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


The President began early this morning with a phone call that lasted 20 minutes with President Jiang Zemin of China. The two discussed the situation in North Korea, as well as Iraq. President Bush stressed that time was of the essence in dealing with Iraq, and he stressed that the credibility of the United Nations was at stake.

The President returned to the White House, where he spoke with President Jacques Chirac of France. The two agreed on the importance of disarming Iraq. They agreed to continue consultations. The President stressed that France is an important ally. And they also discussed the importance of working together to achieve peace in the Middle East between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

The President will depart for Camp David later this afternoon. And let me -- I want to give you a look ahead for about the next two weeks. During the next two weeks, the President and many members of his administration are going to focus on two main goals: diplomacy abroad and jobs at home. There will be number of activities on both fronts. The President will be discussing the situation vis-a-vis Iraq in his weekly radio address this weekend. Members of his foreign policy team

QUESTION: Can I ask, when the President said this morning he wants the U.N. Security Council to make up its mind soon, to do what? What does he want to see in this new resolution? What does he want not to be in there?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President, as he has said and as he has talked with numerous allies, particularly in Europe -- the President has said that he would welcome a second vote by the United Nations Security Council that enforces the resolution that is already in place, which is Resolution 1441, which said that this is Iraq's final chance to comply, that failure to comply would be seen as a material breach that would be met with serious consequences -- in the words of the 15 members of the United Nations Security Council.

QUESTION: Does he want language more specific than "serious consequences"?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, on the exact language, the process is now just beginning. It began yesterday with the President's statement. And I think, as you can anticipate, and you're very familiar with the United Nations processes, this will now become a matter of diplomacy. I've indicated to you the President is going to spend some time, himself, and other members of the administration, engaged in diplomacy, toward the point of working together with the United Nations Security Council, to come out with a resolution that is serious, effective and acceptable. And that's the process that now begins.

QUESTION: But, clearly, he must have in mind some minimum standard for this resolution, otherwise he thinks it's pointless, right?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, he does. The standard the President has set is that the second resolution must enforce the first resolution, that it must provide meaning to the first resolution. QUESTION: Does the President think there is anyone in the world who believes he has not already made up his mind to go up to war at any cost, no matter what? Does he actually think that nobody has already made up -- believes he has already made him mind up?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think what's, in the President's judgment, important, there is one person's mind who matters the most, and that's Saddam Hussein. The issue of whether or not war comes is a matter that Saddam Hussein will decide. And so when you say, has the President decided, the President remains hopeful that war can be averted. And the President strongly believes that the stronger the show of international unity and the stronger the creation of the military presence, building up alongside Iraq, we'll work to convince Saddam Hussein to do what he always should have done, and perhaps the peace can still be maintained.

QUESTION: But the President actually thinks that people think he still might not go to war?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there is really only one person the President worries about when it comes to, can war be averted, and that's in Saddam Hussein's --

QUESTION: Why shouldn't he worry about what the American people think?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, obviously, the President worries deeply about what the American people think. He is responsible to the American people and to their protection, per the Constitution, which is why the President went to the United Nations Security Council last September. It's why the President worked so hard to achieve the result of the first tough resolution that the United Nations passed last November, and why the President directed Secretary Powell to travel to New York this week to make the presentation of facts.

QUESTION: Why doesn't he let the inspectors complete their work?

MR. FLEISCHER: There's only one person who can let the inspectors complete his work, and that person's name is Saddam Hussein.

QUESTION: After talking to the Presidents of China and France, does the President here feel any more optimistic that he's going to get their votes in the Security Council on the kind of resolution that he wants?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not in the business of predicting the actions that will be taken by sovereign nations, that is up to them to do.

But I think what you are seeing here is a serious diplomatic effort underway and it's going to continue. And that is, I think, what the American people and what the world would expect. It is important for international organizations to have meaning. It is important for proliferation regimes to work if we're going to send a signal to the world that we will enforce proliferations regimes so that weapons of mass destruction cannot be spread or can be easily acquired with impunity from the very international organizations who at their heart and soul must be dedicated to the stopping of the Saddam Husseins now and in the future.

QUESTION: Can I just follow-up? Does the President feel that these people, such as the Presidents of Russia and France and China, would voice some opposition, or their officials would voice some opposition to the American's stand on this? Does he feel that they're doing it out of sincere beliefs that war is not necessary?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President, of course, believes that the leaders he's working with are working in sincere faith. And, frankly, in the days and the weeks leading up to the vote that the Security Council took in November, there were a variety of different opinions shared, not all in unison with the United States.

And because of careful diplomacy, because of the President's dedication to working well with the United Nations, and also to leading the world, you saw a 15-0 vote. I cannot predict what will be the outcome this time. But that's the pattern that the President put in place last time. Nobody know what will happen this time. But that is why the President approaches it as seriously as he does. Their voices count, their opinions are important. He will engage with them, as he did today, in ongoing diplomacy. But make no mistake, he will also lead.

QUESTION: Ari, you mentioned before that the focus over the next couple of weeks would be on jobs at home and diplomacy abroad. Left out of that formulation is any mention of explaining and justifying war to the American people, or preparing them for the risk that this doesn't go as smoothly as a lot of people might expect or hope.

MR. FLEISCHER: Obviously, anything dealing with diplomacy abroad gets communicated to the world, gets communicated to the American people, as well. I don't rule out that you certainly will, when the President's travels, as you well know, when the President goes out, for example, and gives speeches around the country, he'll have a new policy that he may announce domestically, but typically the President will also discuss international events.

And so the President will continue as he travels to talk about global affairs as part of his overall remarks.

QUESTION: But more broadly, is he confident that he has made the case to the American people -- not to France or Russia or China -- but to the American people, that this is something that he needs to do and that it's going to entail risks and casualties and potentially long-term costs?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, the -- first of all, you have to keep in mind the President has not made the decision that force will be used. The President has, of course, in his State of the Union, talked directly to the American people about the nature of the threat and why it's important that one way or another Saddam Hussein be disarmed.

The President directed the Secretary of State to travel to the United Nations, where his speech was watched around the globe, of course, and tens of millions of Americans saw both the State of the Union and Secretary Powell's presentations. The President understands that if there is more to come, the President will continue to honor his obligation to our democracy, to talk more and explain more.

So, no, you have not seen the end of that story in the event that the President decides there is more necessary.

QUESTION: Ari, the President has said he would welcome a second U.N. resolution. Is that desire strong enough that he would go back to the U.N. and speak directly to the Security Council?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not in a position to make any predictions. But I would not suggest to you that because the President did it on September 12th would be any need for him to do it again. I think now the burden falls on the shoulders of the 15 members of the United Nations Security Council to review the facts, to review the intelligence that has been shared, to evaluate what they know about Saddam Hussein and his possession of weapons of mass destruction, his absolute failure to comply with the inspectors -- who were sent there not to hunt around the country in search of weapons but to verify that he has actually disarmed from the weapons he has.

The President believes that they will make those judgments, and this is a real time of telling for the United Nations Security Council on whether they are, indeed, an effective body in the 21st century.

QUESTION: Can you give us a little bit of readout on President Jiang Zemin's reaction during that telephone conversation? Can you do the same with President Chirac? What was his reaction to what President --

MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, the two agreed about the importance of continuing to consult with each other. And I think that sums it up.

QUESTION: Did Chirac, for instance, indicate any willingness to consider something other than endless inspections? Did he indicate that there was a limit to his patience on Iraq?

MR. FLEISCHER: You know, again, I appreciate the opportunity to speak for foreign leaders, but --

QUESTION: I'm only asking you to convey what he indicated to the President of the United States.

MR. FLEISCHER: I appreciate the opportunity to speak for foreign leaders. But, no, it's not my place to do that. They had a warm call and the President again indicated that he respects France and it's important to continue the consultations, and they will.

QUESTION: You indicated the President wanted any new resolution to reinforce 1441. Obviously, as you indicated, diplomatic discussions will determine the exact language and how far it goes. But is there a minimum that the United States needs to see in a second resolution? Would it, for instance, have to declare that Iraq is yet again in material breach? Is there some minimum level here that would be required for it to actually reinforce 1441?

MR. FLEISCHER: The minimum is that it would to enforce what Resolution 1441 meant. And what Resolution 1441 meant was it was final, the words of the United Nations -- final. It said that Iraq is and continues to be in material breach. And it said if they are in material breach there will be serious consequences. That's what the President believes. It must disarm Saddam Hussein.

QUESTION: On the Iraq-al Qaeda connection, if this Zarqawi guy is such a threat, and we know from the satellite photographs exactly where the camp is, we have uncontested control over the air space, why hasn't any action been taken?

MR. FLEISCHER: Number one, you should not in that statement presume that we know exactly where he is, or at all times exactly where he is. We may have reporting on where he has been. Now, if you're asking me to talk about anything that may be a military operation, that, of course, is something I would never do.

QUESTION: Ari, since a big part of a second resolution would potentially be to show global support for ultimate action against Saddam potentially, is it important that the White House come away with another 15-0 vote, as it received in the first go-round?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, first of all, I don't think -- nobody has said that that is a standard that must be set. And I think it's fair to recognize that Germany, which is a member of the United Nations Security Council, has spoken out very strongly on this matter. The President disagrees on this matter, but the President also respects the right of nations to disagree. So I have not heard any standards set about what the vote must be. The United Nations Security Council has its rules about what makes a resolution pass. And that standard remains in place.

QUESTION: Publicly and privately, comments from French diplomats don't necessarily jibe. Privately, some French diplomats are actually willing to paint a scenario in which they move into the same camp, or thought, as the White House, as the President. Did you detect, or did the President detect, at all, from his conversation with Mr. Chirac whether or not the French are, indeed, starting to move a little bit closer?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I think that at the appropriate time, the vote will take place. And at that time we will learn what the positions are of the variety of nations. I'm not in position to predict what that outcome will be -- collectively or for any individual state of the United Nations Security Council.

The importance of it, however, remains paramount in the President's judgment about whether or not international organizations play a legitimate role. If they don't, in the case of disarming Saddam -- given his total defiance for 12 years -- at what point would they ever have any effect? What message would it send to the next would-be proliferator if their actions are meaningless now?

QUESTION: Very briefly, now that the President has said the game is over, does he want a deadline in the next resolution before the Security Council? And if it's not there, will he impose one soon before the end of the month --

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, again, in response to Mark's question, we are still within 24 hours of the President making this statement. And this will be a process. The process will unfold. There will be numerous suggestions, and numerous writers, and it's a serious process. I'm not going to predict any specific wordage, but what's important is the parameter that the President has set which is that this new resolution must enforce Resolution 1441.

QUESTION: Mr. Fleischer, yesterday -- you praised Turkey for its support on the war against Iraq, despite that 80 percent of Turkish -- disagree? I'm wondering -- to say about Greece, since the Greek government satisfied all your requests regarding the use of the bases and the air space? Are you satisfied, Mr. Fleischer, at the way Greece is handling the Iraqi crisis under the capacity, having the President of the European Union?

MR. FLEISCHER: As I've said previously, the President has been working, and the State Department, Department of Defense, have been working around the world talking to numerous allies of ours. And it's not my place to characterize what they do unless those nations take a public action. Different nations are contributing and helping out in different ways. I'd have to review the public information on Greece to give you a specific answer on it, but my standard has always been it's not my place to speak for other nations, but the President knows that there are many who have been very helpful to us.

QUESTION: There's a report in Financial Times that much of a British report, lauded by Secretary Powell at the U.N., was actually plagiarized and old information. What's the White House's response?

MR. FLEISCHER: I haven't seen the report, so I couldn't comment it. I think Secretary Powell's presentation spoke volumes and was well received.

QUESTION: On some of the second resolution questions, in the Gulf War, the U.N. passed two resolutions condemning Iraq's actions and imposing economic sanctions, but it wasn't until November, when they passed 678, which basically said two things: it authorized the use of force, and it set a deadline. So without specific language, are those two types of things the President would look for, and if not getting into it specifically, does the administration look to this resolution as the last resolution?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I realize, as I said earlier, that this is just almost 24 hours after the President said it. It's a little too soon to start getting into the exact wording. Now, it's almost 24 hours and a couple minutes since I was last asked the same question. My answer remains the same.

It's too soon to indicate, because it is a real process. There will, at some point, be a time when pens are put to paper and language is available or language is knowable. That has not happened today. And that's the -- I think you all understand the process. And I think you would be surprised if it was a knowable answer this quickly.

QUESTION: Ari, American citizens continue to privately travel to Baghdad to register their opposition to war, the possibility of war. What does the President think about this?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, number one, again, it remains the rights of Americans to speak out. I think that Americans have to be careful about travel to Baghdad, to be used by the regime of Saddam Hussein for purposes that would be at odds with America's traditions of honesty, credibility and being accurate with the American people.

It's important, if people decide that they want to speak out, to have that freedom within this country. The President accepts that and understands that and respects that.

END 1:50 P.M. EST

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