -- continual process of diplomacy, where the various leaders all talk with each other.
This was why I was indicating that we have an alliance of members on the Security Council who are working closely together to make certain that there is sufficient support on the Security Council to disarm Saddam Hussein.
QUESTION: In the talks with Turkey, it is clear that not only does the United States have something to lose, but the Turks realize they have something to lose, not only money, but also that it would have an impact on bilateral relations, on other matters which can affect financial issues and other things, too. In these talks with these 15 countries that the President and other administration officials are going to make, is it being made clear to these countries, apart from the issues of Iraq and security issues there, that their bilateral relations with the United States could be impacted and these countries could have something to lose, just as Turkey does?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I don't think that's the case at all. In fact, take a look -- Germany is an example. Germany, we already anticipate, will vote no on any resolution at the Security Council. Yet in the end, Germany played a constructive role in NATO to make certain that our ally, Turkey, could be defended.
If you recall, Germany supported the position of the military divisions within NATO, the Defense Planning Committee, to protect Turkey, which indeed is receiving the AWAX and the chemical weapon defenses and other supplies that NATO is now on the ground providing to Turkey. That's an example of a nation that intends to vote no at the Security Council is still a member of the Alliance and is still helpful in certain regards.
And so, this remains an important issue to be negotiated and to be discussed with various nations. And that's exactly why the Security Council is set up, so that diplomacy and logic can prevail.
QUESTION: There's no underlying message to countries which might vote against the United States on this that it could harm bilateral relations with the United States?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think nations' actions and nations' votes will speak for themselves. Clearly, President Bush has made this a major priority to disarm Saddam Hussein. We indeed hope that other nations will see it the same way. It is hard for us to understand how nations would allow a process to take place that fails to disarm Saddam Hussein. And this will be handled through diplomacy and through logic.
QUESTION: Some of these countries are quite poor, like Guinea* and Cameroon, for example, Angola. There's no underlying message there that the United States might not be there on their behalf with the International Monetary Organization, the World Bank, there's no message there that this could impact their future down the line?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think everybody understands that the United Nations Security Council process is meant to be a serious process, where there are rotating nations -- the E-10 -- that are put on to the Security Council, and this is their moment on the world stage to weigh carefully and seriously weighty matters such as how best to disarm Saddam Hussein. That is the purpose of having revolving nations take their place on the Security Council. The President is confident they will face their responsibilities seriously, and he will engage in serious discussions with these nations about the importance of disarming Saddam Hussein.