The White House
President George W. Bush
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Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, February 3, 2003 (Full Transcript)

QUESTION: Does the President agree with Colin Powell's op/ed piece today, there is no smoking gun?

MR. FLEISCHER: The administration has always said that we have a wide variety of reasons to know that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction, particularly chemical and biological weapons. And of course, the President agrees with what Colin Powell has written.

QUESTION: So he does agree that there isn't any one thing that --

MR. FLEISCHER: I think the reason that we know Saddam Hussein possesses chemical and biological weapons is from a wide variety of means. That's how we know.

QUESTION: On that issue, is the administration willing to join Great Britain in seeking a U.N. resolution that would set a date certain for complete Iraqi compliance?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as the President said Friday, standing with Prime Minister Blair, a second resolution would be welcome so long as it accomplishes the mission, and the mission is the disarmament of Saddam Hussein. And so it remains something that the President has expressed very clearly that under his authority in the Constitution as Commander-in-Chief, and under 1441, he already has existing authority to make the decision. But the President, of course, is in the process of consultation with our allies, and you'll see a series of more meetings, consultative process with our allies to determine precisely what the next course of events should be.

QUESTION: Looks like Hans Blix and maybe Mohamed ElBaradei will be going back to Iraq next week. Is that something that you are worried that will throw off your timetable as this week, the big presentation from the Secretary of State? The last time they were there, there was this big agreement and Iraq said that they were going to comply, and it kind of helped shift the world opinion a little bit. Are you concerned about the timing of this?

MR. FLEISCHER: No. Under 1441 is, of course, within the prerogatives of the directors of UNMOVIC and IAEA to travel to Iraq for the purpose of implementing the resolution. That is their prerogative and the President wants to make certain that 1441 is enforced.

QUESTION: Can you tell us a little bit more about what's on the agenda for the Bahrainian meeting this afternoon? And how concerned is the President about growing public opinion elsewhere in the world that is against any action against Iraq, particularly reaction in the Arab world?

MR. FLEISCHER: Okay. One, in the meeting with Bahrain, the President looks forward to the meeting. They're a very good ally of the United States. And I think you can anticipate the topic of Iraq will, of course, come up. I think they may also talk about peace in the Middle East, which is something that the President and Prime Minister Blair continue their conversations about. I think those, broadly speaking, will be the two areas of conversation that arise.

As for public opinion, as you know, I've said this many times -- the President will be guided by what he thinks is necessary and right to protect the people of our country, as well as the region, and our allies in the region, as well. He's consulting very closely, as you can see, with the leaders of many of these nations. And I think as you started to see last week, something that we've been indicating to you for quite some time is starting to manifest itself, and that is expressions of support for various leaders around the world. And I anticipate that that will continue.

And so this will remain, just as the President promised, a very heavy consultative process. The diplomatic window remains a window in which the President will fully engage, to reach out and enter into discussions with our friends and allies. And I think he is having quite a bit of success.

QUESTION: Ari, can you lay out for us some of the details of the declassification process, who's in charge, where the effort is centralized, to try to figure out what can be used by Secretary Powell? And secondly, has the decision been made to use verbates of communications intercepts of Iraqi officials?

MR. FLEISCHER: On the second part of your question, I'm not going to indicate exactly what will be said. That will be for Secretary Powell to do Wednesday up in --

QUESTION: Can you say whether or not the decision has been made to use --

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to get into that. These will be things that the Secretary himself will reveal and that will be your indication. But the process has been a week-long, a little bit longer than that, interagency collaboration that involves the CIA, the NSC, the State Department, DOD, to review the raw material, the information that is known, with the eye toward how much can be made public so that the people of the United States and people around the world can have as much information as is possible about why we feel so strongly and know that Iraq has biological and chemical weapons, balanced against the need to protect the sources of this information so that we do not, one, lead to anybody getting killed in Iraq as a result of this, or the source of this information drying up in the future. So it's a very important series of judgments that get made to each piece of data to determine whether or not they can or can not be made public.

QUESTION: A little thing for you -- the President often articulates principles on legislation or on any sort of effort to lay down the law, if you will. With regard to a second resolution, does the President have one or two particular principles that would need to be met for a second resolution to get his support?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it's exactly what he said Friday with Tony Blair.

QUESTION: Just as long as it gets done quickly, he doesn't care what the content is?

MR. FLEISCHER: So long as it leads to the disarmament of Saddam Hussein.

QUESTION: Ari, ever since the President announced Secretary Powell's U.N. appearance in the State of the Union address, there's been a great deal of expectation around that appearance. Was his statement in today's op/ed piece that there is no smoking gun an attempt to lower those expectations?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think people will form their judgments, having watched the Secretary, and people will come to their conclusions about it. I think it will be compelling, but I think that these will be judgments that people make, and that is exactly why the President wants this done in public. The President wants this information shared publicly so that individual Americans can exercise their own right to tune in and make their evaluations as citizens of our democracy about what it is that the government knows. In the event that the President decides to use force, he thinks it is vital that the American people have as great an understanding of the reasons why as possible.

QUESTION: Should we take the Secretary's piece today as, in effect, a summary of what he's going to say tomorrow?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's obviously a good guide to what he is going to say Wednesday.

QUESTION: Ari, last week the President said, on Iraq, you are either with us or you are with the enemy. France and Germany are clearly not with us. Why aren't they with the enemy?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's not true. France and Germany are with us. They just, in the case of Germany, made a decision not to use military force; and in the case of France, I think France is still exploring what their ultimate position will be. But clearly, they're both with us. The question is the use of military force. So I don't think that's quite doing justice to what the President said.

QUESTION: The President has repeatedly said he wants to bring democracy to Iraq. But here in the District of Columbia, citizens have no elected representatives in Congress. On the license plate, there is a permanent protest. It says "taxation without representation." What is the President doing to bring democracy to the District of Columbia?

MR. FLEISCHER: Per the Constitution, the District of Columbia is a unique entity and the President has expressed no desire to change the representation that the District of Columbia was given by the framers. And I don't really think you can equate the District of Columbia being a democracy with Iraq's failure to be a democracy, and it's, in fact, of course, a totalitarian state.

QUESTION: Okay, and going back to something from last week -- can you describe how the President, in coming forward and offering the idea of exile to Saddam Hussein, squares that in his mind with his concern about him being the epitome of evil, human rights violations, and his desire to bring him to justice?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as the President said, that if Saddam Hussein were to leave Iraq and to take, as the President put it, his henchmen with him, that would be a very desirable event. That would save the lives of many. It would improve the lives and the fortunes of the Iraqi people and give them, for the first time in decades, the freedoms that they are entitled to. And the President views that, if it were to happen -- and the President holds no high hopes that it would happen -- but the President, of course, and I think people around the world would welcome that event, no matter how evil Saddam Hussein is. The source of his evil comes first from himself, and second from his ability to manipulate the levers of power, and to do so in a tyrannical way, against not only his own people, but the neighbors in the region, and hence, his threat to peace. Certainly, if Saddam Hussein no longer has his fingers on the levers which weapons of mass destruction could be launched, the world would be a safer place.

QUESTION: So if Saddam Hussein were to forfeit his control over Iraq and seek exile, he could save his life and he could avoid any kind of international judicial experience, being brought to justice.

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I think the world would rejoice if he left, and let's leave it at that and let's hope he leaves.

QUESTION: Should Americans and allies be prepared for a greater loss of life in an Iraq conflict this time as compared with 1991, when the objective was simply to push Iraq out of Kuwait?

MR. FLEISCHER: One, I want to remind you the President has not made any decisions about the use of force, and the President continues to hope that that will not be a line that gets crossed.

QUESTION: Is that a factor in his decision-making?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the factor in the President's decision-making as to whether Saddam Hussein is disarmed or not. That is the factor. Beyond that, I think it's impossible for anybody to make any predictions. The United States is very, very, very capable, and beyond that, I just will not make any predictions.

QUESTION: Just following John's point on North Korea here, I'm trying to understand how we should interpret this decision to send new aircraft and the personnel around them. Should we interpret it as equivalent to what you're doing in Iraq, where you frequently said that the presence of American troops nearby helps increase the diplomatic pressure for them to fully comply -- in North Korea's case, that would mean allowing inspectors back in and doing all those things you've asked them to do -- or should we instead interpret it as a concern on the part of the President that North Korea could lash out at some moment because of sanctions, because of anything else?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think you should interpret it exactly as I said earlier, that the President thinks that this can be handled through diplomatic means, that we have contingencies all around the world and we always make certain that our contingencies are viable.

QUESTION: You have 37,000 troops there already.

MR. FLEISCHER: We have contingencies around the world that involve a number of uses of force structure to make certain that the contingencies are viable.

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