The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

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




Prairie Chapel Ranch

Crawford, Texas

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 was Iraq.

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 Bush?

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 in Europe.

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 that correct?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He may be very helpful there, as well.

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 basis?

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.

Yes, ma'am.

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 nonmeaningful compliance.

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 prevail.

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 that resolution?

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 --


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 sure.

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 support?

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 terms.

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 successfully.

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.

Thank you.

END 1:22 P.M. CST

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