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Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer - February 11, 2003 (Full Transcript)
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. It's been a busy day on the diplomatic and the domestic front, so let me give you some reports. And then I have a statement by the President I'd like to read to you on an important domestic matter pending in the Senate.
The President began his day with three calls to foreign leaders. He spoke this morning with Philippine President Arroyo. Both said they were looking forward to the state visit of President Arroyo that is coming up here in Washington in April. President Bush expressed appreciation for President Arroyo's leadership in the war on terror, and pledged continuing United States support for her effort to defeat the Abu Zayef terrorist group. President Bush also praised President Arroyo's leadership on Iraq, and emphasized that the regime in Baghdad must disarm or that it would be disarmed by a coalition of the willing. President Bush emphasized the importance of passage by the Philippine legislature of effective new legislation to combat money-laundering.
The President, also this morning, spoke with Angolan President dos Santos. The Presidents discussed their shared view that Saddam Hussein must disarm and comply with the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441. And President Bush also noted the Security Council must not allow Saddam Hussein to continue violating and ignoring its resolutions if it's to maintain any legitimacy. The Presidents affirmed the friendship of the United States and Angola and their desire to maintain a strong bilateral relationship.
The President, also this morning, touched base with Prime Minister Tony Blair as the two continue their consultations about proceeding to make certain that Saddam Hussein is indeed disarmed.
QUESTION: Secondly, back in November at the Prague summit, NATO agreed to take, "effective action" to assure Iraq's compliance with Resolution 1441. Do you say this latest blocking action by Belgium, France, and Germany on putting defensive measures into Turkey as being an abrogation of that pledge?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not certain -- I think it's too soon to say this is an abrogation, but it's a setback. And it's not only a setback for NATO, a setback that the President believes will be overcome, but it's a real setback for Turkey and the people of Turkey.
And you don't have to search very hard to look in the Turkish press this morning, or press around Europe to see that these three nations have invited a significant amount of criticism upon themselves. They have succeeded in distancing themselves from our good and worthy allies in Turkey at a time when Turkey needs to have the individual nations of NATO, and NATO collectively stand up on their behalf.
But make not mistake, NATO consists of 19 nations. Sixteen are pleased to help Turkey as Turkey invokes its Article IV rights under NATO. Three have, at least temporarily, sought to delay or block the NATO action. And I think that perspective is important. Virtually all of Europe -- virtually all of NATO are on board. There indeed are some who are not. And the United States is proud to stand tall and strong next to our ally, Turkey.
QUESTION: How long are you willing to wait before you take action either on a unilateral basis, as Secretary Rumsfeld suggested yesterday, or together with the other 16 member nations? What's the window of opportunity here for getting what you think you need to get into Turkey?
MR. FLEISCHER: John, I'm not prepared to put any timetable on it. I think, again, the President believes in the importance of diplomacy. We'll continue the diplomatic efforts. And at the end of the day, the President does believe that the right thing will be done and that nations will honor their obligations to our friend, Turkey.
QUESTION: And can I ask you something that might be underneath or surrounding this NATO dispute, and that is what a lot of people, in fact Secretary Powell in his testimony today see as a rising tide of anti-Americanism -- not among the governments; you cite the vote of governments in NATO, but among the people, as measured by polls and sort of anecdotal evidence, as well. How big of a problem is the sentiment of ordinary people among our traditional allies against the course of action the President has chosen?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, given the fact that these are democracies and these elected governments represent the people, these governments are speaking -- I don't think they would be speaking on behalf of people and supporting the United States if that was a position that did not align with their people. So I think that much can be made of the fact that there may be opposition in some quarters and some sections, but I think the great under-reported story about what's happening vis-a-vis the Alliance and Iraq is the amount of support for disarmament of Saddam Hussein that people choose to ignore. Similarly, just as it was ignored for quite a considerable amount of time, how many nations stood with the United States on this same issue?
The fact of the matter is there are few nations that are increasingly isolating themselves and distancing themselves from important Alliance partners like Turkey. And the fact, though, remains, in the end, because we are all democracies, and because democracies are entitled every now and then to a good spat, this will all pass over and we will all remain as allies. Not everybody may be there through every stage of the process, but the President is confident that at the end, even amidst our differences with a couple, perhaps three, maybe two, maybe one, that we will remain an alliance, that we will remain unified, and in the end, Saddam Hussein will be disarmed, thanks to the collective will of all.
QUESTION: You don't see a rising tide of anti-Americanism among the people of our traditional allies?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me remind you again of something I've talked about before in this room. If you go back to the early '80s, you saw even greater manifestations of European positions against the positions of European -- Western European governments and the United States. And in that I refer to the hundreds of thousands, occasionally -- I think in the case of Germany, some million people who took to the streets to protest the United States's counter-deployment of intermediate-range cruise missiles to counter deploy the Soviet Unions intermediate-range cruise missiles that they put into Eastern Europe. Massive street protests throughout Europe. The fact of the matter is that this is the way democracies sometimes speak. And democracies sometimes speak in protest, democracies sometimes speak in unit. At the end of the day, we work together and we work together well.
I also suggest to you that what you do see, too, is a difference in tactics. I think that it is often part of the tactics of one side in the debate, the left, to engage in their right to peaceful protest and take to the streets. That does not, as often, appear to be the tactic used by people who support military action and military force, which is, again, the reason I think that much of the support you'll see often goes under-noticed, or under-reported.
QUESTION: Ari, given -- on this bin Laden message -- and to some extent we understand that it will deal with some comments or an address he would make to the Iraqi people about their condition, if that's correct, what does the President conclude about that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, based on what Secretary Powell has said, it gives rise to concern about the ties between al Qaeda and Iraq.
QUESTION: And does it tell us anything more concretely about those ties? Or maybe more pressing?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you'll --
QUESTION: -- or where bin Laden is?
MR. FLEISCHER: You'll be in a position to judge for yourself from what we understand.
QUESTION: On the subject of this purported bin Laden statement, from this podium you have made the case in the past, National Security Advisor Rice has, Secretary Powell has, Dick Cheney, the Vice President did on his trip to Qatar directly to the government, urged them to lean on Al Jazeera to not play such statements because they could foment anti-Americanism, could have messages to sleeper cells around the world from bin Laden. If this tape, assuming the administration is correct, exists, you want Al Jazeera to play it because if it exists in this case, it helps the administration and you have bin Laden talking about his solidarity with Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that the message which was conveyed to the American news media was to exercise the judgment of the American news media. As you know these conversations were held immediately after September 11, 2001, with many of your presidents of your news organizations. And we asked them to make their news judgments about whether or not the tapes should be played in their entirety or played in some type of snippets, so that message, the news could be delivered, but not in its entirety. Those are judgments that we leave up to the news media to make the final decisions on. We are not in a position to dictate or to say.
QUESTION: But in this case you would prefer they run it?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the message remains just as we said before that people should use their discretion and think twice about playing something in its entirety. There are other ways that people can be fully informed about the news value, the news content of something. That remains a decision for you all to make.
QUESTION: Yes, on that same point, on the bin Laden tape, if I remember correctly, Secretary Powell said -- made a reference to the fact that the tape, according to his information, was going to say from this person who purports to be bin Laden that he is in partnership with Iraq. If, indeed, that is the phrase that this individual uses, what does the U.S. make of such a statement? And how is that likely to play into the U.N. debate?
MR. FLEISCHER: Just as I indicated earlier, it gives great concern about the fact that Iraq and al Qaeda are working together.
QUESTION: You already had that concern. This would seem to confirm, if, indeed, this person is bin Laden, would seem to confirm what the administration has been claiming.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. I think when Secretary Powell went to New York and talked about the evidence we have of ties between Iraq and al Qaeda, he did so on the basis of knowledge, on the basis of fact. And he would not have said it if he didn't mean it and if the United States government and others around the world didn't have cause to know. And so what the Secretary has alluded to this morning gives further proof of the concerns that we have about Iraq and al Qaeda linking up.
QUESTION: Now, if I could, on a second resolution, obviously, you're facing a little diplomatic headwind here from France, Germany, Russia, and it appears, China. What are the current plans for a second resolution? And what do you think its prospects are?
MR. FLEISCHER: Resolutions at the United Nations are always matters that have headwinds and tailwinds. It can often be a windy affair. That is the diplomacy. And that is something the President has dedicated himself to. This would not be a matter taken to the United Nations if President Bush did not want it to be considered by the United Nations. And that's why he went there almost six months ago.
It's now been five months since the President went to the United Nations. The President believes that the world would benefit greatly if our international organizations are effective in countering proliferation. He thinks that there is much riding on the actions of the United Nations because not only would the actions of the United Nations help to disarm Saddam Hussein, they will send, hopefully, a powerful signal to the next would-be proliferator that the international regime set up to stop proliferation actually works.
If it doesn't, imagine the consequences. What leverage, what authority would the international regimes have to stop proliferation if it doesn't have it vis-a-vis Iraq, if Iraq is able to thwart and defy? This is Resolution 1441. This is the very document that the United Nations passed by unanimous vote that called for the following: full and immediate compliance by Iraq -- not full and five-month later compliance; not full and six-month later compliance -- full and immediate compliance by Iraq without conditions or restrictions.
And as we have often seen in the past with Iraq and with this issue now involving the U-2, what Iraq one day says is unconditional, 24 hours or less becomes conditional. We've seen Iraq make statements with its fingers crossed before. The resolution says it's a final opportunity to comply with disarmament obligations -- final. It says final. It says it's binding on Iraq. And it says that Iraq will face serious consequences as a result of continued violations. If the U.S. can -- if the United Nations can say all those things -- that it's final, that it's binding, and it's immediate -- and not mean them, what value does a U.N. resolution hold?
The President wants to make certain that U.N. resolutions hold value. It's not only important to disarm Saddam Hussein; it's important to pave the way for a good future.
QUESTION: On the resolution, how deeply involved is the President in drafting the second resolution? Is that an issue that he and Blair discussed today?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President is not going to be the micromanager of the process, drafting it. And based on 1441 and the fact that what I just reported from 1441 being final, being immediate, being binding, followed by serious consequences, this is not a complicated matter in terms of the wordsmithing. There will be a process followed at the United Nations; I'm not going to give the specific words they may or may not use, but it's not a lengthy matter, it's not a complicated matter. It can only be lengthy, it can only be complicated if the words of 1441 have lost their value or their meaning. The President does not think that should be the case.
QUESTION: Then has he laid out even to Secretary Powell or to someone else, these are -- some sort of broad outline or at least specific points that he thinks absolutely must be --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, yes, just as I reported last week, that Resolution 1441 be enforced.
QUESTION: What did the Prime Minister and the President discuss? Did they discuss the NATO disputes, world strategy, the --
MR. FLEISCHER: They talked about the need to make certain that we work together to continue the diplomacy, to work through the United Nations on this second resolution. I think, just as I've reported out to you, you're seeing busy time of diplomacy; that busy time of diplomacy is going to involve continue conversations between the President and Prime Minister Blair, as well as the others who you know have been visiting the White House -- Prime Minister Howard last night. You're seeing a lot of the heavy diplomacy in front of you right now.
QUESTION: Did the Prime Minister give President Bush any kind of assessment of where the French, German and Russian combination is on this?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I don't speak for other leaders, but as I indicated, at the end of the day, the President does believe the United Nations will live up to its obligations. The President thinks it's too important, this is too big for the United Nations to fail.
QUESTION: Did they discuss NATO? Did they discuss --
MR. FLEISCHER: They also agreed about the need for help for Turkey, that Article IV should be respected.
QUESTION: Ari, if part of the motive to talk about the bin Laden transcript is to get the word out to the public, are you considering releasing the entire transcript?
MR. FLEISCHER: Are we concerned about that?
QUESTION: No, are you about to release the entire transcript?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think this is something you're going to see get released by the United States. I think the pattern her has been that Al Jazeera does. But again, as I indicated to you before, if you knew that we had this information you would say, why aren't you providing it, why are you sitting on it, don't people have a right to know if you have evidence of a new potential bin Laden tape.
QUESTION: -- saying right now, why are you sitting on it? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: Because these things have historically come from Al Jazeera and we don't expect that -- to change.
QUESTION: But, historically, you don't talk about them ahead of time.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not sure that's always the case.
QUESTION: And the second question, back on bin Laden. Granted you're talking about bin Laden -- but why is bin Laden such a taboo subject around here? This is like --
MR. FLEISCHER: It seems to be the only subject around here.
QUESTION: Today. Today. But, typically, there's -- you hear more Saddam Hussein. You don't hear about Osama bin Laden dead or alive, or whatever, anymore.
MR. FLEISCHER: Right, right.
QUESTION: Why? Why?
MR. FLEISCHER: For the obvious reasons. Today there's talk of a new video tape, or a new tape that -- I'm not sure it's video, I shouldn't say that. A new tape that gives rise to the very questions that you're asking. But on any given day, the threat doesn't come only from one person, the threat comes from the network, from the al Qaeda operatives. And that's why the President doesn't focus on any one person. But I, April, am never in a position to explain why I get the questions that I get on a daily basis. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Ari, my question is related to some of the other questions. But is the President willing to disarm Iraq without a second resolution from the Security Council?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has said many times that he wants to work with the United Nations, he would welcome the United Nations Security Council, however, if the United Nations Security Council will not disarm Saddam Hussein, a coalition of the willing, which is a large and grow one, will.
QUESTION: Ari, on NATO again, obviously, the action by France, Belgium and Germany has caused a serious rift internally within the Alliance. Probably the most serious in its history. But is it something more? Is it symptomatic of a post-Cold War NATO in which there's no one major threat to bind all the countries together, that this kind of rift might continue on?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I wouldn't say that. I think throughout the history of NATO there have been various moments of tests involving the unity of NATO. It would not be the first time that there have been various nations within NATO that have strong thoughts about the potential for diplomatic action or military action where there was not unanimity. But at the end of the day, it has not stopped the United States and others from doing what they thought was necessary to protect the peace.
I remind you in 1986 about the very successful military operation carried out over Libya after Libya was involved in the bombing of the Berlin disco. Not all European nations supported the combined nations of many other nations in bringing justice after the Libyan terrorist involvement. So these aren't firsts, and alliances survived.
QUESTION: Will you be able to actually get over this particular one? It seems to be quite bitter.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's why I indicated, it's not a first and the alliances have survived. These things can test alliances, but in the end of the day, the President is confident that, because we're a democracies, we will weather whatever differences there are. But I want to remind you again, the issue here is 16 nations see it one way; three do not. That's a powerful statement of where European leaders are. And we are proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with Europe.
QUESTION: Two things. According to the current Business Week, the Congress -- estimated that tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians were killed in result of the first Gulf War. In a -- poll yesterday, it shows that 54 percent of Americans are opposed to the upcoming war in Iraq if it means thousands of Iraqi civilian deaths. So the question is, what is the administration's estimate of Iraqi civilian deaths in the upcoming war?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not aware of any estimates. I will say to you that every step would be taken to protect civilian and innocent life. The greatest risk to civilian life, of course, comes from Saddam Hussein, who has shown that he is willing to kill his own people with chemical weapons, that he is willing to put his own people in harm's way as human shields, and that the greater threat that the President also has to concern himself with is that the civilians who would be killed would be Americans as a result of Saddam Hussein carrying out an attack either directly or through terrorist organizations that he links up with. That's what's on the President's mind, as well, Russell.
QUESTION: The question is this: President Bush has said that Jesus Christ is his favorite political philosopher. He said that during the campaign. Jesus Christ said, turn the other cheek. He said, the meek will inherit the Earth. And he said, do violence to no man. How does the President square his militarism with Jesus Christ's pacifism?
MR. FLEISCHER: One, I think your choice of words is inappropriate when you refer to President Bush's militarism. The President is seeking a way to provide peace and to protect the American people from a growing, gathering threat at the hands of Saddam Hussein and the weapons he has collected. And the President approaches this matter per his constitutional duties. His constitutional duties are to be the commander-in-chief who is sworn to uphold the Constitution and protect the American people from threats to our lives. And that's the manner in which he approaches it.
He does view this also as a matter of great morality in terms of the serious judgment that any President has to make about risking lives to safe life. And that's the focus that the President brings.
QUESTION: Air, it was very clear before we got the first U.N. resolution that the President didn't believe that Saddam Hussein was ever going to disarm himself. So given that, why when we went for the first U.N. resolution did we not try to get a U.N. inspection system that was not about verification but was about disarmament? And what I mean by that is a system by which air strikes were authorized on places where we thought things were being transferred out? That U-2 spy planes began flying with the realization that any shot fired on them would immediately be a cause for war? So what I mean is use that process if we're trying to avoid war as a legitimate way to disarm and not just verify?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one, the name of UNMOVIC in and of itself is verification. That's part of -- that's the V in the UNMOVIC. And while they're called inspectors, I think it's also fair to call them verifiers. That is their task -- to go there to verify that disarmament has taken place, not to inspect around the country with a magnifying glass trying to find something that's very hard to find.
QUESTION: So you believe they could not have been disarmers? There's no way that the process could even set up to allow that to happen?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the disarmer is Saddam Hussein. That's what he was called on to do.
QUESTION: Ari, one question on the anti-American sentiment. The foreign media still reports that the United States hasn't present real evidence that Saddam Hussein has biological and chemical weapons. And the foreign media still believes that the only interest of the United States in Iraq is to control the oil. Why do you think the foreign media doesn't buy the argument of President Bush? And second, do you think these reports in some way has been contributed to the growing sentiment against the United States around the world?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one, I just differ with the characterization. I think you're overly broad in saying the foreign media. There is much in the foreign media. And the foreign media, just like the American media, takes a variety of different viewpoint. And I saw a report in Germany this morning that was very critical of the German government, in one of the most respected German newspapers, for the isolationism that the German government has brought on itself as a result of the position they have taken.
And so, you see a variety of different stories and a variety of different points of views. But again, the elected leaders of these democracies who represent the people have taken their positions, and, as I indicated earlier, I think there's a tremendous amount of overstatement of the opposition and understatement of the support.
QUESTION: Ari, does the President see any merit, whatsoever, in the French and German plan for more inspectors and more time?
MR. FLEISCHER: The reason I think that the so-called plan, which has yet to be formally offered by a few nations, has met with significant resistance is because it -- to secure the peace, it is not a question of how many inspectors are inside Iraq; it is not a question of whether the U-2 is flying or not. To secure the peace, it's a question of whether or not Saddam Hussein is cooperating. If Saddam Hussein is giving the runaround to 108 inspectors, why does anybody think he won't give the runaround to 216 inspectors.
The very fact that people think a U-2 needs to fly is proof perfect that Saddam Hussein is not cooperating. If he was disarming, you wouldn't need a U-2 to see it. You'd only need one or two inspectors in a parking lot to watch the weapons be rolled out. So the very arguments they make underscore the contention from those around the world who are worried that Saddam Hussein is indeed not disarming.
QUESTION: So there will be no meeting them halfway.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the United States has made clear that those proposals are off the mark, do not address disarmament, and are non-starters.
END 1:24 P.M. EST