Excerpts from the Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, March 3, 2003
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, what we've always said is that if the
regime were to have completely have done what the United Nations
called on them to do in Resolution 1441 last November, it would,
indeed, be a different type of regime. And then people have said
does that mean Saddam Hussein could still be the head of it? The
point that I have made is, in the event that the President makes a
decision that force is used to disarm Saddam Hussein to accomplish
disarmament, nobody should think -- not even for a second -- that
military action could be possibly taken to disarm Saddam Hussein
that would leave Saddam Hussein at the helm for him to rearm up
later. No, that's not an option.
QUESTION: But if the decision is not made to take
force, if by some chance he just says, yes, I'm fully disarming,
I'm meeting all the requirements of 1441, and he stays in power --
in your view, that would be a regime change?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, let's first see him completely, totally
and immediately disarm, and see if that takes place.
QUESTION: Ari, the destruction of these Al Samoud
missiles now represents about 10 percent or more of their entire
medium-range missile capability. That's a piece of real substantive
disarmament under international supervision, but it's not total
disarmament. But you aren't denying that that's real disarmament?
MR. FLEISCHER: We are -- it is not real disarmament. There's
only one standard of disarmament: full, complete and immediate. The
United Nations resolutions did not call for a little piece of
disarmament. It didn't say, 10 percent disarmament four months
after we call on you to do it immediately. None of that was in
1441. And the only reason this is even happening today in the small
degree that it has indeed happened is because he is under great
pressure from President Bush, the United States and the coalition
of the willing.
QUESTION: But it is substantive. It's not just
process, this is substance. This is real destruction of weapons.
MR. FLEISCHER: It is insufficient. It is not complete. It is
QUESTION: So it's the administration's view that
making war in Iraq now is preferable to any further piecemeal
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President has not made a decision
about whether or not this ultimately will be done through the use
of force. If he makes that decision I think you can infer from that
action, and the President would agree with your premise in that
case. But until he does, of course, and if he does, the process
remains underway, and it's a process by which Iraq is defying the
United Nations. They pretended to comply in small and limited ways.
But nothing less than full, complete and immediate is called for,
because that's what the United Nations has sought.
QUESTION: May I also ask you about a report in The
Observer newspaper in London, of a memo purported to be from the
NSA -- an email message from a man who actually works at the NSA
they established -- in which he describes a surge in surveillance
of U.N. Security Council members to see what these nations are
thinking about an Iraq vote. What's your response?
MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, as a matter of long-standing policy,
the administration never comments on anything involving any people
involved in intelligence. For example, if somebody were to say to
me, is Libya an object of American intelligence -- I would never
answer that question yes or no. The administration does not answer
questions of that nature. We don't answer who does or does not work
in the intelligence community. Once you start that, you start
getting into process of elimination and we do not do that about any
question, about any report, as a blanket matter of policy.
QUESTION: But, then, if you're a Cameroonian
diplomat or a French diplomat at the United Nations, because of
what you just said, you're going to have to operate on the
assumption that the United States is bugging you.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it's a blanket matter of policy that we
do not answer questions of that nature, whether it's true or not
true, and I'm not indicating to you whether it is true or not true.
It's a blanket matter of approach and policy that predates this
QUESTION: Ari, the past couple of weeks you've
said a number of times that we know what disarmament looks like,
and you've cited the examples of South Africa and other nations
that have disarmed.
If the Iraqis continue -- that's a big "if" -- but if they
continued on a daily basis getting rid of missiles or buried bombs
that they suddenly happened to discover, would that -- if this is a
sustained issue, would that begin to look like the disarmament you
have in mind? And why have you given us no matrix by which to
measure what this disarmament would look like?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, here's the Catch-22 that Saddam Hussein
has put himself in: he denied he had these weapons, and then he
destroys things he says he never had. If he lies about never having
them, how can you trust him when he says he has destroyed them? How
do you know he's not lying, he doesn't have tons more buried under
the sand somewhere else? How do you know this is not the mother of
all distractions, diversions, so the world looks in one place while
he buries them in another?
And this is the point to which Saddam Hussein has brought himself
as a result of defying the U.N., having created an environment
where the inspectors were removed in the late 1990s. And on their
way out, in their final conclusive report, they indicated that Iraq
had up to 26,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulin, 1.5
tons of nerve agent VX, 6,500 aerial chemical bombs. We don't know
where those are. We have yet to see any accounting for all of
these. And so the fact that he may have destroyed some 16 missiles
has nothing -- nothing to do with the anthrax, the botulin and the
It also contradicts the fact that he said he doesn't have any
weapons in violation of the United Nations resolutions. He's put
himself in an awfully bad Catch-22, and this is from his own
QUESTION: Ari, as part of the rest of Pakistan
is concerned, India Globe has been saying for months that all
these terrorists are hiding in Pakistan, and this one now was
arrested at the house of chief of the movement's organization,
Why we are getting one by one -- I hope President Bush asks General
Musharraf to give us all the terrorists at one time, so we don't go
through terrorizing every day another life here in America and
around the globe. And also, Indian Ambassador Mr. Lalit Mansingh
said that Pakistan is a dangerous place as far as terrorism is
concerned today. And my question again is that even Osama bin Laden
may be hiding, who knows, in one of the homes of the ministers or
even General Musharraf's house.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not sure on what basis you might say
that. The President complimented President Musharraf and the
government of Pakistan for their actions. Clearly, al Qaeda fled
Afghanistan as a result of the military operation the United States
and our allies launched against al Qaeda in Afghanistan. They fled
across a difficult-to-patrol border into Pakistan, into cities that
are in the tens of millions, large cities where they believed they
could hide. What this shows is the strong cooperation that we have
from the government of Pakistan, and for that the President is
grateful to President Musharraf and the people of Pakistan. They
deserve the world's congratulations for helping in this effort and
leading this effort.
QUESTION: You said this morning that you were,
that the Bush administration was surprised by the vote in the
Turkish Parliament. What is the U.S. doing, if anything, now to try
to reverse that, diplomatically or otherwise? Or do you feel that
the best thing to do is not to do a lot because some Turkish
officials have even said that public pressure from the U.S. might
have forced the vote to happen the way it did?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one, Turkey is reviewing its options,
and the United States is doing the same. As a result of this vote,
Turkey has gone back to look at it; we are doing this; and it's
unclear, as well, what the ultimate outcome will be. But no matter
what the ultimate outcome is, one thing is for certain, and that is
if the President of the United States makes the determination that
force must be used to disarm Saddam Hussein, whatever route is
taken, the ultimate military mission will remain successful. We
don't know what the outcome will be. This is still a matter of
QUESTION: It will be successful, but it would
MR. FLEISCHER: There's no question that the Turkish approach
would have been a preferable approach, but other approaches are
available. There are other options from a military point of view.
And the President has every confidence that those other options
will, indeed, be militarily successful if he so exercises them.
QUESTION: On the aid package, is the aid package
still viable at this point?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, as I said, Turkey is reviewing
its options; the United States is reviewing its options; and I
think it's impossible to make any judgments beyond that at this
QUESTION: On the disarmament process, Iraq clearly
has started to destroy some of its weapons -- perhaps not as
quickly as the administration would like. Clearly, it can't all be
done in one instant, some big bang theory. So doesn't this speak to
the President's well-known impatience, that his patience is running
out, he's not willing to give this process more time?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think the question is, why didn't Iraq
destroy these missiles in November when they were told to? Doesn't
it surprise anybody that the only reason they're doing them now is
because they're under mass pressure as troops gather on their
border? And doesn't that suggest that their motives have nothing to
do with disarmament, their motives have to do with trying to
stretch this out to avoid pressure from the world, and to see if,
by announcing the destruction of a small amount of their known tip
of the iceberg, while they continue to hide what is below the
water, that they're just trying to buy time and relieve pressure,
all the while keeping their weapons of mass destruction --
including their anthrax, their botulin and their VX -- to
themselves? That's the cause of concern.
QUESTION: So the President doesn't believe that
this process is working or in any way positive?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President doesn't believe that Iraq has
QUESTION: Ari, going back to your answer to
David's question, if I understand you correctly, there is no way
that Saddam Hussein can ever truly satisfy this administration
because no matter how much or how little he disgorges in the way of
illicit weapons, you will always say, well, how do we know there
isn't more buried somewhere, how do we know he doesn't have some
here or some there?
If that's the case, if that's the administration's attitude, that
he's simply so untrustworthy that we can never know, no matter how
much he gives up, how can he possibly satisfy you?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that's why I put it the way I did. That
Saddam Hussein has put himself in a Catch-22, where he says, I do
not have any weapons that violate the United Nations resolutions --
but I just found a few that I'm about to destroy. Why does he keep
finding things that he says he never, ever had? Which gives rise to
the question, what does he have that he is continuing to hide when
we know, as a starting point, that the United Nations found the
anthrax, found the botulin, found the VX?
If Saddam Hussein would all of the sudden come out with the 26,000
liters of anthrax, the 38,000 liters of botulin, the area chemicals
that 30,000 empty chemical warheads -- which, of course, I think at
last count some 12 had been found, leading to the question, where's
the other 29,900? These are the issues that decide whether Saddam
Hussein has disarmed completely, totally or not. And these are the
issues that Saddam Hussein still will not answer.
QUESTION: But your answer -- if I take your answer
to David's question right, what you're saying is that no matter how
much he produces, no matter how much evidence he were to produce,
you still won't believe him because you'll still believe that there
might be something else out there that nobody knew about that might
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the burden is on Saddam Hussein to
show where these weapons are, particularly when -- if you recall
Secretary Powell's presentation -- we know because we heard it that
there are coded communications where they refer to the nerve agents
that they have. There are conversations that they're having about
these very weapons that we worry the most about.
QUESTION: Ari, is the President -- to what degree
is the President concerned that the longer this whole process drags
on, the greater will be the erosion of his political support here
MR. FLEISCHER: None. It's just not part of the equation. If
the President makes a decision to go to war, the President will do
so on the basis of national security and national security alone.
QUESTION: Ari, if I can get back to Campbell's
point about regime change. What was the White House reaction to the
overwhelming opposition by the Arab League this weekend to a
proposal calling for Saddam to be exiled?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, number one, I think as people who have
watched the Arab world closely know, even the suggestion by several
nations that Saddam Hussein be exiled is an extraordinary
development. So I think, frankly, the focus is just the opposite. I
think that Saddam Hussein has few to no friends left in the
leadership of the Arab world because of the type of regime that he
has run, how despotic he is, and he does not exactly have a great
number of allies left in the world.
QUESTION: Any disappointment that there was no --
that among the countries that did support the measure, you didn't
have Egypt, you didn't have Syria, you didn't have Jordan, you
didn't have Saudi Arabia? Any concern that some of the larger
economic, if not military powers, are not yet on board among Arab
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think the President -- if you were to
put the question to the President, the President would tell you
that he is, indeed, satisfied with the cooperation he is getting
from much of the Arab world.
QUESTION: Ari, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. was
saying that the second resolution could come for a vote shortly
after Friday, after Hans Blix presents his report. How close are
you to getting the nine votes that you need?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I've been saying for weeks, I think
we will not know what the actual vote count will be until the vote
takes place. That typically is the pattern of the United Nations.
And so the vote would likely take place sometime shortly after Mr.
Blix's report, and we won't know what the outcome is probably until
very close to that vote.
QUESTION: Is there any possibility that you won't
bring it for a vote? This is definitely going for a vote?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has always said that he is
confident that in the end the United Nations will vote to approve
the resolution. But think about the resolution that's been
discussed. Think about what it means to vote against that
resolution. What it means to vote against it simply means that
basically it's a backing away from the terms of 1441. The President
doesn't think that anybody would want to do that. But,
nevertheless, we'll find out. There have been many issues that have
been voted on before at the United Nations that moved forward where
there was not clarity until closer to the vote, and we shall see.
QUESTION: Ari, back to Turkey, if I may. You've
said there is a Plan B, it's going to work, we'll be successful
either way. Is there a point -- are we at the point where we have
to go for Plan B?
MR. FLEISCHER: Obviously, if we go to Plan B you will know
about it. But at this point, it still is a matter that is being
QUESTION: Ari, the lead editorial in this
morning's Washington Times is headlined, "A War Decision." And it
contends, the very act of further delay would tend to undercut the
perceived need for urgent action. While this morning's lead
editorial in The New York Times is headlined, "The Rush to War." My
question to you as the President's media analyst, do you suspect
that the New York Times would get --
MR. FLEISCHER: Is that a promotion or a demotion? I'm going
to work with this. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Well, I think you do pretty well. As the
President's media analyst, do you suspect that the New York Times
would get behind our war effort if only Iraq were to open a
males-only golf club, like Augusta, Georgia?
MR. FLEISCHER: This is why I believe in exchange programs
among newspaper editorial page editors. (Laughter.) Let them share
time with each other.
QUESTION: Ari, I have two questions for you.
Following up on Terry's question about the article in The Observer,
you say you never do comment on intelligence matters. But the
article also specifies that six of the countries the U.S. is trying
to get to vote in favor of the second resolution are being
monitored. If they were to ask the U.S. government about that,
would they also get an answer, we don't comment on intelligence
MR. FLEISCHER: My answer is the same in all cases, and
that's the long-standing answer and policy, as you're all very
familiar with here.
QUESTION: Thank you. Two questions, please. A few
months ago, I asked if the President would lift the executive order
about assassinations, publicly declare Saddam Hussein a terrorist
and put out an award for his capture. Now that apparently happened
this weekend in Pakistan. Why won't the President seriously
consider this option now?
MR. FLEISCHER: The ban remains in place, and it just speaks
for itself. That action speaks for itself. There's nothing really
further I can add about it.
QUESTION: But why does it remain in place? Why?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because the President has not made any
determination to lift it.
QUESTION: Ari, you talked on Turkey a lot about
the democratic process there. And apparently, according to what
Turkish diplomats tell us, about 95 percent of Turks are opposed to
the direction that the U.S. is taking with respect to Iraq. What is
the case, why should a Turkish parliamentarian support the
deployment of U.S. troops, given that 95 percent of the Turks are
opposed to it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because the President thinks that the issue
of how to disarm Saddam Hussein remains a front and center issue
for all in Turkey and around the world; that this is a threat that
if Turkey and others don't deal with today will only grow bigger,
will grow worse and will have to be dealt with some other day
because Saddam Hussein is not disarming. He continues to have
weapons of mass destruction, and it's only a matter of time -- as
history has shown with Saddam Hussein -- between now and when he
actually uses them.
What the United States has seen, since September 11th, is we are
the target -- often are target for these type of attacks. Other
nations around the world, or American interests around the world
have often been attacked. And we do have fears that Saddam Hussein
could be the next attacker, or that Saddam Hussein could pass his
weapons of mass destruction on to terrorists to try to get away
with a stealth attack, an attack that doesn't have his fingerprints
attached to it. And these are the fears that drive the President.
QUESTION: So the idea is that the Turkish
parliament is kicking this threat down the road, not facing up to
it, not dealing with it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, we were -- the vote is a
disappointment because the President thinks that it's very
important for the world to join together to disarm Saddam Hussein.
Turkey remains a NATO ally. But, nevertheless, if the President
makes the decision to use force, whatever the route militarily
chosen, it will lead to military success.
QUESTION: I want to try Plan B on the plan B
question. How long will the United States wait to see if Turkey is
going to reconsider this? And it's --
MR. FLEISCHER: John and Mark, the reason I cannot answer
this question for you right now -- when would you see a plan B --
because as I said at the top, this is something that's being
studied. And I can't get ahead of when decisions are made and
actually may be taken. So if action is taken, you will be notified.
It will be reported. It will be visible. And so I can't guess how
long that process will be.
QUESTION: I have a second question on Turkey. Can
you just assess for us what the risks are with pursuing Plan A, in
two sentences? One, is there any concern the President has in
sending troops to Turkey, given the overwhelming public hostility
to the deployment of troops on Turkish soil? And, secondly, given
the support the President has shown to this Islamic secular
government, is there any concern that the push for deployment of
U.S. troops is destablizing that government?
MR. FLEISCHER: Turkey has proven that it is, indeed, a
democracy. And it is important to follow the will of a democracy as
expressed by its elected officials. And so, as I say, Turkey is
reviewing this, themselves. And this has just happened; we'll see
what the ultimate outcome is.
QUESTION: Have you any concern about safety for
MR. FLEISCHER: Turkey is a NATO ally, and Turkey is a
democracy. And as such, we are friends.
QUESTION: Ari, on the aid package to Turkey, if
the troops don't go to Turkey, then the aid package vanishes?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, all matters are being reviewed, and
again, it is too soon to say what would happen with that. Turkey is
reviewing it, we're reviewing it. We'll find out.
QUESTION: -- possibility that we could give part
of the aid package to Turkey even if troops are not allowed to --
MR. FLEISCHER: It means that this surprise and
disappointment is still being looked into from both Turkey and the
United States' point of view, to see exactly what the next steps
will be. At this point, as of Monday at noon, it is unclear, it is
still being looked into. We shall see.
QUESTION: Ari, is there -- going back to the
British newspaper, The Observer, is there really a need to spy on
the non-permanent members of the Security Council, to wiretap their
phones? Is it true what the newspaper is --
MR. FLEISCHER: I just go right back to my answer to Terry on
that question. And, again, I hope you can appreciate, the reason
that these questions never get answered -- and not to infer that
that means a yes or a no, because it's impossible for you to make
those judgments, because we are not -- I'm not indicating to you
yes or no.
But I gave an example at the beginning. If I said, yes, we are, you
would know something about what we do with our intelligence. If I
say, no, we're not, you start asking that question around the world
to try to use the process of elimination to find out what the
United States does, from an intelligence point of view.
And that is not a position that I think the American people would
want the government to go down the line and start to describe every
specific item of intelligence. So I'm not saying yes and I'm not
saying no, I'm stating the long-standing policy of the government
on questions exactly like this, which do come up from time to
QUESTION: Going back to the previous question,
what is the U.S. policy about discussing intelligence information
against other countries from the podium?
MR. FLEISCHER: The policy is the same about any country; we
do not talk about intelligence.
QUESTION: I'm trying to square that with earlier
in a briefing when you reminded us that Colin Powell spoke about
wiretaps of Iraqi officials.
MR. FLEISCHER: Sure, and as you know, that was after a very
lengthy declassification process involving the situation uniquely
QUESTION: Well, all we're asking you here to do is
if you can, in effect, declassify -- (laughter.) What is the
difference? You declassify stuff that helps make your case on Iraq.
We're asking you if you're bugging our allies. It seems to be --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, first of all, I'm not making any
presumption that it is classified. I'm not saying whether there is
or is not anything of the kind that you are asking.
QUESTION: Well, if there's not of a kind, that's
why I don't understand why you can't say it's not of the kind.
MR. FLEISCHER: Because then you're playing process of
elimination around the world, which is a process we do not --
QUESTION: Well, we've already eliminated one,
Iraq. (Laughter.) How about a couple more, the two that are
mentioned in this memo, that very clearly --
MR. FLEISCHER: This is something that those of you who have
covered the White House for many years know exists -- pre-exists
prior to this administration, and it is a standard response on any
such questions about intelligence.
QUESTION: But you do know there have been times
when officials have knocked down that intelligence, and you're
certainly not doing that today.
QUESTION: Ari, you've described the Catch-22 of
Saddam Hussein in such a way I think most reasonable people would
conclude that the war is inevitable. Why shouldn't people then
further conclude that the President has been less than candid about
his decision to go to war?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because the President has not made any final
decision. What the President has done is put in place a military
buildup that puts increased pressure on Saddam Hussein so,
hopefully, this can be done through diplomacy. The President has
said that what remains important, as you heard him say last week in
the Cabinet Room, is complete disarmament -- complete, total and
immediate disarmament -- which is nothing less than what the United
Nations called on Saddam Hussein to do.
So, for anybody to suggest that it is somehow not in the ordinary
for the President of the United States to say the standards of the
United Nations must be met, then what you're suggesting is United
Nations standards need not be met. And that's not a standard that
the President holds.
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